The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is deeply concerned about the apparent shadow-banning of a subset of books shortlisted for this year’s Forest of Reading Awards.
According to a memo and related emails leaked on social media, at least four Children’s and Young Adult books on current Forest of Reading (FoR) shortlists have had significant access restrictions placed on them by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The memo states:
“The Blue Spruce, Silver Birch Express and Silver Birch Fiction books listed below have been catalogued as PRO because they don’t align with the Family Life curriculum… Before JK-Grade 6 students may borrow these books from the library, a teacher must provide the Catholic context…”
Books listed as PRO, or professional, are not immediately available to students in WCDSB classrooms, and may in fact never be made available. The four books listed in the memo all deal with LGBTQIA2S+ family situations. They are:
Princess Pru and the Ogre on the Hill, written by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Danesh Mohiuddin;
The Mystery of the Painted Fan, written by Linda Trinh, illustrated by Clayton Nguyen;
Salma Writes a Book, written by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron;
and, Jude Saves the World, written by Ronnie Riley.
TWUC Chair, Danny Ramadan is one of the authors immediately affected by this apparent WCDSB policy. His illustrated Children’s title, Salma Writes a Book, deals with the balance between being religious and being queer. It depicts a religious family struggling, then coming to terms, with their queer uncle.
“It’s truly heartbreaking to me that there are children in the Waterloo school system who may never even know that I wrote this book for them,” says Ramadan. “It’s a personal, meaningful, and truly joyful story. As a queer immigrant who came to Canada seeking refuge and escaping homophobia, it breaks my heart to see my little book limited in such a way. My heart aches for my book, and for its potential readers.”
Run by the Ontario Library Association (OLA), The Forest of Reading is Canada’s largest recreational reading program, and is hugely popular with educators across the country. FoR awards prizes based on reader votes for shortlisted books accessed primarily through schools and libraries. It is clear that any book with limited access to the competition’s voters sits at a distinct disadvantage. The OLA itself insists their FoR programs “are designed so that all 10 titles per program are included, ensuring a balanced reading list for young readers, and allowing them the opportunity to see themselves, see others, learn, grow and become lifelong readers.”
The Writers’ Union of Canada calls on the WCDSB to address public discussion of this policy direction. Is what is suggested by the online memo in practice at the WCDSB? TWUC believes any access restrictions for Forest of Reading shortlisted titles must be immediately removed. Furthermore, policies that keep students from books for any reason must be reconsidered. If a school board takes it upon itself to contextualize and/or provide counter understanding around a book’s subject matter, that work should not stand in the way of student access to the work in question.
The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is the national organization of professionally published writers. TWUC was founded in 1973 to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. Now over 2,800 members strong, TWUC advocates on behalf of writers’ collective interests, and delivers value to members through advocacy, community, and information. TWUC believes in a thriving, diverse Canadian culture that values and supports writers.
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For additional information:
Danny Ramadan, Chair
The Writers’ Union of Canada
John Degen, Chief Executive Officer
The Writers’ Union of Canada
DATE: November 9, 2023