Book challenges and book banning are increasing in libraries and schools throughout the United States. To help spread the word about these activities and efforts to combat them by librarians, parents, students, politicians, and concerned citizens, I Love Libraries will highlight several stories each week on the current crisis. This roundup includes news from Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Please share widely.
Persepolis under review
On Tuesday, curriculum committee of Franklin Regional School Board in Murrysville, Pennsylvania will meet for the first time after the district’s decision not to teach Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, Persepolis, in a 9th-grade honors English class, reports TribLive. Persepolis, which has been at the subject of challenges in the past, details Satrapis’s life as a teenager living through the Iranian Revolution and the harsh regime that followed. The decision to pull the book was reached after several people complained to school board members, who in turn brought those concerns to district administrators. The book was approved last year by the curriculum committee and the school board.
Assistant principal fired for reading book
An assistant principal in Mississippi was fired after reading the children’s book, I Need a NEW BUTT!, by Dawn McMillan, to a class, reports WLBT. Toby Price, Assistant Principal of Gary Road Elementary School in Byram was fired after reading the children’s book to a group of 2nd graders. According to Price’s termination letter from the superintendent of the Hinds County (Miss.) School District, Price showed “a lack of professionalism and impaired judgment” by picking the book and for those reasons he is fired.
“My boss had asked me to set up a Zoom with the 2nd-grade classes and the principal at the school they’re going to be at next year and she was going to read to them. And she didn’t show,” Price told WLBT. “My boss told me ‘Go ahead and read.’ I grabbed one of my favorite books that I had nearby, I read it to them. It’s a funny, silly book.”
Price told WLBT that he hopes to overturn the decision, get his job back, and teach others that funny books are needed in education.
“If you don’t let kids see funny and silly books, they’re not going to stick around long enough to find out that books can be other things than funny and silly. You have to hook them with the funny and silly stuff. And that’s what I’ve always done. That’s what this book was for,” Price said.
Advocates push back in Texas
Books on race and sexuality are disappearing from schools throughout Texas as Governor Greg Abbott introduces a bill that would call for the prosecution of anyone deemed to be supplying a minor with inappropriate material, and concerned citizens throughout the state are fighting back, reports CBS Austin. This comes after Abbott tapped the Texas Education Agency to investigate the availability of pornographic books in school libraries. Advocates against this pushed back at a 'March for Education' rally outside the Texas State Capitol on Saturday by calling the move censorship.
“Obviously … we can’t protest at every single school board in Texas that’s enacting these policies, but we can make a big show at the Capitol to show our support for students' rights to an inclusive education and a full education," Maya Mackey with Voters of Tomorrow Texas told CBS Austin.
New Hampshire librarians are preparing for book challenges
After more than a decade as a school librarian, Jessica Gilcreast from Bedford (N.H.) High School faced a new challenge last year: Someone wanted to remove a book from her district’s library. But there were no procedures in place at her school for such an occurrence.
She reached out to the New Hampshire School Library Media Association (NHSLMA) for help, but the organization was without its Intellectual Freedom chair, who would normally be the main contact monitoring issues related to book challenges. She also learned that other school librarians across the state were experiencing the same thing.
“I wasn't the only one going through a challenge in the state,” Gilcreast told New Hampshire Public Radio. “This was popping up all over the place.”
Gilcreast stepped up to fill NHSLMA's Intellectual Freedom role, and she’s now using what she learned through her own book challenge to help other librarians prepare for potential book challenges in their library.
Teacher creates free library of banned books
Disturbed by the growing call to ban books in public school libraries nationwide and in Chatham County, Georgia, Savannah Arts Academy English teacher Rich Clifton created a GoFundMe page to stock his own little free library with books like Maus, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other titles that have been banned or challenged nationally.
"It's completely a personal decision that I made," Clifton told Savannah Now. "This is my library in my yard. I built it with my money, and I initially stocked it with my books."
Clifton said he wants people to start talking about the books and the issues the works confront. "I really hope is that somebody you know takes the book, reads it, and starts a conversation about it," he said. "A lot of students today are going through a myriad of issues that are addressed in what we might traditionally teach in the classroom and so having access to maybe someone more sympathetic to their plight might help them," he said.
Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are four steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.
1. Follow news and social media in your community and state to keep apprised of organizations working to censor library or school materials.
2. Show up for library colleagues at school or library board meetings and speak as a library advocate and community stakeholder who supports a parent's right to restrict reading materials for their own child but not for all readers.
3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they work to navigate the intellectual freedom needs of their communities by giving to the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.
4. Educate friends, neighbors, and family members about censorship and how it harms communities. Share information from Banned Books Week 2021.
ALA offers direct assistance as well as an array of resources to assist library workers and library advocates in responding to and supporting others facing such challenges. If you’re experiencing a book challenge, please report it to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and let them know if you need assistance.