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Brave Books’ Storytime to Become Annual Event, But Was It Even Successful?: Book Censorship News, August 11, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Earlier this summer, I shared the news that Brave Books — a right-wing publisher creating books with a pro-God, pro-“Liberty” conservative angle authored by right-wing “stars” like Kirk Cameron — planned to do a nationwide storytime on August 5. People across the country who follow this publisher made room reservations at their local libraries to host these events under the banner of “free speech.” Hosting such storytimes at the public library would “prove” how much they are needed.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists have loved playing victim these last few years. They continue to claim their beliefs are under attack and that places like public libraries have been at the forefront of purposefully silencing them and have turned to indoctrinating children with a pro-LGBTQ+, anti-white agenda. We know this to be completely false and fabricated, but truth doesn’t get many clicks on Fox News or other such outlets. Truth also doesn’t allow washed-up stars and proud homophobes and insurrectionists to perpetuate their persecution complex. The Brave Books storytime was the perfect opportunity to prove some kind of point about their rights being squashed and that the masses are demanding more books and events at public libraries aligned with a single-minded, right-wing hate agenda.

But…how did the event actually go?

There is nothing on Brave Books’s website to suggest it was an overwhelming success. There are no photos from events that took place across the country, though their website claims that they’ll be hosting this as an annual event “to promote free speech and traditional values in public institutions.” They may have hosted 300 events in 46 states but a few wingnuts renting a room and sharing propaganda does not a success make.

According to journalist Steve Monacelli in the Texas Observer, some of the Texas events had a solid turnout, but others had fewer than 20 show up; he rightly points out that these same “free speech” defenders are those actively seeking to get books removed from the very facilities which allowed them to use the space for their prayer circles and bigotry-based book sharing. Monacelli points out on social media that the leader of the largest event in Texas has been photographed with a confederate flag and has been interviewed by the January 6 commission, claiming to be a member of the Oath Keepers — a truly upstanding citizen to put in front of children that the same people claim need to be kept pure and innocent.

The only other media coverage of the event comes from The Washington Examiner, a right-wing outlet dedicated to propping up the conspiracy theory de jour, as well as RedState and “Not Woke News.”

If anything, it furthers the reality that these events are not what people are clamoring for. They are not the overwhelming success that Christian nationalists want them to be because when people go to the library, they aren’t there to be bombarded with an agenda. Mainstream media would bend over backward to report on such events were they successful — they’re hungry for clicks, too, and mediocre events don’t drive that. Libraries, of course, are not and should never be “neutral” — a statement one local library made when I let them know that there would be a Brave Books even held in their facility (“we are neutral and do not discriminate against viewpoint” is what they said, in fact). But libraries are always political and they are never neutral. If they were truly neutral, they would have absolutely nothing on shelves and hold absolutely no events, whether they are in-house events or those from outside parties.

As it turns out, even when libraries allow blatantly political events to happen in their facilities, the people aren’t rushing in to attend them.

There is no squashing of free speech when a library has meeting room policies that require outside users to follow rules or meet particular criteria. No matter how much the Christian right claims victimhood and claims having their liberties taken from them, the reality is they’re choosing not to exercise their own rights. These people don’t want to do their job as law-abiding citizens — despite how much they claim to love the police, the law, and their god-given freedoms from the Constitution (see the fetishization of the Second Amendment in particular). They want libraries to eradicate any books or events outside of their own limited views so that they don’t need to do the work of talking with their kids about what they do and do not see as appropriate. They do not want to face the questions their children will inevitably ask about why they can’t borrow a book about pronouns or a book about the history of the Tulsa Massacre. Those require them to either blatantly lie to their kids or write scripts that make absolutely no logical sense. They worship at the altar of Fox News but when faced to talk for themselves, they can’t do so without the script handed to them by their favorite right-wing media source.

It’s so much easier to claim their rights are being trampled, rather than explain why or how they’re being taken. If you can scream loud enough and intimidate enough people — and intimidate who you think are the right people, like librarians or educators — then you don’t need to actually sit down and think about what you believe (see: January 6). You can spout the lies spoon-fed to you by your media outlets of choice and your heroes of choice.

Not thinking is much easier than spouting the thoughts handed to you. Forcing other people to defend their actions requires little on your end.

And when it comes to library workers and educators — among some of the most well-educated, thoughtful individuals — it’s easier to put the onus on them when your perspective is that of victim and it’s easier to keep changing the goalposts so you don’t have to do any of your own damn work.

Because at the end of the day, when you do the work, you see results that don’t support your claims.

Book Censorship News: August 11, 2023

  • The Botetourt County Library (VA) might be for adults only if the current proposal by the chairman of the PUBLIC LIBRARY BOARD passes through. This is yet another example of how there are no places for children or teenagers to be in society. For as much as right-wingers cry “think of the children,” they perpetuate the issue of hiding kids away from society by eliminating spaces where they can exist.
  • Katy Independent School District (TX) is truly showcasing what fascism on the school level can look like. Now board members have even more power to decide what students can and cannot read. Just sit with the fact folks vote these members in — no experience or expertise needed — and they determine what students can access. They don’t like facts? No need for books with facts! Decisions on this level are not the purview of the board.
  • And Tango Makes Three is back on Lake County School library shelves (FL).
  • Elsewhere in Florida, educators can’t teach Shakespeare, since it’s in violation of their new laws and statutes. They can teach excerpts, which is the perfect opportunity to teach kids how to think like the adults who pick and choose information that suits their agenda and ignores context all together. They’re getting exactly what they want — students who cannot think for themselves or do actual research or understand context or, or, or.
  • Patmos Library in Michigan twice defunded over four queer books that the bigots didn’t like, is going to seek its millage for a third time. Something not great here is the “compromise” made between the library and the handful of bigots is that now 90,000 books are going to get content labels. NINETY THOUSAND BOOKS over four that were at the heart of their issue. Who decides these content labels? Why isn’t pulling out a phone to look up reviews enough for these people? They want everything hand-fed to them because their energy only extends to outrage, rather than anything requiring a second of work from them.
  • I am grateful for being interviewed in this piece about how Illinois’s anti-book ban bill overlooks censorship in prisons. It’s powerful and important to remember that in this era of rising censorship in public institutions those experiencing incarceration are often forgotten in the fight. Spoiler alert: I’ll be covering this in a piece in the future, too.
  • New York legislators are introducing several anti-book ban bills for the next legislative session. These shouldn’t feel like victories and yet they do.
  • The passage of an anti-book ban bill in Illinois is encouraging potential similar legislative proposals in Michigan.
  • In Beaufort County School District (SC), The Fixer will be returned to shelves.
  • Two books are back on school library shelves in Academy School District 20 (CO).
  • “Supervisor, who requested 2 books be removed from the library, says no one wants to ban books” — honestly, no headline better captures the logic of book banners than this one. This is yet again at Samuels Public Library in Virginia. Where they’re trying to remove hundreds of books from the library. But no one wants to ban books.
  • Speaking of Samuels Public Library, the director is resigning over this nonsense. I can’t blame them in the least and yet, it feels like this is the opportunity for the library to be completely destroyed by the bigoted crisis actors.
  • After compiling a list of hundreds of books they planned to remove from school shelves in order to be in compliance with new Iowa state laws, Urbandale is pausing from pulling LGBTQ+ books. At least they claim.
  • More on Iowa’s book ban from a source that is not paywalled (every article from the Des Moines Register is paywalled for me, which is super useful for sharing actual information about an actual law with actual impact on actual people, but I’ve said this before).
  • And all of the time and money spent on these book reviews instituted by a fascist Florida governor is a tremendous waste — exactly how they want it to be.
  • Never fear: Canadian libraries are also dealing with the rise of book banners. Over the last year and a half, Vancouver Public Library (BC) has fielded 17 book challenges and one challenge to a CD. Subtracting points for use of “culture war” here. This isn’t a culture war.
  • Meanwhile, in Australia, far-right conservatives have launched a competition to find the naughty books in public libraries across the state and start causing chaos. This is how they’re spending their one precious life.
  • This story is paywalled, but this excerpt you can read says everything you need to know: “Jennifer Meeks, wife of State Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, is facing backlash from community members after she said she removed LGBTQ books and Pride material from Little Free Libraries in Conway and replaced them with others she found less objectionable.” Complaints surfaced after Meeks went on Facebook last week to share her thoughts on the content of the Little Free Libraries in Conway. “I have been swapping out books in little free libraries for awhile,” Meeks wrote to Facebook sometime last week. “From what I have seen, a lot of these books and other things don’t align with our Christian values.” This is Arkansas.
  • Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library (WV) is dealing with book crisis actors who want to restrict LGBTQ+ books from minors. I thought these people said it was okay these books were at the public library? They can’t even get their messaging consistent.
  • Fort Worth Public Library (TX) has right-wing bigots demanding books be pulled, too. This article might be paywalled because why not? The media protects these people.
  • Alabama is the latest state trying to cut ties with the American Library Association, following in the footsteps of Montana and others.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education is doing the most in their job of ensuring educational access to students across the state, claiming there is porn in libraries and they have proof but they also do not…have proof.
  • There is a really interesting case going on in Colorado worth bringing more attention to. Right now, the law is being interpreted in such a way that people who challenge library materials can have their names redacted in public information requests — in other words, the bigots can be given anonymity for their work. But that’s not really how library privacy works. It’s a convenient loophole to protect one group. How this case plays out will have huge implications.
  • “Virginia just removed homosexuality from the state’s definition of “sexual conduct,” a term that is used in various laws, including a recently passed law informing parents about “sexually explicit” books in schools.” That sounds good, but it just means the idea isn’t codified. It’ll still be practiced.
  • Invoking Jesus Christ and the Bible in your defense of banning Stamped does not give your argument the weight you think it does (NC).
  • I’ve shared several pieces about the potential closure of the Dayton Memorial Library in Washington, all of which is happening over some books the bigots don’t like. The Nation has a nice comprehensive look at what’s going on now.
  • “I think this form is great, a step in the right direction, but I really think we as a board should go vote to remove these books that aren’t age-appropriate, and books with sexually explicit material,” said Director Deneen “Didi” Evans. Evans then requested to have the item added to the voting agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, saying she wanted to vote for the removal of “all adult rated books, age 17 and up, and any sexually explicit, not age-appropriate books.” This is at the Punxsutawney School District (PA), where one board member is mad she can’t decide what books are okay to be in the library…despite the fact the discussion was about a new policy where parents can opt their kids out of any books they wish. Also, Ms. Didi’s comments suggest that no classics would be available, nor would most reference materials. Glad she’s part of the decision-making body of the school.
  • Anticipate more AP classes to be banned in Florida schools. These poor kids are going to be stuck attending subpar government-infiltrated colleges because their public education won’t prepare them for higher education — which is, of course, exactly what the governor and his minions and Moms want.
  • Whew, another heartwrenching story of a school losing its librarian because of LGBTQ+ discrimination against students and a hostile environment, period. I hope these stories are a reminder that books don’t matter as a physical object. What matters are the people those books represent. This story is from Wyoming.
  • “A group protesting “inappropriate” books in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. libraries [IN] took over the public comment section of Monday night’s school board meeting, taking advantage of a new policy that allows the public to talk about any subject, whether or not it is on the agenda.” Wow, you’re telling me the book crisis actors took advantage of a new policy that lets them spout their nonsense agenda however they want? Shocker. Indiana will no doubt try to ram public library censorship bills in the coming legislative session, if their last session on school libraries is any indication (they have an especially active group of bigots).
  • The book crisis actors are still showing up at Talcott Public Library (IL), this time claiming books like This Book Is Gay are going to emotionally damage the kids in the area. I worked at the neighboring library back in the day, and, well, I suspect the kids today are going to be just as fine as the kids who had access to the same kinds of books back then.
  • Parents bitch about waning to decide whether or not to allow access to books for their kids, then they bitch when they’re told they need to make a decision about access to books for their kids. YOU CANNOT WIN (Virginia).
  • Speaking of opt-in/opt-out policies, that’s what Natrona County School District (WY) is introducing this year. The books included in the policy are those deemed “sexually explicit,” but the board has the power to include whatever books they want to on that list whenever they want to, for whatever reason they wish.
  • While we’re in Wyoming, the director of Campbell County Public Libary — which has been under nonstop attack for years — was just fired by the board. Why? The director wouldn’t give into far-right politics.
  • Lee County, Florida, schools don’t know what to do if parents don’t make a decision over their student’s access to library materials. This is one of the downsides of requiring such a form, especially as it only benefits the small, vocal contingent of bigots. Most parents want their kids to have access to the full library.
  • “Board member Brian Sloan offered a simple suggestion. “If there is one word that a kid can’t speak, then I don’t think it should be inside a school library,” he said.” Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC) continue to be a mess. Imagine if this was policy — some kids can’t say the word “butt,” and some can’t say the word “hate,” and some can say anything they wish.
  • Louisiana libraries are working to create policies that align with the state’s new “sexually explicit materials” law.
  • Hanover County, Virginia, schools are making their teachers hand over a list of every book kept in their classrooms…and the research to support WHY they’re including them. I can’t wait for the “experts” on research to weigh in when they disagree with it and demand the books be removed.
  • Four books under fire at Prattville Public Library (AL), which the crisis actors wanted removed from the children’s area but which the library put behind the desk instead…have now been put right back where they belong. All of this is such a tremendous waste of resources.
  • Fleming Island High (FL) is giving into book crisis actor Bruce Friedman’s crusade to rid the district of all books (see here) and the school has removed 22 books so far. Hi, Bruce — I know you’ve targeted my books before for highlighting your “work,” and I’m going to keep doing it.
  • Former Texas lawmaker Matt Kraus is desperate to remain relevant and is taking credit for his 850 book list of titles needing to be pulled from libraries being why book bans have increased throughout the country. Note the use of the word “former” here.