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

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Publishers in New York City request action following what may be an incident of censorship at a school on Staten Island.

The Staten Island ferry, waiting to making its five-mile trip across New York Harbor to Manhattan. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Web Marina

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Also see: Brazil’s Publishers Call Out Perceieved Censorship

‘Silent or Unacknowledged Censorship May Be Going On’
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.

The event Alfonseca is referring to originally was reported by The Gothamist’s Jessica Gould on March 11. (The Gothamist, for our international readers who may not be familiar with it, is a nonprofit news medium created by WNYC, one of the American market’s flagship public radio operations.)

Related article: ‘Brazil Publishers Call Out Perceived Censorship‘ of a Companhia das Letras book in schools. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Cabuscaa

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.

Publishers, Authors Ask for Action

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.

Below, we provide the entire text of this letter, dated March 18. It’s written by Skip Dye, chair of the Intellectual Freedom committee at Penguin Random house. And it has been sent with co-signatures of:

  • Authors Against Book Bans
  • Candlewick Press
  • Charlesbridge
  • Hachette Book Group (the United States division of Hachette)
  • Macmillan
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Sourcebooks

Here is the text of that letter:

“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.  

Skip Dye.  Image: Peter Kolonia

“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.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers know from our coverage of book banning efforts in the States, PEN America research indicates a 33-percent increase in book bans in the United States in the 2022-2023 school year, with 30 percent of the cases studied by PEN including characters and themes of race and racism and 30 percent representing LGBTQ identities.

More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship in the broader context is here, and more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here.  

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.