When South Florida writer Brad Meltzer learned that a Pennsylvania school board had banned his books “I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.” he knew he couldn’t. ignore it.
âIf you take the lessons from Rosa Parks, you have to fight,â said the creator of the Ordinary People Change the World series, which features historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller and Neil Armstrong for them. children. The next in the series, “I am Oprah Winfrey”, will be released in October.
“I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.” – which, like the other books in the series, are illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos – were two of more than 200 anti-racist books and resources suggested by the Central York School District Diversity Education Committee last year. The Central York School Board vetoed the entire list. In an excerpt from a meeting broadcast by CNN, which reported on student protests against the ban, members called the playlist and educational material “divisions” and “bad ideas.”
Banned are children’s picture books, K-5 books, middle school and high school books, videos, webinars, and web links, including memoirs by Pakistani writer and activist Malala Yousafzai; a book by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; an adaptation of “Hidden Figures”, about the black mathematicians of NASA; Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s “Sulwe”, about a little girl who fears her skin is too dark, and CNN’s “Sesame Street Town Hall” on racism.
Without change this fall, students, parents and other community members attended a virtual school board meeting last week to discuss the ban, which the school board is calling a “freeze.” Central York High School senior Edha Gupta told CNN the ban “was a slap in the face.” School board president Jane Johnson did not respond to emails from the Miami Herald prior to publication.
Meltzer, who is also the author of popular adult thrillers, comics and the host of The History Channel’s âLost History,â wondered how to respond. Then he learned that two York Region women, Hannah Shipley and JJ Sheffer, were calling for book donations so they could put some of the banned books in York’s small free libraries. They created wish lists on Amazon.com and Bookshop.org where people could purchase the books and have them shipped to York (address is Haybrook Little Free Library, 131 Haybrook Dr., York, PA, 17406).
Meltzer immediately boosted the dynamism on its social networks. And the books started pouring in.
Shipley, a former preschool teacher, was outraged by the ban.
âThese banned books cover topics like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, Neil deGrasse Tyson,â she said. âThe ban hits all marginalized groups: Blacks, Asian Americans, Muslims, Latinx, Native Americans, LGBTQ, representation of people with disabilities, representation of autism. Anything that is not neurotypical, straight and white. It pissed me off. I was welcome to read these books to students in private day care centers, but a mile and a half away, students were not allowed to read these books at school.
Now Shipley’s house is filling up with books; she has 1,200 at the moment, while Amazon’s wishlist promises a total of 2,200 are on the way so far. That’s too many books for the Little Free Libraries to manage, so Shipley will be handing them out at an upcoming gathering.
“If the ban is upheld, I’ll go to a playground with a trench coat and hand them out,” she joked.
Meltzer praised Shipley and Sheffer’s efforts, saying the Ordinary Heroes series is not meant to be political but to introduce children to famous historical figures.
âYou have an all-white school board and almost all of the banned books are written by or about a person of color,â he said. âRace is a tough topic, but nothing good comes out of not talking about tough topics. If we say we can’t discuss race, we are doing our children a disservice. “
On Monday evening, the York school board overturned its ban, telling parents and students, “We heard you,” according to the York Dispatch. Shipley says she will donate the books she collected to teachers and work to get copies of “I am Rosa Parks” into the hands of as many children as possible at York Elementary School.
I’m just relieved and so thrilled. Last night I went to their virtual school board meeting for a reason: to read I am Rosa Parks and I am Martin Luther King, Jr. why talking about race is so vital. Special thanks to Hannah Shipley, JJ Sheffer and so many others in the community. Now the real work begins: handing out all the books to the kids – and voting this board so they can’t start over. it’s proof that the process – and a good protest – is working.
“I’m just relieved and so thrilled,” said Meltzer, who attended Monday night’s school board meeting virtually to read his books. âThe York community – and their students – have left me so inspired, telling stories of why talking about race is so vital. . . . Now the real work begins: distributing all the books to the children.
This story was originally published September 20, 2021 3:53 pm.