His books on Rosa Parks and MLK were banned. Here’s what this South Florida author did | Books

MIAMI — When South Florida writer Brad Meltzer learned that a Pennsylvania school board had banned his books “I Am Rosa Parks” and “I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.”, he knew that he couldn’t ignore it.

“If you take the lessons of Rosa Parks, you have to fight,” said the creator of the Ordinary People Change the World series, which features historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller and Neil Armstrong for the children. The next in the series, “I Am Oprah Winfrey,” will be released in October.

“I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.” — which, like the other books in the series, are illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos — were two of more than 200 anti-racism books and resources suggested by the Central York School District’s Diversity Education Committee last year. The Central York School Board vetoed the entire list. In a clip from a meeting aired by CNN, which reported on student protests against the ban, members called the list of reading and teaching materials “divisive” and “bad ideas.”

Banned are children’s picture books, K-5 books, middle and high school books, videos, webinars and web links, including a memoir by Pakistani writer and activist Malala Yousafzai; a book by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; an adaptation of “Hidden Figures”, about black women mathematicians at NASA; “Sulwe” by actress Lupita Nyong’o, about a little girl who fears her skin is too dark, and CNN’s “Sesame Street Town Hall” about racism.

With no changes this fall, students, parents and other community members attended a virtual school board meeting last week to discuss the ban, which the school board calls a “freeze.” Senior Edha Gupta of Central York High School told CNN the ban “was a slap in the face.” School board president Jane Johnson did not respond to emails from the Miami Herald before publication.

Meltzer, who is also the author of popular adult thrillers, comic books and was the host of The History Channel’s “Lost History,” wondered how to respond. Then he learned that two York Region women, Hannah Shipley and JJ Sheffer, were appealing for book donations so they could put some of the banned books in York’s small free libraries. They created wish lists on Amazon.com and Bookshop.org where people could buy the books and have them sent to York (the address is Haybrook Little Free Library, 131 Haybrook Dr., York, PA, 17406).

Meltzer immediately boosted the drive on his social media. And the books started pouring in.

Shipley, a former preschool teacher, was outraged by the ban.

“These banned books cover subjects like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, Neil Degrasse Tyson,” she said. “The ban hits all marginalized groups: Black, Asian American, Muslim, Latinx, Native American, LGBTQ, representation of people with disabilities, representation of autism. Anything that is not neurotypical, straight and white. It upset me. I was welcome to read these books to the students at the private daycare, but a mile and a half away the students were not allowed to read these books at school.

Now Shipley’s house is filling with books; it has 1,200 at the moment, while Amazon’s wishlist promises a total of 2,200 are on the way so far. That’s too many books for small free libraries to handle, so Shipley will hand them out at an upcoming gathering.

“If the ban holds, I’ll roll to a playground in a trench coat and hand them out,” she joked.

Meltzer praised Shipley and Sheffer’s efforts, saying the Ordinary Heroes series was not intended to be political but to introduce children to famous historical figures.

“You have an all-white school board, and almost every banned book is written by or about a person of color,” he said. “Race is a tough topic, but nothing good comes of not talking about tough topics. If we say we can’t discuss race, we’re doing our kids a disservice.”