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Education

St. Louis groups launch 'banned book program' to distribute challenged books

Several books which have been challenged by parents based on their content are pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Several books which have been challenged by parents based on their content are pictured at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood last November.

Two local organizations are partnering to distribute free copies of controversial books in response to the recent increase in attempts to remove titles from school libraries.

In Purpose Educational Services and the St. Louis bookstore EyeSeeMe will deliver free copies of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison to Missourians who request it.

The organizations raised more than $3,000 in the first few hours after launching the book program, said Heather Fleming, founder of In Purpose Educational Services.

“If you look at most of the books that they are trying to ban, they are the stories of people from historically marginalized groups,” said Fleming. “We have to grapple with some of the things that have happened in our society. Number one, to make sure that they don't happen again. But then number two, because we need to learn how to live with one another.”

Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is photographed in this photo illustration on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is photographed in this photo illustration last November at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.

A St. Louis Public Radio analysis of the books being challenged in the area in November found two-thirds were written by authors of color or authors who identify as LGBTQ. “The Bluest Eye,” was the book with the most official requests for removal from libraries. It was the first book by Toni Morrison, who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer Prize.

The Wentzville School Board voted 4-3 at its Jan. 20 meeting to remove the book from school libraries. That’s after a committee voted to recommend keeping the book, writing, “committee members believe that removing the work would infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature.”

A committee in the Francis Howell School District voted to retain the book this month and a review of “The Bluest Eye” is still underway in the Lindbergh School District.

The organizations that are planning the “banned book program” have a form for people to fill out if they are interested in receiving free copies of the book. The books will be distributed to people in Missouri and the groups plan to pick a new book each month, Fleming said.

These conversations and these types of book bans, they're placing our students at a disadvantage,” Fleming said. “Whether people want to admit it or not, we are becoming an increasingly diverse society … students who are not culturally competent are not going to meet with as much success.”

There has been a national increase in attempts to remove books from school libraries, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“We're just really stunned by the fact that there seems to be this campaign to erase certain books, certain topics from school libraries and public libraries across the country,” said director Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

The people challenging the books say they contain sexually explicit material and are not suitable for children.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

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