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Author Stands Firm Against Request to Censor Racism References from Her Book

In a brave act of defiance, author Maggie Tokuda-Hall refused to delete references to racism from her deeply personal book, “Love in the Library.” The heartwarming tale, which recounts her grandparents’ love story amidst the backdrop of a World War II incarceration camp in Idaho, had garnered positive reviews but lacked significant sales. However, when Scholastic, a renowned publisher with widespread distribution in schools, expressed interest in licensing her book, Tokuda-Hall’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment and outrage.

Scholastic’s offer came with a condition: they wanted her to remove any mentions of racism from her author’s note, where she directly addresses young readers. This decision left Tokuda-Hall torn, but she ultimately declined the offer and made her concerns public. She shared her predicament in a blog post and a tweet, which quickly gained over five million views, igniting a firestorm of support from fellow children’s book authors.

Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who stood against her book being censored by a publisher

Tokuda-Hall’s revelations shed light on the editorial process at Scholastic, the world’s largest children’s publisher. They prompted a meaningful discussion on whether published works should be altered to remove potentially offensive content. At a time when book bans, mainly targeting race and sexuality, were on the rise due to ongoing culture wars, her brave stance resonated deeply within the literary community.

“The fact that the largest children’s publisher in the country, the one with the most influence in schools, is quietly asking authors to modify their works to cater to these demands is deeply concerning,” Tokuda-Hall voiced on Twitter. “For marginalized authors like me, finding an audience in such an environment becomes nearly impossible.”

Scholastic swiftly responded to contain the fallout, apologizing to Tokuda-Hall and the illustrator, Yas Imamura, and proposing publishing the book with the original author’s note. However, Tokuda-Hall remained skeptical of the company’s intentions and declined their offer. In response, Scholastic halted production of the collection, which was set to feature around 150 books by or about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders. They have launched an evaluation to identify the missteps and address the concerns raised.

The Scholastic case, which unfolded amidst the culture wars surrounding the surge in book banning within schools, sparked a resounding outcry among authors and served as a stark illustration of how censorship has infiltrated the publishing industry.

Scholastic’s proposed edits included removing a sentence where Tokuda-Hall highlighted her grandparents’ experience as part of the “deeply American tradition of racism.” They also requested the deletion of a paragraph connecting the bigotry faced by Japanese Americans with current and historical manifestations of racism, which encompass issues such as police brutality against Black individuals and the inhumane treatment of migrant children at the border.

some edits required by Scholastic
Some of Scholastic’s demands asked Tokuda-Hall to delete parts of her author’s note, highlighting bigotry against Japanese Americans to other manifestations of racism past and present.

Candlewick, the publisher of Tokuda-Hall’s book, conveyed Scholastic’s request in an email, expressing concerns that schools might hesitate to purchase a book with such a frank commentary on racism during a “particularly politically sensitive” period. Some readers on platforms like Amazon and Goodreads have also criticized the book’s political nature for its young audience.

Shortly after Tokuda-Hall’s public statement, several authors and educators, who Scholastic consulted to curate and advise on the collection that included her book, condemned the company’s actions. They called for a complete overhaul of the editorial process. Sayantani DasGupta, one of the authors involved, even resigned in protest, expressing discontent over Scholastic’s preemptive censorship and their attempt to present diverse stories in the most palatable form.

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While efforts to remove discussions of racism from school textbooks have faced controversies, Scholastic’s pursuit of revisions raised eyebrows due to its position as a leading commercial publisher. Over 650 librarians and educators, a significant portion of Scholastic’s customer base, signed a petition urging the company to release the book in its original form and take responsibility for the decision to censor it.

Jillian Heise, an elementary school librarian in Wisconsin who organized the petition, emphasized the importance of the original author’s note for young children, many of whom experience racism daily. She believes that children can understand, at a basic level, that treating people differently based on their identity or appearance is unfair. These conversations, she added, contribute to the development of empathy and a broader understanding of the world.

Scholastic’s CEO, Peter Warwick, acknowledged the need for a comprehensive evaluation of their curatorial approach in response to the controversy. He expressed deep concern that such an incident occurred within the context of their commitment to publishing diverse voices and stories. Within 24 hours of Tokuda-Hall’s complaint, the company decided to delay the entire collection. It brought in external experts to review the curation and editing process not only for the series featuring “Love in the Library” but for the entire “Rising Voices” program, including collections like “Elevating Latino Stories” and “Celebrating Girls of Color.”

This review aims to determine if other books were also edited to remove potentially polarizing ideas. The outcome of this evaluation will shape Scholastic’s editorial practices moving forward. The controversy has left authors whose works were selected for the same collection as “Love in the Library” cautiously observing Scholastic’s response.

Katrina Moore, another author whose book, “Teeny Houdini: The Disappearing Act,” was slated to be part of the collection, emphasized the importance of reaching a wider audience. She wanted to continue participating in the collection but stressed the need for confidence in Scholastic’s future actions. Like many others, Moore remains hopeful and closely monitors the situation.

Scholastic’s role in schools is significant, as it sells over 100 million books to 35 million children annually through its fairs. The company, like other publishers, has made efforts to increase diversity in its authorship and titles, featuring groundbreaking works that explore topics such as race, gender, sexuality, and cultural identity.

cover of book love in the library
The cover of “Love in the Library”

While it is common for publishers, including Scholastic, to request changes to published texts, the current controversy has sparked a broader discussion about the delicate balance between sensitivity and censorship. The outcome of Scholastic’s review will undoubtedly shape its approach to preserving diversity and tackling sensitive issues while maintaining its presence in schools.

As the literary world watches Scholastic’s next steps, the hope is that lessons learned from this incident will foster an environment where diverse stories can thrive, empowering young readers to develop empathy, understanding, and a deep appreciation for the richness of human experiences.

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