Maggie Tokuda-Hall, an Oakland author of Japanese descent, has called out Scholastic’s “deeply offensive” suggested revisions to her 2022 children’s book while offering to license it for their Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) narratives collection.
Tokuda-Hall was given an offer from Scholastic’s Educational Division to license her book “Love in the Library,” which is a love story set in a World War II Japanese American incarceration camp. The story is inspired by the story of her grandparents — Tama and George — who found love and joy amid war.
In the author’s note, Tokuda-Hall wrote, “[My grandparents’] improbable joy does not excuse virulent racism, nor does it minimize the pain, the trauma, and the deaths that resulted from it. But it is to situate it into the deeply American tradition of racism.”
However, Scholastic suggested that she remove the phrase “virulent racism,” the last sentence and a paragraph that reads:
As much as I would hope this would be a story of a distant past, it is not. It’s very much the story of America here and now. The racism that put my grandparents into Minidoka is the same hate that keeps children in cages on our border. It’s the myth of white supremacy that brought slavery to our past and allows the police to murder Black people in our present. It’s the same fear that brings Muslim bans. It’s the same contempt that creates voter suppression, medical apartheid, and food deserts. The same cruelty that carved reservations out of stolen, sovereign land, that paved the Trail of Tears. Hate is not a virus; it is an American tradition.
Scholastic claimed that Tokuda-Hall’s statement about racism is “politically sensitive,” adding that the section “goes beyond what some teachers are willing to cover with the kids in their elementary classrooms,” according to NPR.
“This could lead to teachers declining to use the book, which would be a shame,” Scholastic reportedly wrote in an email.
Tokuda-Hall, who was excited about the opportunity, contemplated compromising with Scholastic before declining and giving them a hard “no” for the “horrific demand for censorship.”
The author publicly posted a statement on her website that read in part:
They wanted to take this book and repackage it so that it was just a simple love story. Nothing more. Not anything that might offend those book banners in what they called this “politically sensitive” moment. The irony of curating a collection tentatively titled Rising Voices: Amplifying AANHPI Narratives with one hand while demanding that I strangle my own voice with the other was, to me, the perfect encapsulation of what publishing, our dubious white ally, does so often to marginalized creators. They want the credibility of our identities, want to market our biographies. They want to sell our suffering, smoothed down and made palatable to the white readers they prioritize. To assuage white guilt with stories that promise to make them better people, while never threatening them, not even with discomfort. They have no investment in our voices. Always, our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability.
And excuse my language, but absolutely the f*ck not.
Tokuda-Hall also posted the email she sent back to her original publisher, Candlewick Press, who passed along Scholastic’s proposal.
It’s a deeply offensive offer. It’s a deeply offensive and particular edit. To say yes, we’d like to sell your grandparent’s story but not in a way that connects them to the suffering of those just like them now for fear of potential bans is, to put it lightly, cowardly. They will not have the right to sell this story because they’ve proven to me that they’re not up to the responsibility of it. Nor do they have the right to tell me and people like me that our family’s stories must stay in the past where they’re deemed no longer political.
“So, to Scholastic, with all due respect: absolutely not. I wish them the best of luck finding safe AANHPI books that cater to the white readership they prioritize,” Tokuda-Hall concluded.
Two days after Tokuda-Hall spoke out about the offer, Scholastic issued a statement to NPR.
“This approach was wrong and not in keeping with Scholastic’s values,” the company’s CEO Peter Warwick wrote. “We don’t want to diminish or in any way minimize the racism that tragically persists against Asian-Americans. We must never do this again.”
Warwick added that Scholastic has contacted Candlewick to apologize to Tokuda-Hall, noting that the company failed to consult with their mentors for the Rising Voices collection. He hopes that the author will still accept the offer without any compromise on the author’s note.
“It is our sincere hope that we can start this conversation over and still be able to share this important story about Ms. Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents, who met in a WWII Incarceration camp, with the author’s note unchanged,” Warwick said, according to Publishers Weekly.
It is not clear whether Tokuda-Hall will consider the revised offer as of this writing.
Tokuda-Hall has previously published other children’s books, including “Also an Octopus,” “The Mermaid, The Witch and The Sea” and “Squad” and has more books forthcoming.