If 2021 and 2022 were about banning books to get attention for right-wing causes, then 2023 can be dubbed the beginning of the push to dismantle book fairs by these same groups and individuals. They’re still banning books, of course, but now, more time and attention–and indeed, money–are at the heart of demands to end school and library book fairs through traditional outlets like Scholastic. Censorship attempts at school book fairs have been on the rise, and in September, we rang the alarm. Things were getting worse, in part thanks to right-wing, Christian publishers like Brave Books amping up their bases. But a funny thing has happened in the time between Brave Books declaring war on Scholastic Book Fairs and now. Brave Books’s book fair arm seems to have disappeared and a new competitor to traditional, professionally-curated book fairs has emerged: SkyTree Book Fairs. But what is SkyTree Book Fairs?
First, it should be noted that Brave Books still has on their website that they offer book fairs. But where once it was possible to request information for hosting one of their book fairs, the information has disappeared. Instead, the rhetoric around why Scholastic book fairs are bad remains and as does rationale as to why an alternate is so desperately needed.
The above screen shot is from Brave Books’s Book Fair landing page on November 27. But it differs from the language found on the website, wherein they noted offering book fairs beginning in spring 2024. The below is from the Wayback Machine, dated September 14, 2023. Somewhere between then and the next time that the website was crawled, October 16, 2023, the language about booking events disappered.
But a curious new website with a well-known conservative celebrity hero, Kirk Cameron, emerged on November 8, 2023, corresponding with a right-wing media blitz: SkyTree Book Fairs.
SkyTree Book Fairs made its launch in early November and the language used on their website about why they were created is curiously similar to that from Brave Books. Here’s Brave Books:
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that both of them refer to the same comprehensive report they’ve written exposing Scholastic? Perhaps it’s because they are actually one and the same thing, with one big difference. Where Brave Books is a money-making publisher, SkyTree Book Fairs has been incorporated not just as a separate entity, but as a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. Indeed, “fundraising” to host these book fairs across the country is essential to SkyTree’s non-profit model, so it makes sense they’d spin off their book fair arm from the publishing arm. It likely helps to have a little distance from Brave Books itself, given how those who can make decisions about the books accessible in schools and libraries are good at Googling and know how much Brave Books respect their institutions and professionals.
At least one person who worked for Brave Books is now employed by SkyTree, too. That’s Riley Lee–former Head of Finance and Administration at Brave Books turned Head of Book Fairs for SkyTree. Not to mention that SkyTree got a nice boost at the Conroe Independent School District (TX) recently–SkyTree and Brave Books are both located in Conroe–thanks to an employee at Brave Books. As reported by Frank Strong:
Before either of them spoke [Riley Lee and Brave Books CEO Trent Talbot, CEO of Brave Books], a young woman came to the microphone to describe how reading a Scholastic book with a single kiss when she was eleven led to a pornography addiction that took her years to shake. “I don’t want Conroe ISD students to repeat what I went through because they accidentally ran upon a Scholastic book or another book that could lead them down this road,” she said, “which Drama is one of them.”
That “young woman” was Lanah Burkhardt, who just so happens to be a Public Relations Coordinator for Brave Books. You can watch the testimony below and note it was shared by SkyTree without any mention of it being an individual with ties to their company.
SkyTree Book Fairs does not list the books it plans to make available for sale at their events, but as Strong reported, many of them are Brave Books titles and several of the books mentioned during the Conroe ISD school board meeting were by celebrities endorsed by Brave Books. The below image is one captured from the SkyTree Book Fairs website at launch with samples of the types of books they would offer; the images seem to no longer be on their website, and the catalogs are a mess of broken links and images.
It’s curious they highlighted non-Brave Books titles. Did they get the licensing rights to sell them at the book fair and/or do the authors and publishers of those books know they’re being distributed through this non-profit Scholastic alternative? Likewise, it’s worth considering what happens if SkyTree claims a book is “clean” and “appropriate” and indeed, their loyal followers disagree. At least with the books they’re connected to, they can defend their decisions more easily.
Brave Books has been proud to share on social the new, exciting book fairs. Why would they cross promote unless they had a vested interest in the company that sells their books and has their former employees and is founded in the same Texas community?
All of this in theory would be, at this point, little more than a laughable attempt at disrupting a well-founded and developed industry. But SkyTree has already found success in getting their book fairs into schools. Their first stop is in Fredricksburn, Virginia, schools in early December at the Spotsylvania School District. The book fair company has invited anyone from the public to join them at the event.
If Spotsylvania sounds familiar, you’re not imagining it. That’s where in 2021, two school board members suggested burning books they disliked when they were removed from school libraries; it’s been a site of nonstop board meetings filled with demands to ban books and ban queer people, period. Kirk Twigg, one of the book burning advocates, lost his election in November of this year, but the timing of the book fair meant the change in the face of the board had little say in the event.
But it’s not just Fredricksburg. Now, it’s also Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, considering SkyTree Book Fairs. It’s Moms For Liberty in Oklahoma putting out press releases loaded with disinformation about Scholastic Book Fairs in order to sway their followers, as well as those who’ve yet to enter the fray, into ramming these right-wing Christian book fairs into the schools.
Brave Books SkyTree considers themselves the David here, fighting against a Goliath they themselves have created, distributed, and profited from. With the development of their latest book fair endeavor and wrapping it as a nonprofit, they have a goal of shoving this unprofessional production into 1,000 schools by 2025.
Again and again and again–whether it’s SkyTree or Brave Books putting on the book fair–it’s the kids, the educators, the librarians, the parents, and the communities that lose. They’re being fed a steady stream of lies and falsehoods, while christofascism and extremism continue to infiltrate institutions of democracy.