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Award-Winning Books Address Racism for a Young Audience

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
As we approach Banned Books Week we are reminded that some books are censored before they reach their intended audience. A librarian, teacher, or parent may try to avoid a tough topic by not purchasing a book for a collection - that is a form of censorship. The Freedom to Read Foundation works to promote diverse books and provide access to information - therefore challenging censorship of all forms.

In this post, guest blogger, librarian, and educator Deah Hester shares popular current and upcoming titles related to racial conflict and tension. The titles are for young adults and children, and Hester includes compelling reasons to add these to your reading list or collection. 

This week the National Book Awards longlist came out, and one of the books listed was “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. Published in February 2017, “The Hate U Give” has skyrocketed to the top of reading lists for young adults across the country, as well as scooping up some very prestigious awards. In addition to having a record 13 publishing houses bid for the publishing rights (Harper Collins’ Balzer+Bray won), the book has been optioned as a movie (filming began last week), and has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for months.

Hearing Angie Thomas speak at the Library of Congress National Book Festival was thrilling. Immediately I noticed that the audience for her presentation was the most diverse of all the speakers I listened to that day. Readers as young as 10 were lined up waiting to enter the room, as well as senior teachers and librarians. The attendees were black, white, and all shades in between, and as Ms. Thomas spoke about what moved her to write her book, I could hear fingers snapping, “amens,” light applause and “preach, sister” in response to her words.

 The Hate U give

Ms. Thomas grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and witnessed a drug deal shoot-out when she was 6 years old. The next day her mother took her to the public library, showing her another side of her community. When she was in college, she listened to news reports about the shooting of an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by the police. From that incident, the idea for “The Hate U Give” was born. After turning in the short story for a creative writing class at university, she was encouraged to continue the story as a novel.

While working as a secretary for a bishop, she wrote the book in her spare time. Although it was initially rejected by more than 60 publishers, she was able to get the book published with the help of We Need Diverse Books, winning its inaugural award.


“The Hate U Give” is not the only recently published book about police brutality, shootings and speaking up for the truth. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s “All American Boys” was published in late 2015, and went on to win major awards in 2016. The authors spoke at schools, communities and book festivals, and won both the Coretta Scott King Author book award and the Walter Dean Myers Award.

“All American Boys” is told by two alternating narrators: Rashad, a black boy who has been beaten by a police officer who mistakenly thought he was shoplifting, and Quinn, a white boy from school who witnesses the assault and is a family friend of the police officer.

 All American Boys
  How it Went Down

A year earlier, Kekla Magoon’s “How it Went Down” tackled a similar subject. It was published in 2014 and features the shooting of a black teen by a white man living in the same neighborhood. The book is told from the points of view of several people who saw the event, heard about the event, or knew the shooter or the victim. Each chapter offers a different take on “what went down,” as the neighborhood navigates the after-effects from the residents, the police and the media.

When I heard Angie Thomas speak at the National Book Festival, a teacher in the audience asked her, “How can I explain to my very young students — first graders— about topics such as police brutality, Black Lives Matter, neighborhood riots and violence against unarmed citizens?” Ms. Thomas told her, “You teach them that empathy is more important than sympathy.”

That got me thinking about children’s books that address this timely topic. Here are a few that are new or upcoming for our very young readers.

  Momma, Did You Hear the News,”   

“Momma, Did You Hear the News,” by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, is a picture book that features a boy whose parents decide he’s old enough to have “the talk” with him after he sees the news about a police shooting. His parents teach him to come back “A-L-I-V-E,” with each letter featuring advice on how to behave if he encounters the police. The book was published in April 2017.


Published in January 2017, “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist,” by author Cynthia Levinson (award-winning author of “We’ve Got a Job,” about the Birmingham Children’s March) tells the story of the youngest person to be arrested at a civil rights protest. She was 9 years old.

And debuting next month (October 2017) is a picture book titled “Lovely” by Jess Hong, which features people who are “big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet…” and helps young readers gain an appreciation for all the things that make us different from one another… and the same.

 The Youngest Marcher

As parents, teachers and librarians, we can, as Angie Thomas challenged, instill empathy in our youngest readers, and they in turn will grow up to be the kind of teens and then adults who will appreciate the differences among us and not turn a blind eye when discrimination and oppression happen to people who “look different” to them. They will fight for the freedoms of all people, regardless of the way they look, where they live, or where they come from. Just as “dystopia” was hot in young adult books a few years ago, it appears that “diversity” is a trend that is here to stay for a while.


Deah Hester lives and works as a librarian in Virginia. After teaching abroad for ten years, she returned to the United States and became a high school librarian. In her spare time, she enjoys reading young adult literature and blogging about libraries and literacy at

  Deah Hester

Tags:  Banned Books Week 

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The Power of Words

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 28, 2017
Updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017

Emily Visness, The Bookish Advocate, shared her April 11 blog post, “The Power of Words” with us. Emily is a middle school teacher, mom, blogger, and reading advocate. Her post was inspired by the recent release of ALA's Banned Books Week theme for 2017, and the top ten list of most challenged books for 2016.

Thank you for sharing this important perspective with FTRF blog followers!.

The Power of Words by The Bookish Advocate


Tags:  ALA-OIF  BBW grants  Emily Visness  Judith Krug Memorial Fund 

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Celebrate the Freedom to Read with a Grant from FTRF

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 24, 2017

Free people read freely! Would you like to create an exciting program, host a community conversation, or create an exciting display celebrating the freedom to read?

Applications are open for libraries and organizations to receive a grant from FTRF to host a program during Banned Books Weeks, Sept. 24-30, 2017. Grants of $1,000 or $2,500 are offered through the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund.

To see examples of the organizations and projects that past recipients have created, and to apply, please visit The application deadline is May 12, 2017.

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Investing in Each Other

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 20, 2017

I was proofing the latest issue of the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy and read the powerful lead story about Gordon Conable. Conable, at one time the president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, got embroiled in a public challenge to Madonna's book Sex. At the time of the challenge, he was director of the Monroe County Library System in Michigan. The controversy was so bitter and so deep — there were death threats against both Conable and his 5-year-old son — that eventually Conable and his family left the community altogether.

Let me emphasize that Conable was almost the perfect librarian for the cause. Publicly and privately, Conable maintained a calm, articulate, tactful, and principled demeanor. It's hard to imagine a better spokesperson for intellectual freedom. He continually emphasized the First Amendment, library policy, and the teachable moment of a community dialogue.

While there was certainly some support for him and his family, there was also almost unimaginable community nastiness. His wife said she believes the stress eventually led to his high blood pressure and untimely death.

So my thoughts turn to something this month that I believe deserves greater consideration. We — members of the Freedom to Read Foundation — are part of a values-centered community. We know that we have an obligation to stand up for the principles of the Library Bill of Rights. But I want to emphasize that we have another obligation: to notice when one of us is in trouble, and to rally not just to the defense of a book, but to the defense of our champions. Very often, when we receive reports of challenges at the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the librarians are genuinely worried. They know that speaking truth to a power that grows secretive and authoritarian is a risky business. One can lose one's livelihood, and also an underlying faith in humanity.

You'll see that we're pushing a number of opportunities in this issue. First is the Conable Scholarship, dedicated to this brave man, and to a rising generation we hope will be inspired by his example (the scholarship pays to get people to ALA conferences). We are also offering scholarships for library and information science (LIS) students around the country, and grants for Banned Books Week through the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund. Judy, of course, was another fierce defender of intellectual freedom and libraries. Of course, we also support the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund, which provides direct financial aid to those fighting IF battles or workplace discrimination.

So I want to encourage you to contribute to these causes, if you can, but even more importantly, to reach out to encourage applications to scholarships and creative Banned Books Week funding. Ultimately, our investment is not just in ideas. It is in each other.

James LaRue
Office for Intellectual Freedom & The Freedom to Read Foundation

Photo: left to right, Keith Michael Fiels, Candy Morgan, Gordon Conable, Maurice Friedman, Judith Krug, and Nancy Kranich. 2003, following the oral arguments on the CIPA case.

Tags:  Conable Fund 

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FTRF Joins Statement in Support of Freedom of the Press

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 2, 2017

Statement in Support of Freedom of the Press

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government.”  Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black

As organizations committed to the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and the press, we are alarmed by the efforts of the President and his administration to demonize and marginalize the media and to undermine their ability to inform the public about official actions and policies.  

Such efforts include the President’s refusal to answer questions posed by a reporter from CNN because the President asserts it promotes “fake news”; charges that the media “manipulated” images of the inauguration; false accusations that the media has covered up terrorist attacks; and repeated claims that the media is “failing” and “dishonest.”  All of this recently culminated in the President calling the New York Times, CBS, CNN, ABC, and NBC News “the enemy of the American People!” and in the exclusion of representatives of various media outlets from a press briefing.  In these and other examples, the President and his designees have attempted to villainize and discredit the press for any reporting he dislikes.  However, the job of the press is not to please the President but to inform the public, a function that is essential to democracy.  

The expressions of disdain for the press and its role in democracy by federal officials send a signal to state and local officials.  In the aftermath of an election season that witnessed outright intimidation of journalists in communities around the country, there is a compelling need for highly placed federal officials to acknowledge the crucial role of a free press under our Constitution and the responsibility of government officials at all levels to respect it. In one chilling example, multiple individuals who identified themselves as journalists were arrested, detained, and charged with felonies while simply doing their job: reporting on Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C. Those arrests were made by local police and pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, both of which displayed an alarming lack of concern for fundamental constitutional rights.  The fact that those charges have since been dropped suggests that the arrests were unwarranted and highlights the need for our nation’s leaders to set national policy that unequivocally supports a free and independent press and the public’s right to know.

Our Constitution enshrines the press as an independent watchdog and bulwark against tyranny and official misconduct. Its function is to monitor and report on the actions of public officials so that the public can hold them accountable.  The effort to delegitimize the press undermines democracy, and officials who challenge the value of an independent press or question its legitimacy betray the country’s most cherished values and undercut one of its most significant strengths.

The First Amendment protects the right to protest, dissent, and petition government for a redress of grievances, but these rights cannot be exercised without a free press that provides information to the public.  Together, these rights represent the constitutionally sanctioned method for the public to oppose government policies and activities and to seek change.  The wisdom of this system can be seen in parts of the world where such a right does not exist, or is not honored, and violent opposition is the only available avenue to express opposition or remedy injustice.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms all efforts by elected and appointed officials to penalize, delegitimize, or intimidate members of the press. 

March 2, 2017

Endorsed by:

Alliance for Community Media

Alliance for Media Arts + Culture

American Association of Law Libraries

American Booksellers Association

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties of the

District of Columbia

American Library Association

American Society of Business  Publication Editors

American Society of Copy Editors

American Society of Journalists and Authors

American Society of Magazine Editors

American Society of Media Photographers

American Society of News Editors

Arizona Press Club

Asian American Journalists Association

Associated Collegiate Press

Associated Press Media Editors

Associated Press Photo Managers

Association of Alternative Newsmedia

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

Association of American University Presses

Association of Food Journalists

Association of Health Care Journalists

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Association of Research Libraries

Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication

Authors Guild

Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending

Dissent Foundation

CCTV Center for Media & Democracy

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Responsive Politics

Center for Scholastic Journalism

College Media Association

Colorado Press Women

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Committee to Protect Journalists

Demand Progress

Education Writers Association

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Freedom to Read Foundation

Free Press

Free Speech Coalition

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Institute for Nonprofit News

Investigative Reporters and Editors

Journalism and Women Symposium

Journalism Education Association

Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

Local Independent Online News Publishers

Media Freedom Foundation

Media Law Resource Center

Military Reporters and Editors

National Association of Black Journalists

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

National Association of Science Writers

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Federation of Community Broadcasters

National Press Foundation

National Press Photographers Association

National Scholastic Press Association

National Society of Newspaper Columnists

National Writers Union

Native American Journalists Association

New England First Amendment Coalition

North American Agricultural Journalists

Online News Association

PEN America

People For the American Way Foundation

Project Censored

Radio Television Digital News Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Reporters Without Borders

Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law

Student Press Law Center

Sunlight Foundation

The Media Consortium

The NewsGuild-CWA

Tully Center for Free Speech

Unity: Journalists For Diversity

Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts

Washington-Baltimore News Guild

Women's Media Center

Woodhull Freedom Foundation

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