Of the nearly 2,500 books the Ohio Federation of Teachers gave away free of charge at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s 150th anniversary celebration and first Columbus Book Festival, there was one book parents, kids and teachers zeroed in on from the start, says OFT President Melissa Cropper.
The book? The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family.
“People grabbed it up like they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it,” she says. “And it was people from various backgrounds, either choosing it because it was another culture they could share with their child, or because it was their own culture reflected back at them. It gave me a renewed sense of hope that people are intentionally sharing these books with their kids to open up their minds to this big, diverse world that we live in.”=
The books were part of AFT’s Reading Opens the World initiative, which has given away more than 1.5 million books since it launched in December 2021. At the two-day event in Columbus, the OFT gave away almost every book it brought. By the end of the second day, the union had just one box left over. All the middle and high school books were gone.
“It was incredible to see people’s reactions. Their faces just light up when we say the books are free,” she says. “We hear so often that kids don’t read, but at every event we have, people are lined up for books, including middle school kids. There is still a thirst for the printed word; kids still want to read; and parents still want to spend time reading with their child.”
Not only do people want to read, but they also have specific books they are looking for, Cropper says.
“Some parents specifically asked for LGBTQ+ books. And we had bilingual English-Spanish books that multilingual families were so grateful to see.”
Kristin McCormick, a librarian and staff organizer at the OFT, noted that families and teachers alike were looking for books that showed diversity.
“One teacher wanted children’s books showing kids in hijab,” she says. “She was so happy that we had not one, but three different titles that specifically met that need. She was also wearing hijab, and she said she wished there had been books with characters who looked like her when she was a kid.”
Books representing Islam are especially important in Columbus, McCormick says, which has one of the largest Somali populations in the country, and many are practicing Muslims. She also says that is why fighting back against attempted book bans is so crucial.
“Librarians and teachers are on the frontline making sure people have access to the books and information they need with no judgment and no barriers,” she says. “There have always been book challenges. Now, there’s just a big spotlight on access to information about people who are different from you, and schools and public libraries are in the crosshairs. We’re not backing down. We’ve dealt with book ban attempts before, and we can do it again.”
Cropper, who is also a librarian, agrees.
“Librarians and teachers protect intellectual freedom,” she says. “This is a deeply rooted value. Our union will protect them so they can do their jobs and open the world for our kids.”
The OFT and the American Library Assocation are hosting a webinar Aug. 30 for librarians and library workers to discuss how to advocate for themselves and their profession and defend intellectual freedom. Learn more and register here.