PRH, Hachette, S&S Flag ‘Trashed Books’ in New York

From Publishing Perspectives:

Overnight (March 18), Kiara Alfonseca has confirmed for ABC News in New York City that the city’s department of education has opened an investigation into reports that hundreds of new books, “many that were about people of color and LGBTQ identities—were thrown into the trash at a Staten Island school after the news outlet The Gothamist first reported the discovery,” as Alfonseca writes.

The school in question is Public School (PS) 55, known as the Henry M. Boehm School, an elementary school. Staten Island is the southernmost of the five boroughs that make up New York City.

And the reports circulating on the discovery of books apparently being discarded looks to many in the US book market to be a new instance of censorious action against books.

. . . .

Some of the books reportedly discovered being discarded had what appeared to be review notes attached to them, according to Gould’s report. She writes, “A note on My Two Border Towns, about a boy’s life on the United States-Mexico border, read, ‘Our country has no room and it’s not fair.’

“A note on The Derby Daredevils,” Gould goes on, “about a girls’ roller derby team, read, ‘Not approved. Discusses dad being transgender. Teenage girls having a crush on another girl in class.’ And a note on We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know reads, ‘Negative slant on white people.’”

ABC’s Alfonseca writes that the city’s department of education has asserted that its schools “do not shy away from books that teach students about the diverse people and communities that make up the fabric of our society,” adding that the department does not condone the messages reported to be found on the books.

A group of major US publishers and others have written to the chancellor of the New York City public schools system, David C. Banks, to express their concern, calling for a return of the books that appear to have been discarded, and to ask for a meeting.A group of major US publishers and others have written to the chancellor of the New York City public schools system, David C. Banks, to express their concern, calling for a return of the books that appear to have been discarded, and to ask for a meeting.

. . . .

Dear Chancellor David C. Banks, 

On March 11, 2024, Gothamist reported that PS 55 in Staten Island has trashed hundreds of books on  ideological grounds. If true, such action amounts to unlawful censorship and violates authors’ and students’ First Amendment rights.  

“The images of the discarded books shared by Gothamist are deeply troubling, particularly the sticky notes on many titles that appear to state the reason they have been removed. On one book, My Two Border Towns, there is a note stating ‘Our country has no room and it’s not fair’ as the rationale for throwing  the book into the garbage. On another title, The Derby Daredevils, the note says the book is ‘not approved’  because it ‘discusses dad being transgender’ and includes ‘teenage girls having crushes on another girl  in class.’

“We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know was flagged as having a ‘negative slant on white people.’ And on the picture book Nina: A Story of Nina Simone there is a note saying it is not approved because ‘This is about how black people were treated poorly but overcame it. (Can go both ways.).

“Such comments clearly reflect private bias that cannot be effectuated by a public school that is obligated to serve everyone in the community.  

“We recognize the outstanding work the department has done to expand literacy and access to books  across the city. Censorship threatens these efforts by diminishing our collective constitutional rights.  Students and parents have the right to make their own reading decisions for their families. Book bans  infringe on their ability to access the titles of their choosing and ultimately deprive children of the opportunity to learn from new perspectives and see themselves represented. Because school libraries play a crucial role in providing families with access to books, removing titles makes it difficult or even impossible for students to encounter information and ideas that are necessary to their intellectual development.  

“Based on the report, we are deeply concerned that silent or unacknowledged censorship may be going  on in New York City schools. We are heartened that the NYC DOE [department of education] is conducting an investigation into this incident. We hope you are able to act quickly to ensure the discarded books are returned to the shelves and respectfully request a meeting to explore ways in which we can work together to protect the First Amendment rights of NYC students in the future.  

“We firmly stand in support of educators, librarians, parents, students, and authors protecting the freedom to read here in NYC and in the rest of America.  

“Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this critical issue. We look forward to your response.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says it’s inspiring to see what wonderful protectors of free speech major New York publishers are and how selflessly they defend the right of everybody to buy and read anything the publishers might have put on sale.

PG wonders whether any of the concerned parents of children in the New York public schools will remember which publishers brushed aside their concerns for their children’s welfare because it was bad for business.

‘Authors Against Book Bans’ Mobilizes

From Publishers Weekly:

A group of children’s authors is rallying against the rising number of book bans and challenges nationwide, speaking out about the erasure of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices. Under the leadership of Samira Ahmed, Joanna Ho, Gayle Forman, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Alan Gratz, David Levithan, Sarah MacLean, Ellen Oh, Christina Soontornvat, and Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Authors Against Book Bans has already made an impact in the ongoing battle for the freedom to read.

Levithan told PW that the coalition evolved organically from a shared sense of urgency. “Over the past couple years, whenever I would talk to other authors, a number of us expressed extreme frustration and concern about what was going on. And it was always a conversation about ‘what can we do?’ The side that was banning books was organized—both on a national and state level. So it became really apparent that we, as authors, could be the spine to the body that was organizing to fight book bans.” Discussions began in earnest at the end of 2023, and AABB launched this past January.

Levithan had previously been working with PEN America on its lawsuit in Escambia County, Fla., along with other advocacy groups, and thought, “Now is the time for it all to come together. It’s a single-issue group. Our name is not very subtle: we are authors against book bans. And we can do a lot of things because we’re so micro-focused.” The ball got rolling quickly, he said. “In terms of the leadership group, I basically contacted a lot of my friends or other authors whom I’d had conversations with about this issue, including Maggie, and said, ‘Let’s all get together and solve this in a very organized fashion.’ ”

For her part, Tokuda-Hall said, “I came to this the way a lot of us do, by watching with horror as the news unfolds constantly and the number of book bans rises exponentially every year.” She recalled the eye-opening moment when she knew she had to get involved. “I visited Idaho in conjunction with the Idaho Library Association, and I gave a keynote there about the dangers of censorship and book banning. During that trip, I got a really intimate and terrifying view of what it looks like on the state level, where these conversations are being had and where this fight is happening.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

BBC 500 Words Story Competition

From The Oxford Owl:

As part of an ongoing programme of language research, the department of Children’s Dictionaries & Children’s Language Data at Oxford University Press has analysed children’s creative writing submitted to the BBC 500 WORDS story competition in 2023 and the results are out today!

Key Findings from the Report

• Themes around contemporary conflicts feature more prominently in the stories than in previous years.
• There is a shift away from the topic of Brexit, with very few mentions of this word (and none in a political context).
• There is a substantial increase in the frequency of AI in the stories – often in relation to a dangerous entity that could take over the world.
• The stories indicate an increasing awareness of neurodiversity, and conditions are often portrayed as a strength.
• Barbie occurs twice as frequently in stories from 2023 than 2020.
• TikTok is seen as a more established app and part of everyday life in 2023.
• Lioness(es) increased in frequency compared with 2020, and over half of the mentions were in reference to football. In 2020, almost all mentions of lioness(es) were references to the animal.
• The 2023 stories are the first to demonstrate a lived experience of Covid in the UK, and the pandemic is evidently still a reference point for children.

Insights from the 2023 stories

• The proportion of boys and girls who submitted a story in 2023 was 39% and 61%respectively. Excluding names, words that are used much more frequently by boys than girls include: Madrid, titan, league, Godzilla and champions. Meanwhile, words that are used much more frequently by girls than boys include: gymnastics, pony, foal, makeup and tiara.
• Words that appear much more often in stories from the 5-7 age category than the 8-11 age category include: mammy, baddy and teddybear. Meanwhile, words that are used much more frequently in stories by children in the older age group than the younger age group include intrigue, commander and murder. Adverbs, including practically, seemingly and sincerely, are also used more frequently in this age group.
• Words which had much higher frequency in stories from 2023 than 2020 include seasonal trends such as pumpkin and Halloween, footballers such as Haaland and Raya, and animals such as capybara and axolotl. Camilla is also used much more often in stories from 2023 – both in reference to the Queen and as a general character name.
• Meanwhile, words which had much higher frequency in stories from 2020 than 2023 include ps4, bushfire, trump, Brexit and coronavirus

Link to the rest at The Oxford Owl

ALA Reports Record Spike in Book Titles Challenged in 2023

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association announced today that the number of unique titles targeted for censorship surged 65% in 2023 compared to 2022, once again hitting record levels.

In a release, ALA officials said that 4,240 unique book titles were reported challenged in schools and libraries in 2023, a sharp increase over 2022, when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for removal. ALA also reported 1,247 tracked challenges in 2023, which is down slightly from 1,269 challenges in 2022. But ALA officials stressed that the number does not reflect decreasing challenges, noting that prior to 2021, the vast majority of tracked challenges to library resources came from individuals seeking to remove or restrict access to a single book. Now, as result of an organized political movement and sharing book lists compiled by various groups, the overwhelming majority of tracked challenges come from groups and involve multiple titles.

“The reports from librarians and educators in the field make it clear that the organized campaigns to ban books aren’t over,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person’s constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced.”

In addition to the surge in unique titles challenged, ALA also reported:

  • The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92%, while school libraries saw an 11% increase.
  • Titles representing the voices and experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47% of those targeted in censorship attempts.
  • There were attempts to censor more than 100 titles in 17 states in 2023: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly (located at 49 West 23rd Street, Ninth Floor, New York, NY)

While some of this is wrong-headedness on the part of parents, in other instances, parents may have reasonable objections about their children being exposed to highly-offensive content purchased with funds that originate with their tax dollars.

Who owns the community or local school library?

Are the librarians automatically entitled to decide what local children should read and what they should not read? If so, who granted librarians this entitlement?

On those occasions when PG checked books that were controversial as part of a community or school library, such books were invariably published by companies headquartered in New York City.

Is it surprising that Manhatten opinions about what children should read may differ from Omaha opinions or Boise opinions or Nashville opinions?

Is there a sense of entitlement among New York school book publishers that they know better or that they’re smarter than people who live elsewhere?

Book store owners across the nation certainly understand that just because New York trade publishers agree a new title is wonderful doesn’t mean that the book store’s customers will like it or will want to spend their own money to purchase the latest thing from NYC.

Cancel Culture Dominates Children’s Literature

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2016 Scholastic canceled the children’s book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” two weeks after publishing it. The book’s images of smiling enslaved people set off a social-media tsunami and a petition demanding cancellation. It didn’t matter that the illustrator was black, or that the editor, Andrea Pinkney, was black and also a towering figure in the children’s book world.

What mattered was that a social-media mob could force a major publisher to stop distributing a book. When the news broke, one of my editors phoned. I had a contract with him for a children’s book about slavery, and though he’d approved the final draft, he was nervous. It didn’t matter that my manuscript did the opposite of sugarcoating slavery. It didn’t matter that I had won awards for “Lillian’s Right to Vote,” one of many books I’d written on racial justice. My editor worried about public perception of a book “by a white male author, edited by a white male editor, about a white male slave owner.” Seventeen months later, after many pointless revisions, the contract was canceled. No book.

Scholastic’s cancellation marked the beginning of a brave new children’s book world, as detailed in PEN America’s 2023 report, “Booklash.” So-called progressive activists discovered they had power through social media, and they wielded it, assailing book after book with charges of offensiveness and demands for cancellation. Children’s publishers now live in fear of these activists, terrified of showing up on their radar with a book or author that could be deemed “problematic”—meaning out of alignment with the activists’ puritanical code.

According to that code, an author’s identity must match a book’s subject matter. Further, certain books can harm children, the activists believe, and books they deem harmful must be removed. If that sounds eerily similar to the right-wing activists’ mission, it’s because it is. The only difference is that while right-wing activists merely want certain books removed from particular schools, left-wing activists want the books they target annihilated.

In 2017 an initially much-praised book of mine about the atom bomb was attacked with the inaccurate charge of having “erased” American Indians. The social-media mob weighed in and the book went from getting rave reviews and being predicted as a Caldecott Medalist to fading into obscurity. I wrote an essay describing my experience, which was published in February 2019. Two months later, Debbie Reese, the blogger who had led the campaign, attacked me again—in her Arbuthnot Lecture, awarded to her by the powerful American Library Association—for not withdrawing my book after what she called her “criticism” of it.

One month later, I wound up on a sort of blacklist on a blog called Reading While White. The contributors—liberal white people who call out other liberal white people for racism—accused me and some other white authors, with no evidence, of “racism—in words, works, and deeds.”

That same year, Time Magazine named one of my books, “The Sad Little Fact,” a Best Book. The Washington Post named my biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall a Best Book. Yet since then I’ve amassed a pile of rejections on a wide range of topics. Editors tell me they can’t publish anything by me about “people of color or women”—the subjects of my most popular works. Editors say publishers mainly want books about “marginalized people,” but the authors’ identities must match the subject matter. My former main editor praised my writing but suggested that if he gave me a contract he would be taking away a “slot” from “previously underrepresented minorities.”

It is mind-blowing that this happened to me—an author who devoted his career to promoting diversity long before it became publishers’ singular focus. And it’s ironic that most of the people behind the pile-ons, petitions and cancellations are white—and privileged. Even more ironic: Many victims of cancel culture are “previously underrepresented minorities”—nonwhite, gay or lesbian authors, who have tended to self-cancel after being targeted by social-media pile-ons. Among them are Kosoko Jackson, E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Amélie Wen Zhao.

This isn’t progress. The campaign to bring diversity to children’s books must be separated from cancel culture, from social-media mobs, from the vitriolic intolerance toward any dissenting opinions that veer at all from the new orthodoxy.

I say this as a lifelong liberal, whose books have been removed from library shelves in right-wing school districts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The author of the WSJ piece is Jonah Winter, an author of very popular children’s books.

Here’s a link to Mr. Winter’s books.

Following are some of Mr. Winter’s most popular books. PG is going to buy some of them for his grandchildren.

Many students have still not regained pandemic-era losses in reading, math

From ABC:

Elementary and middle school students have only made up some of the losses in math and reading they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report finds.

For the report, published Wednesday, a collaborative team at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, looked at the first year of regular testing between spring 2022 and spring 2023 for school districts in 30 states.

Overall, students managed to recover about one-third of the original loss in math and one-quarter of the loss in reading. While these gains are historic, students are still not where they should be, the researchers found.

“Both of those gains were large by historical standards, but the gains in average achievement are masking the dramatic widening in achievement that happened between 2019 and 2022, and just the failure of many of the high poverty districts to catch up,” Dr. Thomas Kane, co-author of the report and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research, told ABC News.

When broken down by subject, only students in Alabama returned to pre-pandemic achievement levels in math, meaning levels seen in 2019, the report found. However, students in 17 states are still one-third behind 2019 levels in math.

. . . .

The report’s authors say that districts would need at least another year of recovery in math and two more years in reading for students to catch up to pre-pandemic level achievements.

. . . .

The report also found that in many states, the recovery of math and reading losses has been led by wealthier districts, including those in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Kane said in Massachusetts, high-poverty districts didn’t just fail to catch up but lost further ground between spring 2022 and spring 2023 so the improvement came from the higher-income suburbs, which he called “disappointing” and “concerning.”

. . . .

“During the pandemic, many high-income families relied on private tutors to maintain their students’ achievement while lower-income families didn’t have the resources to do the same,” he told ABC News. “A lot of school-based interventions meant to close the gap were too little, too late. What we really need are strong early childhood interventions.”

Link to the rest at ABC

Judge Blocks Key Provisions of Iowa Book Banning Law

From Publishers Weekly:

In yet another legal victory for freedom to read advocates, a federal judge has blocked two key portions of SF 496, a recently passed Iowa state law that sought to ban books with sexual content from Iowa schools and to bar classroom discussion of gender identity and sexuality for students below the seventh grade.

In a 49-page opinion and order, judge Stephen Locher criticized the law as “incredibly broad” and acknowledged that it has already resulted in the removal of “of hundreds of books from school libraries, including, among others, nonfiction history books, classic works of fiction, Pulitzer Prize–winning contemporary novels, books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement exams, and even books designed to help students avoid being victimized by sexual assault.”

Specifically, Locher preliminarily enjoined two provisions challenged in two separate but parallel lawsuits. Regarding the law’s ban on books with any depictions of sex acts, Locher found that the law’s “sweeping restrictions” are “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny.” In a rebuke, Locher said he was “unable to locate a single case upholding the constitutionality of a school library restriction even remotely similar to Senate File 496.”

Locher said that the law’s “underlying message” is that there is “no redeeming value to any such book even if it is a work of history, self-help guide, award-winning novel, or other piece of serious literature,” adding that with the law state lawmakers had sought to impose “a puritanical ‘pall of orthodoxy’ over school libraries.”

Furthermore, Locher suggested that the law was a solution in search of a problem. “The State Defendants have presented no evidence that student access to books depicting sex acts was creating any significant problems in the school setting, much less to the degree that would give rise to a ‘substantial and reasonable governmental interest’ justifying across-the-board removal,” he wrote. “Instead, at most, the State Defendants presented evidence that some parents found the content of a small handful of books to be objectionable.”

As to the law’s restrictions on instruction relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, Locher sought to clarify two “severe” misunderstandings about what the law actually says. First, nothing in the law act restricts the ability of school officials to engage with issues of gender identity and sexual orientation with students in grade seven and above, he held, whether in the classroom or outside of it. “To the extent school districts, teachers, or students have been interpreting the law otherwise, they are simply wrong,” Locher wrote.

As for students in grade six and below, Locher noted that the plain text of the law actually doesn’t distinguish between “cisgender or transgender identity or gay or straight relationships.” While opponents of SF 496 have often described the effort as a “don’t say gay” or “don’t say trans” bill, based on the plain language of the statute, Locher said, it is actually a “don’t say anything” bill.

“The statute is therefore content-neutral but so wildly overbroad that every school district and elementary school teacher in the State has likely been violating it since the day the school year started,” Locher held. “This renders the statute void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the State will have unfettered discretion to decide when to enforce it and against whom, thus making it all but impossible for a reasonable person to know what will and will not lead to punishment.”

Still, Locher was quick to acknowledge the intent of the law, acknowledging that both the plaintiffs and the state agree that the law was “designed to prohibit discussion of homosexuality and transgenderism.” The problem, Locher said, “is that the Court cannot interpret Senate File 496 as targeting transgender identities and homosexual relationships without substituting the Court’s own choice of words for the ones chosen by the Legislature. This the Court cannot do.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Taylor Swift breaks Little Golden Books records too

From Rolling Stone:

STARTING THE SWIFTIES young! A new kids book about Taylor Swift has returned to the bestsellers charts on Amazon, once again proving the singer’s reach knows no time — or age — limit.

Taylor Swift: A Little Golden Book Biography is the latest release from the “Little Golden Book” series, which introduces kids to famous entertainers, proverbs and historical figures through colorful books that bear the iconic golden binding on the side.

Released in May, the Little Golden Book about Taylor Swift quickly shot to number one on the “Best Children’s Biographies” list when it was first announced and it back at number one following Swift’s Eras Tour movie release.

. . . .

The Taylor Swift children’s book tracks the singer’s career, from performing at local fairs and festivals in rural Pennsylvania, to signing a record deal in Nashville, to touring and meeting fans all around the world.

Along with a biographical timeline, the book also explains some of Swift’s favorite Easter eggs and fan moments, like her love for the number 13, and the meet-and-greets she’s held over the years.

. . . .

The 24-page book is written by Wendy Loggia, a self-professed “longtime admirer” of Swift’s.

Link to the rest at Rolling Stone

PG understands that Ms. Swift’s biography has broken all sorts of Golden Book sales records. He apologizes for missing this shockwave earlier.

Manufacturing Problems with School and Library Books to Cash in on Solutions

From Book Riot:

As we race toward the end of 2023 and book bans continue to be a major reality across the country, it seems worth pausing to think about some of the trends across the landscape this year. We have seen shifts in the kinds of books being targeted, thanks to the work of PEN America, and we have seen a shift in the targets of censors more broadly from individual titles (those still happen!) to book distributors with the Texas READER Act and book fairs. While bigotry and power are two key themes of why censors are targeting books, one thing we should be looking at and addressing by name is this: there is a lot of money to be made with book bans.

I’ve talked at length for years about how book banners have found this a prime opportunity to point to wasteful spending of tax money. If they can complain about books in the schools, they can complain their tax money was wasted on the books, then that their tax money was wasted on the review process, and then they can take these claims to sympathetic politicians in their state to demand voucher programs, which then further defund and hard public institutions. They own the entire cycle. We haven’t touched on how many tens of thousands of dollars have been wasted on policies and how they’ve been translated at the public library level (see Hamilton East Public Library’s review of all their YA books, followed by the abrupt ending of that policy).

But a new and frankly unsurprising trend in 2023 is that private entities have stepped in to offer solutions to banned books. These are not solutions to end book bans, but rather ways to continue living in a system that permits books to be banned for lies perpetrated by right-wing parental right groups (no matter how many times book banners push the same handful of images from Gender Queer on social media or in school board meetings, those don’t meet the legal definition of obscenity; they just make you look incredibly ignorant about how books, literacy, and the law work). In 2023, book banners have started to cash in on their own lies, once again owning the entire outrage cycle and its money from start to finish.

Who has been behind this? I’ve already covered two of the biggest, most marketed to date here: BookmarkED, an app designed to “help schools and parents with book bans,” and the Brave Books-now-SkyTree book fairs designed to offer an alternative to Scholastic. The first was created by an individual who was advocating for a book ban bill at the Texas Senate this year. Convenient that he would be able to really push his new app as a solution to the bill. The second, of course, has put Kirk Cameron and a cadre of right-wing “children’s books” at the center of discourse over naughty books available in school and public libraries (and hey, even if the storytime events that Brave Books coordinated in August at public libraries across the U.S. were free, they were certainly getting plenty of press and attention for the publisher and their books, both during the event and in the coverage leading up to it — the tone of that coverage didn’t matter, since they got their goals into people’s mouths).

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG suggests that the author of the OP has gone more than a bit overboard on the topic.

PG doubts that BookmarkedED and SkyTree Book Fairs are part of some evil right-wing conspiracy to make money off of school book fairs so much as they are a practical solution for school administrators trying to avoid angry parents who don’t think some books being promoted by Scholastic are right for their children.

Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, NASDAQ: SCHL, and is headquartered in New York City.

New York City is, of course, part of an entirely different and much smaller world than Cleveland, Topeka, Atlanta, Phoenix, Kansas City, and similarly populated urban, suburban and rural areas across the United States.

PG was reminded of one of his friends who was an executive in the Chicago office of a large advertising agency headquartered in New York City. PG’s friend was constantly aggravated by the stupid advertisements cooked up in NYC that were entirely tone-deaf and useless for selling products to anyone in the United States who lived more than fifty miles from NYC.

Finally, countless would-be authors will understand the NYC defacto book bans created and enforced by the many traditional publishers against authors of all sorts of books who conclude, “This isn’t quite right for us.”

Perhaps the author of the OP believes that librarians, schools, and other book purchasers don’t have the right to say, “This isn’t quite right for us.”

In the battle over books, who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate at libraries?

From National Public Radio:

For months, Carolyn Harrison and a small band of activists have been setting up folding tables with an array of what they call “bad books” outside the public library in Idaho Falls, Idaho. As Harrison, co-founder of the group Parents Against Bad Books sees it, the best way to convince people that the library is stocking inappropriate books is to show them.

“These two books are in the library, if you don’t believe it!” Harrison says to one passerby.

“It’s very graphic, very detailed,” offers Halli Stone, another member of the group.

They point out depictions of what they call obscene sexual encounters, catching many library patrons by surprise.

“Oooh, the graphic pictures!” exclaims one woman. “They’re taking away children’s innocence. They just don’t care.”

. . . .

It’s one of many efforts around the U.S. to change how decisions are made about which books libraries should have on shelves and in which section of the library they belong.

The process of classifying books can be somewhat inconsistent. Books usually get an initial designation from authors and publishers. Then, professional book reviewers usually weigh in with their own age-bracket recommendation, and distributors and booksellers can do the same. But ultimately, local library staff make the final call about the books they buy and where they should go.

Harrison wants to change that process by giving parents a voice in that final decision, along with the library staff. But she says libraries are resistant to the idea.

“They’ve told us here that ‘Oh no, you can’t have parents involved. You must have experts choosing books for the children,'” Harrison says. “That makes no sense. Parents are the primary stakeholders for children.”

. . . .

PABB also keeps a list of what they call “52 Bad Books.” It includes George M. Johnson’s memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, which contains some explicit descriptions of sexual scenes. But as is the case with most books in question, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

“I found it very enlightening,” says Idaho Falls Public Library Director Robert Wright. As he sees it, All Boys Aren’t Blue is critical to young people’s development, especially those struggling with issues around sexual identity. “To me, it was a story of a young boy who felt maybe different, but the story that came through to me was how much his family supported him and loved him regardless,” Wright says.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

40 Years Ago, One Underrated Chapter Book Helped Kids Talk About Trauma

From Fatherly:

It’s an undeniable fact that Beverly Cleary was a huge part of the way several generations of kids learned to read. She has been since Henry Huggins arrived in 1950, and remains a top pick for voracious young readers beyond her passing in 2021 at the age of 104. Library shelves forever enshrine her Ramona and The Mouse and The Motorcycle books, rightfully revered as timeless classics. Despite being generations apart from when they were first penned, children continue to connect with Cleary’s earnest style that never forgets to throw in some laughs. Among her dozens of books, there’s one underrated story that can be viewed as the most empathetic book the author ever wrote, covering a topic rarely tread upon in kids’ literature written during that era.

First published four decades ago, in 1983, Dear Mr. Henshaw centers on a boy from California named Leigh Botts, who aims to be a writer when he grows up. Beginning in second grade, the youngster starts a correspondence with famous children’s book author Boyd Henshaw, which continues over several years. During this time, Leigh is coping with his parents’ recent divorce, trying to make sense of the confusing emotions caused by this trauma.

Mr. Henshaw responds to Leigh’s sixth-grade assignment to write a letter to an author with his own set of ten questions. The aspiring author slowly and reluctantly answers probing inquiries like “Who are you?” or “What is your family like?” As time marches forward, Leigh discovers he enjoys writing to Mr. Henshaw, and the letters become a form of therapy, eventually transitioning into a personal diary addressed to “Pretend Mr. Henshaw.” Leigh finds comfort in this safe space, openly addressing his fears and concerns, like why his dad doesn’t say he misses him when they talk on the phone (if he remembers to call), and how Leigh doesn’t like being home alone after his mom leaves for work.

While Leigh responds to his correspondence, the readers of Dear Mr. Henshaw never see a single word from the adult author. The character is merely a guide to Leigh opening up, processing his feelings, and permitting himself to have this outlet. Between his time writing letters and the lessons from his teachers, Leigh’s abilities as a writer simultaneously mature while his emotional vocabulary grows. By the end, he’s able to face his negligent father, understand his mother’s pain, and realize the divorce wasn’t his fault, while also having his first taste of success as a published author. No matter how hard he wishes, Leigh’s world will never be the way it was, but like the butterflies he finds during his walks along the shore (similar to the real Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach), Leigh grows into something new and different, comfortable with who he’s become.

According to Beverly Cleary, Dear Mr. Henshaw is the most serious book she wrote during her lifetime. The story came about because two different boys wrote letters to her around the same time, asking why she hadn’t written about a boy whose parents were divorced. The spark was lit, and the book flowed from her head onto paper.

Cleary’s books were not typically as solitary as Dear Mr. Henshaw, and rarely delve into serious trauma. It’s an outlier with its somber tone and grounded situation, although Cleary’s signature humor from across her catalog of work is present. Leigh doesn’t live in a bustling cul-de-sac surrounded by kids, but rather isolated in “a really little house,” with his neighbors being a gas station and a thrift shop. He’s lethargic to find meaning in anything that goes on around him, trapped between unfamiliar spaces, physically and emotionally. After he adds writing to his routine, his sense of abandonment fades to allow personal growth that even adult readers can admire and aspire towards.

Dear Mr. Henshaw covers many of the anxieties children feel during a divorce. It’s not unusual for them to go through their own makeshift stages of grief, ranging from being mad and sad, denying the events are real while hoping everything will return to how things were before, and eventually accepting the new status quo. Kids’ can react to this outwardly through anger and tantrums, while other children will internalize it and never show what they’re truly feeling. Cleary reassures the reader whatever they’re going through is nothing to feel ashamed about, and one can heal from the invisible wounds on their heart.

Divorce is rarely an easy transaction, no matter how old you are. Processing the good memories alongside the bad is a difficult experience, and often a source of confusion and frustration. Dear Mr. Henshaw encourages the reader to not be afraid to explore what hurts them because the only way to grow is to face them in a healthy and introspective way.

Despite earning a Newberry Medal when it was released, Dear Mr. Henshaw remains overshadowed by Cleary’s more popular and light-hearted stories.

Link to the rest at Fatherly