A debate over summer reading books in Virginia’s Chesterfield County Public Schools intensified last week when a state senator characterized the books as “trash” and said the school librarians who recommended them should be fired. The titles that have raised objections from parents include Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers.
Although the reading selections were only suggestions, not required assignments, the school district already caved to pressure from a vocal minority of parents and replaced the lists that had been compiled by district librarians with links to third-party sites including YALSA, Scholastic, and Read Kiddo Read. But even that appeasement did not satisfy state Sen. Amanda Chase, who has three children enrolled in the district. Because some of the critically praised books from the original lists also appear on the third-party sites, Chase says that “it’s the same thing” as the district recommending those titles directly.
In an interview with the Chesterfield Observer, Chase said that the professional librarians who compiled the original reading lists “should be dismissed” for “not recommending books that line up with Chesterfield County Public Schools’ core values.” Those values are listed on the district website as respect, responsibility, honesty, and accountability. She also said she would “absolutely” like the books removed from school libraries altogether because “if it’s X-rated material, I don’t want my kids getting their hands on it.”
Chase dismissed the idea that each parent should guide their own children’s reading selections, saying that “we don’t have time to check over everything our kids are reading.” Instead, she believes that “it’s [the librarians’] job when they recommend books to make sure they line up with the core values of [CCPS].” But a longtime high school librarian who spoke anonymously to the Observer pointed out the difficulty of limiting any collection or reading list to books that will offend no one. “I have absolutely no understanding of why you would not let a high school student read Eleanor and Park,” the librarian said. “[It’s] just a lovely little love story.”
To support the Chesterfield librarians and remind Chase of her sworn obligation to uphold free speech principles as outlined in the Virginia Constitution as well as the federal Bill of Rights, a petition has been launched on the advocacy site EveryLibrary. Take a second to sign, particularly if you live in Chesterfield County or anywhere else in Virginia!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.