Man talking to camera(l), Book Fair(c), Woman looking at camera(r)

Kentucky Country Day/Flickr @blue_haired_lesbian/Tiktok (CC-BY)

‘Broken trust’: Former Scholastic employee blasts ‘opt-in’ button for diverse books

Scholastic says the function was a ‘mistake.’

 

Audra Schroeder

IRL

In a statement this week, Scholastic said it’s discontinuing its controversial Share Every Story book fair collection, which separated books from diverse authors or on diverse topics.

“We understand now that the separate nature of the collection has caused confusion and feelings of exclusion,” the statement read.

This reversal comes after months of outrage from school librarians, authors, and parents.

“This happened specifically because people spoke up,” said Naomi (@blue_haired_lesbian), a former Scholastic Book Fair employee, in a TikTok posted earlier this week. “It’s great that they’re reversing a policy that never should have been enacted in the first place.”

Since the fall, Share Every Story, Scholastic’s collection of books featuring diverse authors and topics has been a verbal opt-in for librarians and educators who run school book fairs. It’s offered as a case that can be displayed in libraries, and there are roughly 60 titles, including Colin Kaepernick‘s I Color Myself Different, JoJo Siwa‘s JoJo’s Sweet Adventures: The Great Candy Caper, and Kat Fajardo’s Miss Quinces.

There are books about immigrant and refugee stories, the Civil Rights Movement, and characters who identify as neurodivergent.

In a TikTok posted on Oct. 12, Naomi, who worked at Scholastic Book Fair for 14 years but quit in March, responded to another TikTok about Scholastic’s opt-in function.

Scholastic hosts roughly 120,000 book fairs every year. Naomi says she was a senior sales consultant when she left Scholastic in March, but she wasn’t there when the opt-in idea.

“Scholastic works hard to please everyone and often ends up pleasing no one in the process,” she told the Daily Dot. “They are not just a bookseller; they are a publisher, and have control of close to 30 percent of the children’s book market. They can make the industry change if they want to.”

Naomi says that after Scholastic President Alan Boyko retired in 2020, and CEO Dick Robinson died in 2021, “There was significant restructuring and a number of upper-level managers and a few executives left the company.

“Within a very short time the leadership of the company became much more entertainment-focused,” she continued. “Seeing ‘increasing shareholder dividends’ as Scholastic’s biggest accomplishment in the last few years has been devastating to those of us that measured success in books placed in the hands of kids.”

She says that after more than a decade there, “I wasn’t even offered an exit interview.”

@blue_haired_lesbian Replying to @thatkidjer0me #greenscreen The "diversity case" content, next video goes into some history. #Scholastic #scholasticbookfair #scholasticbookfairs #books #reading #censorship #bookbans #bookfair ♬ original sound – Blue Haired Lesbian

Scholastic did not return the Daily Dot’s request for comment. Elsewhere, Naomi explained the company’s history with other titles, like Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s Love in the Library.

Earlier this year, Scholastic asked to option Tokuda-Hall’s book, which would have put it in front of a bigger audience, but only if the author removed a reference to racism in her author’s note. The book is set in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II and is based on her family’s real story.

Tokuda-Hall declined the offer, and in May said that though Scholastic and current CEO Peter Warwick apologized, she doubted it would make any real changes. She called out Warwick this month on X, saying he should donate his “$1.25 [million] annual bonus to the fight against censorship.”

Scholastic’s preemptive censorship has also left school librarians frustrated at the lack of alternatives. Conservative groups have pushed hard for book bans by state, often without any knowledge of the books’ content or availability, and made school libraries and librarians targets.

In a recent interview with School Library Journal, Louisiana librarian Amanda Jones said after ordering some books from the Share Every Story collection, she was confused about why they had to be separated.

“The feeling I got from Scholastic was that Black authors are controversial and need to be separated,” Jones said. “The message that [was] sent to me was one I do not want to be associated with in any way and is harmful.”

Jones is pursuing a defamation suit against members of a Facebook group who harassed her after taking a stand against censorship at a school meeting in 2022.

Librarians have also said they’re frustrated that even though they opted in, the books arrived too late for kids to read them.

@teganbeese #Scholastic is allowing librarians to opt in or out of having #diversebooks in their Book Fairs this year. First, diverse books should be in all collections automatically, our WORLD IS DIVERSE. Second, I opted in to have the diverse books, but did not receive them. They’re on their way, but I’m already on day three of my Fair, and many students have already purchased, and will miss out on a book where they could see themselves, versus an animal or someone they can’t relate to. C‘mom folx, we gotta do better for these kids. #weneeddiversebooks #booktok ♬ original sound – Tegan B

Authors also expressed their frustration: “I know a lot of indie bookstores follow me, so if your store can offer a book fair in schools similar to what @Scholastic does, please drop your store name and location in the replies,” The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas wrote on X.

@blue_haired_lesbian Lack of diverse representation is a self-perpetuated excuse used to mask the racist inequities within publishing. #scholasticbookfair #bookfair #scholastic #bookfairs #books #reading #bookbans #censorship #scholasticbookfairs #racism #publishing ♬ original sound – Blue Haired Lesbian

In a statement Scholastic released earlier this month, the company cited current “or pending legislation in more than 30 U.S. states prohibiting certain kinds of books from being in schools—mostly LGBTQIA+ titles and books that engage with the presence of racism in our country” as one reason to opt in or out of the collection.

But Scholastic separating books based on author or topic, in anticipation of legal battles, takes the choice away from kids and parents and parallels the censorship conservative groups are engaging in.

Naomi says there were also struggles to get better representation for Scholastic employees.

“As a member of the LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group, we worked to improve the experience of queer employees at Scholastic,” she says. “But even changing the bathroom signage to reflect the company policy that individuals can use the bathroom that best aligns with their gender identity took a very, very long time.”

@blue_haired_lesbian #greenscreen Now let's see the change in action. #BookTok #scholasticbookfair #scholasticbookfairs #publishing #censorship #bookbans #reading #books #bookfairs #scholastic #bookfair #racism #lgbtqia ♬ original sound – Blue Haired Lesbian

In a statement from the president of the Scholastic Trade Company this week, sent to authors and illustrators, the company claimed it now knows “it was a mistake to segregate diverse books in an elective case.”

But it did not offer any specific plans for what it will do after January, when it vowed to discontinue to case, or how it plans to make this right with the authors it segregated.

“They’ve received the message but aren’t sure what exactly they are going to do to fix the issue and the letter is a placeholder until they figure out next steps,” Naomi says of the statement. “Overall, the message is rather vague and will need to be followed by actions and more communication about resolving the issue. Scholastic has broken trust with a lot of people.”

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