I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two blurbs from the New Yorker website. There’s Ron DeSantis, merrily banning books and destroying academic freedom to save Floridians from being “woke.” And there’s Salman Rushdie, persecuted for years because of something he wrote.
Pen America, a nonprofit founded in 1922 to promote free expression in literature, has a list of books that have been removed from Duval County, Florida, schools. Some of these are baffling. Like Cow on the Town: Practicing the Ow Sound. The publisher says it tells a funny story about a cow in a big city that children can read while “reinforcing basic phonemic sounds.” Oh, yeah, that sounds subversive.
A lot of them seem to be about not-white people. These include Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story; The Gift of Ramadan (well, we know why that one’s out); Grandfather Tang’s Story; Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West; Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Journey. Etc. etc. I know the author of The Rough-Face Girl, Rafe Martin. He’s a Zen teacher who tells stories. I understand this is an Algonquin story that’s sorta kinda like Cinderella.
They banned The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question? I understand that in this book Mama and Papa explain the concept of God to Stan and Jan. Maybe it wasn’t Jesus-y enough for some people.
From Jacksonville Today:
Dozens of books the Duval County school district ordered in the summer of 2021 will never hit classroom shelves. That’s the result of an ongoing review after the district pulled almost 200 books this spring while the Florida Legislature passed limits on what teachers can say about race, gender and sexual orientation in classrooms and set new rules for purchasing classroom materials.
After a 10-month process – delayed by staffing shortages, according to the district – 47 titles are being returned to the distributor. Twenty-six others will remain in storage, awaiting further state guidance.
Among the rejected titles are a book about Martin Luther King Jr. intended for fourth graders; a biography of Rosa Parks for second grade classrooms; a first grade Berenstain Bears book about God; and multiple titles including LGBTQ+ characters and families. District staffers are sending the rejected books back to the distributor, Perfection Learning, for exchange.
I still want to know why they nixed Cow on the Town.
In late January, at Greenland Pines Elementary, kids attended a party for an annual event called Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! There was an escape room and food trucks. Brian Covey, an entrepreneur in his late thirties, came to pick up his daughter, who’s in second grade, and his son, who’s in fifth. His kids looked confused. “Did you hear what happened at school today?” his daughter asked. “They took all the books out of the classrooms.” Covey asked which books. “All the books,” she said. Covey’s son had been reading “Measuring Up,” a coming-of-age story about an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan. Students who read from a list of pre-selected books, including this one, were rewarded with an ice-cream party. “They even took that book,” Covey said.
Covey went into the school classrooms to see what his children were talking about and found bookshelves papered over to hide the books. (He also went to another local school and later uploaded a video to Twitter showing that its shelves were bare.) “This has never been an issue before,” Covey told me, noting that he’d grown up in the same public-school system, in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville. “But I read books about the consequences of this kind of thing when I was in school.” He was thinking of “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984,” he said. His kids, he added, seemed confused about what would make a book inappropriate for school. “The only way I could get them to understand was to ask what happens if a book in the library or classroom had the F-word in it a bunch of times,” he told me. “My son said, ‘We’d bring it to the teacher or the librarian.’ ” Covey couldn’t think of any books at their library that he would keep from them. (Communications officials for the public schools in Duval County insisted that some approved books remained available to students, including those on the list that Covey’s son was reading from.)
The article also links to a group in Manatee County, Florida, that’s pushing for more book bans. You really have to see this. Someone should give them a copy of Mrs. Guernsey Explains Apostrophes.