An award-winning children’s book author and the American Library Association are calling on the Round Rock school district to explain why it canceled the author’s planned visits to district elementary schools in September.
Author Phil Bildner, who has visited Round Rock schools annually for the last seven years, questions whether censorship played a role, given a book he recommended during his visit last year: Alex Gino’s novel “George,” which spotlights a fourth-grade student’s transgender journey.
“I booktalked ‘George’ to fourth graders at six schools and to a combined assembly of third and fifth graders at another,” he wrote in a message shared on the American Library Association website. “I shared with the kids the book’s most basic and beautiful message. Be who you are.”
District spokesman Corey Ryan says the decision was a combination of wanting to offer different authors the chance to visit as well as Bildner’s comments to students last year that “grownups are going to tell you not to do this, and I am telling you this is something you should go ahead and do.”
“It was a message that didn’t resonate with us,” he said. “Parents are our valued partners,” Ryan said of Bildner’s comments related at least in part to reading books he was recommending.
The district has received several letters from authors questioning the cancellation of Bildner’s visit, Ryan said.
Bildner was booked to visit eight of the district’s elementary schools in September. On May 27, however, he received an email from RRISD stating that his visits had been canceled.
“It said, ‘The district has decided to make other arrangements for the 2016-17 school year’,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I was stunned.”
Bildner is the New York-based author of multiple picture and young-adult books as well as two series, many of which feature diverse themes and characters. His “Rip and Red” series, for example, includes a character with autism and one who uses a wheelchair.
As part of school visits, he typically recommends books from other authors, such as R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder.”
He recommended “George” at several of the Round Rock schools he visited last year. Named to National Public Radio and Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015 lists, “George” explores the challenges and triumphs of Melissa, who was born male but identifies as a girl.
The American Library Association, the nation’s largest and oldest organization of librarians, is supporting Bildner’s quest for answers.
“I really hope that this isn’t censorship or discrimination against the books he’s writing or recommending,” said Kristin Pekoll, the ALA’s assistant director of intellectual freedom. “I can’t imagine why they would need to cancel for a legitimate reason.”
Pekoll said Thursday that she received a statement from the district late Wednesday evening, which echoed Ryan’s comments to the Statesman. Told Wednesday of the district’s position, she said: “If there was a desire to diversify programming and bring in different authors, that’s fantastic. But then they shouldn’t have scheduled him in the first place and then canceled at this late date.”