UPDATE: At press time, a report has surfaced that the Berwick School District has ordered that the Scholastic book fair may not be conducted during school hours, and only after school hours under strict parental supervision. The reason given was the presence of the popular LGBT coming-of-age YA novel “Heartstopper” offered by Scholastic. Presently, members of the freedom-to-read progressive group Defense of Democracy is mobilizing to get this decision reversed.
In the last three years, it has become almost a daily occurrence to come across reports of attempts to ban or restrict books in schools and public libraries. While this is a nationwide problem, it’s of particular concern to Pennsylvania. According to the censorship watchdog group PEN America, more than 40% of all book bans occurred in Florida school districts with about 1,406 cases. This is followed by Texas with 625 bans, Missouri with 333 bans, Utah with 281 bans and Pennsylvania with 186 bans. This accounts for a 33% increase in bans from the 2021-2022 school year.
Unsurprisingly, these book bans are being spearheaded by right-wing conservative advocacy groups like Moms for Liberty, and the targeted books overwhelmingly deal with diversity issues and/or feature themes or characters dealing with the LGBTQ+ community.
Recently, reports have surfaced that a number of schools in conservative districts — as well as conservative Christian private schools — have canceled Scholastic book fairs to be held at their locations. These include schools in Texas, Maryland, Alaska, South Carolina and, of course, Florida, among others.
Scholastic is the nation’s preeminent publisher of children’s books and their book fairs have been a tradition in elementary and middle schools nationwide for decades. In addition to promoting Scholastic’s new and classic titles, the fairs are structured as fundraisers for the schools, often raising thousands of dollars.
But Scholastic has earned the ire of right-wing book banners, because many of the titles being targeted as “inappropriate” or even “obscene” or “pornographic” (such as “Gender Queer,” the most banned book in the country for the last few years) are indeed Scholastic titles. In the last several years, there have been attempts to censor the materials made available at school book fairs. One incident led to the removal of “Heartstopper,” a popular YA LGBTQ+ coming-of-age graphic novel, from a Scholastic book fair in South Carolina. Similar incidents of censorship, or outright cancellation of Scholastic Book Fairs have been reported in Alaska, Ohio and Minnesota, among others.
Scholastic has also been subjected to the usual spate of unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories. In one instance, a candidate for the Denton Independent School District school board in Texas claimed that Scholastic Book Fairs were enticing educators to indoctrinate students with sexually explicit material.
Moving in to fill the void created by the Scholastic cancellations is Brave Books, a publisher of conservative Christian children’s books, which is pushing its own book fairs as a viable conservative alternative to Scholastic. Brave has recently initiated aggressive advertising techniques on various social media platforms directed toward the parents and school administrators at the forefront of the anti-LGBTQ+ book ban movement.
Brave makes its MAGA-centric politics clear with statements published on its corporate website. They write: “You may be thinking that Scholastic is a huge company and some bad books just slip through the cracks. Seems reasonable … but that’s not the case. Scholastic is not the company you knew as a child. Just like Disney, Target & Bud Light, Scholastic has succumbed to an agenda that has led them to flood our schools and libraries with books that promote dangerous and anti-Biblical ideas. Many of their books appear harmless, boasting bright and colorful covers with kid-capturing titles masking ideas like gender fluidity and the LGBTQIA+ agenda on the inside.”
Brave’s statement continues with the usual right-wing extremist fear-mongering: “With 75,000 Scholastic book fairs every year, these hidden agendas are being heavily distributed. Teachers are using them in classrooms and they are readily accessible in the children’s sections at both public and school libraries. They’re even making their way into homes through take-home reading assignments and book fair purchases.”
The statement continues with what they see as a solution: “It’s time to cancel Scholastic. If you are a principal, librarian, or school board member, it’s time to take a stand. If you are wondering how to replace the books and book fairs that Scholastic provided, we’ve got a solution.”
And it proceeds with their marketing pitch.
Scholastic has declined to respond to requests by PGN for comment on the issue. In fact, Scholastic has declined all such requests for comment from the media. The American Librarians Association has also declined to comment, citing this as a company issue involving Scholastic.
As a corporate entity, Scholastic has been in disarray for the past few years. The company recently underwent a serious internal power struggle that has only lately been settled. Corporate profits have also dipped the last several reporting periods, leaving them vulnerable to right-wing assaults.
So far, there have been no reports of Scholastic book fair cancellations in Pennsylvania, or of Brave Books substitutions. The widespread success right-wingers have had in banning books in many PA school districts — such as Central Bucks and York — has sparked an energetic grassroots counter-movement of pro-book and pro-LGBTQ+ parents and politicians who are providing pushback to the extremists.
These activists have been keeping a vigilant watch for such extremist stratagems. However, as one anonymous activist admits, “It’s only a matter of time.”