CBLDF, organizational members of NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project, and other free expression advocacy organizations today sent a letter to Seminole County (Florida) Public Schools defending Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer in high school libraries. Student access to the book has been restricted at the high school level even though the original challenge against it came from the mother of an elementary student.
Due to the its status as a 2015 Caldecott Honoree, some libraries and schools serving younger readers have been caught off-guard by the book’s more mature content. There is no question, however, that This One Summer is age-appropriate for high school students. Its publisher First Second recommends it for ages 12-18. In addition to the Caldecott Honor for illustration, it also received a Printz Honor for outstanding teen books, as well as starred reviews in Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.
Despite the book’s bona fides, we learned that it has now been placed behind the counter in three Seminole County high school libraries, where students must have parental permission to access it. This overreaction is likely due to the negative publicity from local news station WFTV, which reported that This One Summer is “filled with obscenities and sexual situations” and uncritically quoted an Amazon reader review that called it “practically porn for kids.”
In the letter sent today, we reminded the school district of its existing policy on challenges to library materials, which includes multiple levels of review and says that the challenged material is to remain in circulation until the challenge is resolved one way or the other. Acting based on fear of bad publicity rather than on sound policy and careful assessment also exposes the district to future challenges from all quarters, as the letter points out:
Parents who object to the book could easily supervise their children’s reading choices. However, restricting student access violates the rights of students whose parents want their children to have access to a wider diversity of material. The library’s primary role is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and values. As a practical matter, acceding to any demand to remove material potentially exposes the school to multiple, possibly conflicting demands from others seeking accommodation for different views and beliefs. Decisions about school materials should be made for sound educational reasons and follow established policy, not because some people may or may not agree with the content.
We are closely following this story and we hope to see This One Summer restored to open shelves in Seminole County high school libraries very soon! Check out the full text of the letter below.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.