As Wentzville students sue district over banned books, local bookstores help showcase diverse literature

By GABRIELA VIDAL

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WENTZVILLE, Mo. (KMOV) – Wentzville students are now suing their school district for banning certain literary works from school libraries. “Books about gay kids, you look at books about mental health, height, and strong female characters,” said Grace Hagen, director of operations and inclusion at The Novel Neighbor, a bookstore near Webster Groves. . In the wake of controversy surrounding the Wentzville School District’s decision to ban access to Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” in January, St. Louis-area bookstores have worked harder than ever to promote the delivered. “The book banning, the anti-criticism of race theory movement,” Hagen said, “these are all very well organized national movements that are being used for political purposes.” A display of discounted books that were previously banned by school districts across the country sits in a corner of the Novel Neighbor library, which Hagen says has received a lot of attention. “We have sold 120 of the banned books in the past two weeks and have backorders for more as they come in because we continue to run out,” Hagen said. “It’s getting a lot stronger right now.”

At The Book House in Maplewood, owner Michelle Barron says demand for these books has also increased in response to controversy over “The Bluest Eye” in Wentzville schools. “Truly the best literature…causes controversy…helps you solve different problems. that’s what literature is for,” Barron said. Two students represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week against the district for blocking access to “The Bluest Eye” and other books in their schools. The names of the students were not included in the lawsuit because they are minors. Here is a list of banned books mentioned in the lawsuit: “The Bluest Eye” – by Toni Morrison “All Boys Aren’t Blue” – by George Matthew Johnson “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” – by Alison Bechdel “Invisible Girl: A Novel” – by Lisa Jewell “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” – by Isabel Quintero “Heavy: An American Memoir” – by Kiese Laymon “Lawn Boy” – by Jonathan Evison “Modern Romance: An Investigation” – by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

The lawsuit claims that banning these literary works violates students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and threatens their ability to “learn and engage with a diversity of ideas and information, including seeing their own experiences reflected in the books and developing a better understanding of the experiences”. others.”

Hagen says it’s critical that students fight back against book-banning districts. “I think this activism that students are participating in is what will change it,” Hagen said, “and other school districts seeing the response that it’s had and I hope it’s positive peer pressure. not to go down that road.” On Tuesday, the district voted unanimously to keep one of the books listed in the lawsuit, “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces.” The vote came the evening after the lawsuit was filed. complaint. The Wentzville School District told News 4 it was aware of the lawsuit but did not wish to comment. News 4 also contacted the ACLU to discuss the lawsuit, but is still awaiting a response.” I taught those books, I used to be an English teacher,” Heather Fleming said. “One of the things we know is that students really connect with stories that show them both a mirror and a window.” Fleming is the founder and director of In Purpose Educational Serv ices (IPES), a non-profit organization working on equity in the St. Louis area. As students fight to keep banned books on school shelves, Fleming is working on an initiative to raise money to distribute these books to communities for free. “When the book bans came along, we realized that many of the banned books were written by black and brown people, or people from historically excluded groups, and so we wanted to make sure we made those books available. people who wanted to hear the stories of people from historically excluded groups,” Fleming said.

The IPES/EyeSeeMe banned book program began in early February and has since raised approximately $20,000. “That allows us to supply around 1,000 books,” Fleming said. “Honestly, we didn’t expect it to be so popular, but we’re very happy it is.” Fleming says they’ve already received more than 2,000 requests for “The Bluest Eye” and she hopes to make more banned books available each month for every grade level. “We have had requests from people who have small free libraries in their backyards and in their communities,” she said. “We’ve had requests from people who live in rural areas who may not have as much access to libraries and bookstores.”

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