This fall, parents may notice something missing from the piles of paper their children bring home from school each day. Book fair flyers from the Scholastic company, the world’s largest publisher and distributer of children’s books as well as the leading operator of school-based book clubs and fairs in the United States, are no longer welcome in some circles. A handful of private schools are replacing Scholastic with some up-and-coming Catholic book fairs. The reasons behind the grassroots effort by these brave companies and the schools that support them are shocking and indicate the overhaul is long overdue. The familiar fairs, once ubiquitous in both our public and parochial schools, are featuring a growing number of titles about same-sex attraction and gender identity confusion.
According to their 2015/2016 annual shareholders’ report, the Scholastic Company’s gross annual revenue for the fiscal year 2016 reached over 1.6 billion dollars. In addition to serving up ready-to-display cartons of merchandise for schools’ on-campus fairs, they are the leading provider of school and classroom libraries. Scholastic offers plenty of financial perks to the schools and teachers who drive sales by both distributing and aggregating students’ order forms. Scholastic.com features nearly 70 books with sexually explicit and gender-bending themes. The following examples are merely a small cross section of the Scholastic titles that permeate every age group, grade, reading level, and genre of the books in their flyers and fairs.
One title that has caught several parents off guard is this picture book recommended for ages 8 and up. This is Families by Susan Kuklin:
In frank, funny, and touching interviews, children from 15 different families talk about the ups and downs of their home lives. Reflecting the kaleidoscopic diversity of America, this book is a celebration of all families. Full color. This book presents brief interviews with children from diverse American families—including large, small, mixed-race, immigrant, gay and lesbian, divorced and single-parent—reflecting the diversity of each family.
Another seemingly innocuous selection, recommended for grades 5 to 8, is Telgemeier’s Drama. The female main character gets upset when one of the boys in a school play won’t kiss her. The reason, which is buried more deeply in the story and not on the back jacket, is that he has a crush on someone else, and that someone else is a boy.
Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of “Moon over Mississippi,” she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage and offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture [sic], things get even crazier!
True, many of the covers on the shelves of Scholastic’s book fairs are less deceiving. Over in the “comedy and humor” section, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess the content of the colorfully-covered Drag Teen. Scholastic.com proudly describes their publication as “a fantastic, fabulous, funny YA debut from Jeffery Self, one of the gay icons of the YouTube generation, that follows one high school student on a drag race to his future.”
For ages 12 and up, Scholastic features this “collection of experiences, ideas, dreams, and fantasies expressed through prose, poetry, artwork, letters, diaries, and performance pieces.” They boast that this book “celebrates the hues and harmonies of the future of gay and lesbian society.” The full title listed on Amazon.com is actually Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology.
The Full Spectrum by Leviathan and Merrel is categorized as an “informational text”:
Teens are more aware of sexuality and identity than ever, and they’re looking for answers and insights, as well as a community of others. In order to help create that community, YA authors David Levithan and Billy Merrell have collected original poems, essays, and stories by young adults in their teens and early 20s. The Full Spectrum includes a variety of writers—gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, transitioning, and questioning—on a variety of subjects: coming out, family, friendship, religion/faith, first kisses, break-ups, and many others. This one-of-a-kind collection will, perhaps, help all readers see themselves and the world around them in ways they might never have imagined. We have partnered with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and a portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated to them.
While teaching tolerance through literature is certainly a topic worthy of discussion, it is probably preferable to most parents to have these family discussions when they as the parents deem it appropriate. And it is not in keeping with our Catholic Faith to explain these topics using crass humor, derogatory names, or putting a heroic spin on characters who are far from role models for our kids.
Bobby and Jamie are getting married, but Bobby’s niece Chloe is worried that she won’t be his favorite person anymore. Will Uncle Bobby still think she is special? Sarah Brannen’s warm story is set in an alternative family as Uncle Bobby marries his boyfriend. Beautifully told and charmingly illustrated, this simple yet moving story begs to be read time and again.
For Catholic parents, no doubt one of the most challenging genres in which to find clean reads is Young Adult. And for the students of Catholic middle and high schools that still host Scholastic, our kids are faced with selections such as Lucky by Eddie de Oliveira:
Sam is a teen boy who’s attracted to both boys and girls. He doesn’t know what to call himself or where he fits in. Then he meets Toby, another boy who likes both boys and girls. Are they destined to be just friends, more than friends, or less than friends? And what would happen if they were attracted to the same girl? Love comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes all at once [sic]. In his brilliant, funny, and heartfelt debut, Eddie de Oliveira shows us there’s more to life than being a wallflower or being knocked out by nunga-nungas [sic].
There are many similar books targeting Middle Grade readers (recommended on Scholastic’s website for ages 12, 13, and 14) such as Anything Could Happen by Will Walton:
A phenomenal debut about a gay Southern boy in love with his straight best friend. Tretch Farm lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. [This] makes it hard for him to be in love with his best friend, Matt Gooby. Matt has two gay dads, but isn’t all that gay himself … which doesn’t stop Tretch from loving him anyway. Things get even more complicated when a girl falls for Tretch, and Tretch doesn’t know how to put her off without revealing everything to everyone. Meanwhile, his family is facing some challenges of its own, and it’s going to take Tretch coming out and coming to peace with his situation for his life to move forward. ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN is a poignant, hard-hitting exploration of love and friendship, a provocative debut that shows that sometimes we have to let things fall apart before we can make them whole again.
Anything Could Happen’s description is honest, but what’s disturbing to many parents is the seemingly intentional deception of so many of Scholastic’s books that cannot be judged by their covers. Scholastic says Best Friend Next Door by Mackler is for ages 8-12. The cute summary appeals to the third-grade crowd:
Meet Hannah. Her name is a palindrome. Her birthday is on New Year’s. She wishes she had a cat. She’s medium height and a little awkward. Her life has not been fun lately; her dad and stepmom are having a baby and her best friend next door just moved away. Now a new girl is here, taking over her best friend’s bedroom … and her own identity. Meet Emme. Her name is a palindrome. Her birthday is on New Year’s. She loves her enormous orange cat. She’s so short that last week she was mistaken for a kindergartner. She’s found moving hard … but at least there’s the girl next door, Hannah. Maybe they’ll become friends? While Hannah and Emme are alike in so many ways, they’re also different in many ways. Is this the recipe for a perfect friendship or a total disaster?
Goodreads member “Sps” reviewed Best Friend Next Door:
It’s a cute book, but the real draw for me was the totally normalized two moms of one character. I’m still so thirsty for representation. When will we get a queer girl in tween lit? Not that we have so many middle-school queer guys, but at least there’s Joe in Totally Joe and Nate in Better Nate Than Ever and Frederick in So Hard to Say.
While parents are aware we need to be vigilant in screening what our kids are reading, many are under the false impression that, by paying for a private, religious school, our children are protected from these types of books. Some of the social media buzz regarding Scholastic suggests that we have some very savvy school librarians who actively weed out inappropriate content. However, some school librarians are also commenting that it is a very daunting task. They simply don’t have the time to screen them all, and not all are as obvious as this graphic novel by Ilike Merey entitled a + e 4ever:
Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke [sic] from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash [sic] is ever going to see all of her. a + e 4ever is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.
Scholastic doesn’t stop at merely feeding our kids heroic tales of misguided peers making poor decisions about gender identity questions or same-sex attraction. “Traditional” relationships are represented by this horrifying example. Lisa Drakeford’s The Baby has a recommended interest level of 14-years-old:
When Olivia opens the bathroom door, the last thing she expects to see is her best friend, Nicola, giving birth on the floor. And to say that Nicola is shocked is an understatement. She’s not ready to be a mother, and she needs Olivia’s help. But Olivia has her own problems—specifically her bullying boyfriend, Jonty, and having to keep an eye on her younger sister, Alice [sic]. And then there’s Nicola’s friend Ben, who’s struggling with secrets of his own.
As mentioned above, there are, thankfully, options for suitable replacements for Scholastic. Good News! Book Fairs is a rapidly-growing Catholic company now booking fairs. They guarantee the products they sell at their fairs will not conflict with our faith. The Daughters of St. Paul’s “JClub” is becoming more widely known as well, and it also promises to stock only clean books and goods at their school fairs. Ignatius Press has teamed up with a few publishers for Eureka Book Fair, but at this time the selection is limited to a few publishers.
For help screening kids’ lit, parents, teachers, and librarians have several options available. The Catholic Writer’s Guild provides a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that have earned their Seal of Approval. Virtue Works Media features a “V-List,” an ever-expanding list of books, movies, etc. that are reviewed and rated according to their virtue content. Catholic Reads is an online service that not only reviews books of all genres by Catholic authors, but also offers book deals to subscribers. And for those hard-to-find suitable Young Adult reads there’s Catholic Teen Books, an author-run website providing information about plenty of excellent page-turners that are morally sound.