A teen with glasses reads a book while sitting on the floor and surrounded by book shelves.

The Push to Censor Race and Racism in Children’s Books

Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall revealed that when Scholastic expressed interest in licensing her children’s book, they stipulated conditions she found unacceptable. Scholastic wanted her to edit her author’s note to remove the phrase “the deeply American tradition of racism” and a paragraph connecting the book’s subject to the present day. The topic of the book the publisher wanted to censor “racism” from? The World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Love in the Library depicts a romance in a Japanese American internment camp, “a love story about finding hope in a dire setting,” inspired by Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents. Tokuda-Hall, whose other children’s books include Also an Octopus and The Mermaid the Witch and the Sea, released Love in the Library with Candlewick Press before Scholastic expressed interest in licensing it. This would be a “huge deal,” Tokuda-Hall explains because Scholastic’s relationship with public schools gives it “a unique place in the marketplace in children’s books that is so valuable and so singular to them” (MSN).  


• Get Love in the Library or another socially-conscious, age-appropriate book for a young reader.

• Join the Banned Books Book Club to read and connect over banned books.

• Join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign to learn how to fight book bans in your community and support the Miami Center for Racial Justice’s work distributing banned books in Florida.

• Tell us: What is your favorite children’s book that discusses race? 

The author’s excitement at landing a deal that would ensure her book would make it to schools was “immediately tempered” when she saw the publisher’s request to censor “racism” from the author’s note, citing the current “politically sensitive” climate and the fear that such language “goes beyond what some teachers are willing to cover in their elementary classrooms.” Scholastic also wanted to strike the following paragraph from the author’s note: 

“As much as I would hope this would be a story of the distant past, it is not. It is very much the story of America here and now. The racism that put my grandparents into Minidoka is the same hate that keeps children in cages on our border. It’s the myth of white supremacy that brought slavery to our past and allows police to murder Black people in our present. It’s the same fear that brings Muslim bans. It’s the same contempt that creates voter suppression, medical apartheid and food deserts, that paved the Trail of Tears. Hate is not a virus. It is an American tradition” (MSN).  

Tokuda-Hall turned down the offer and made her objections public, saying that there can be “no compromise” with those who wish to censor “racism” and the broader context of American white supremacy from a “story about the mass incarceration of a single group of people based on their race” (KQED).

Scholastic’s requested edits reveal another consequence of the state-level school book bans attacking discussion of race, gender, and sexuality. Books that aren’t banned may face pressure from publishers to dilute their content in order to sell to a broader market. In another case, a modified version of a Florida textbook also erased mentions of race in a chapter on civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ refusal to move seats, removing the phrase “because of the color of her skin” (Miami New Times).  

They “want to sell our suffering, smoothed down and made palatable to the white readers they prioritize,” Tokuda-Hall wrote. “Our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability” (KQED). 

Scholastic wanted a book that might appeal to liberal educators because of its topic but also skirt book bans by not explicitly mentioning racism. Removing references to racism in schools is bad enough. Now, authors who are able to discuss racial tensions are facing pressure to refuse to call them what they are. 

Maggie Tokuda-Hall refused to let her grandparents’ story “be whitewashed into something simple, into just a nice love story about people who happened to meet. It had to be told in its full truth, and its full truth is this backdrop of incredible state violence” (MSN). Two days after she denounced Scholastic’s requested edits to her author’s note, the publisher issued an apology, saying its “approach was wrong and not in keeping with Scholastic’s values” and offering to license the book with the original note. Tokuda-Hall has yet to announce whether she will accept the offer. 

This won’t be the last time an author is pressured to self-censor to appease conservative book bans. While opposing right-wing book bans at the federal, state, and local levels, we can also act directly to support authors and students by sharing important stories at risk of being repressed. “No substantive change for the better,” Maggie Tokuda-Hall says, “can be made without reconciliation with the truth” (KQED). 


• Scholastic offered to license a children’s book about Japanese internment camps only if the author’s note did not critique American racism. 

• Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall publicly refused, leading Scholastic to apologize. 

• Authors face pressure from state-level book bans to alter their work. 

2400 1600 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

All stories by : Andrew Lee
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