It was the most personal story that Maggie Tokuda-Hall had ever written: the tale of how her grandparents met and fell in love at an incarceration camp in Idaho that held Japanese Americans during World War II.
The book, called “Love in the Library,” is aimed at 6- to 9-year-olds. Published last year by a small children’s publisher, Candlewick Press, it drew glowing reviews, but sales were modest. So Tokuda-Hall was thrilled when Scholastic, a publishing giant that distributes books and resources in 90 percent of schools, said last month it wanted to license her book for use in classrooms.
When Tokuda-Hall read the details of the offer, she felt deflated — then outraged. Scholastic wanted her to delete references to racism in America from her author’s note, in which she addresses readers directly. The decision was wrenching, Tokuda-Hall said, but she turned Scholastic down and went public, describing her predicament in a blog post and a Twitter post that drew more than five million views.
Tokuda-Hall’s revelations sparked an outcry among children’s book authors and brought intense scrutiny to the editorial process of the world’s largest children’s publisher. The blowup came at a time when culture wars are fueling efforts to ban books in schools — particularly books on race or sexuality — and raising questions about whether already published works should be re-edited to remove potentially offensive content.
“We all see what’s happening with this rising culture of book bans,” Tokuda-Hall said. “If we all know that the largest children’s publisher in the country, the one with the most access to schools, is capitulating behind closed doors and asking authors to change their works to accommodate those kinds of demands, there’s no way you as a marginalized author can find an audience.”