These are some of the 22,500 books that Firestorm Books says were removed from Duval schools. | Firestorm BooksThese are some of the 22,500 books that Firestorm Books says were removed from Duval schools. | Firestorm Books
These are some of the 22,500 books that Firestorm Books says were removed from Duval schools. | Firestorm Books

Bookseller says it’s giving away books removed from Duval schools

Published on January 5, 2024 at 3:09 pm

An independent bookseller says it is giving away more than 22,000 books pulled from the shelves of Duval County schools, some because they violated Florida’s new laws outlawing certain types of content.

How Firestorm Books got the books is unclear. The bookseller, based in Asheville, North Carolina, says it got the materials from a contractor hired to dispose of the books. The district says that isn’t true — that it returned the books to the publisher because they conflicted with Florida’s laws.

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Either way, Firestorm says it intends to ship the first round of books in a few weeks, focusing initially on people in Florida who request them. PEN America, a nonprofit dedicated to literature and human rights, documented 565 book titles banned in Florida schools during the 2021 and 2022 school years.

Firestorm says it plans to mail at least 10,000 books for free directly to children in the U.S. where the business says their freedom to read is under attack. Firestorm states that it also will distribute over 10,000 books in partnership with organizers, educators and librarians with grassroots connections.

Firestorm estimates it will spend about $17,500 on postage alone. Children and their supporters can request the books through a secure link, then will get five or six picture books for ages 4 to 8 or chapter books for ages 8 to 12, along with stickers, Firestorm said.

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Firestorm began a campaign to raise $30,000 it says it needs to ship books to those who request them. The campaign, called “Banned Books Back!,” had raised $11,402 as of Friday afternoon.

In its fundraising appeal, Firestorm describes itself as “your friendly neighborhood anarchist bookshop.” It’s a 15-year-old collectively owned bookstore and community event space that sells titles for all ages online.

“We’re working to return these books as an act of solidarity with the kids from whom they were taken,” Firestorm co-owner Beck Nippes said in a news release. “We hope the campaign can connect with and contribute to a broader antifascist struggle because books bans aren’t happening in isolation. They’re connected to attacks on reproductive and gender-affirming health care in a climate of escalating violence against queer and trans folks, especially youth.”

Books from Duval?

Firestorm says it got 22,500 books from “a contractor who was handling the disposal of books banned by Duval County school administrators.” The contractor offered to ship them to Firestorm for free, explaining that they would be destroyed if the bookstore did not accept them, Firestorm said.

Firestorm obtained the books “after small-minded Floridian school administrators decided to dump 47 titles exploring topics ranging from racism and colonialism to radical history and visionary organizing,” Firestorm says in its fundraising request.

Firestorm co-owner Esmé Joy said the books were designed to update existing libraries with diverse content featuring characters with a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations and gender identities. Of the books that were permanently removed, more than half featured LGBTQIA+ characters or history, Firestorm stated.

“When we were told that these books were at risk of being destroyed, we knew we had to act,” Joy said in a statement.

These are some of the books that Firestorm Books says it received from Duval Schools. | Firestorm Books

Duval County Public Schools disputes Firestorm’s account of how it obtained the books. The district has posted this explanation about the state-mandated book review process and the district’s book purchase from the Essential Voices Collection for its elementary classrooms.

Of the almost 1,300 titles purchased in 2021, more than 1,100 went directly to classrooms, the district says. The order included almost 180 book titles from the Essential Voices collection, purchased to “increase diversity of writers, characters, topics, and viewpoints in our classroom libraries,” the district website states.

The delivery included titles the district did not order, which were reviewed by media specialists and others. After the review, 105 titles went to classrooms, the district says.

Just over a year ago, Duval County rejected 47 titles, including 34 removed explicitly over their content, as the result of an ongoing review under Florida law.

“Fourteen of these were sent back because we didn’t order them,” the district’s website states. “Others returned were titles that we ordered, but upon review we determined they would not comply with new legislation or were not appropriate for elementary aged children.”

Among the titles returned to the distributor was a book about Martin Luther King Jr. intended for fourth graders; a biography of Rosa Parks for second grade classrooms; a first grade Berenstain Bears book about God; and multiple titles including LGBTQ+ characters and families, according to earlier reporting by Jacksonville Today.

Asked how much the returned books cost the school system, spokeswoman Sonya Duke-Bolden said no funding was lost on books returned to the distributor, Perfection Learning.

“The 47 book titles referenced, some of which we didn’t order, were returned to the publisher for credit towards the purchase of new titles,” Duke Bolden said.

When asked for a response to the school district’s explanation that books were returned to the distributor, Firestorm officials said they were “confident that the books were never sent to the publishers. We received the shipment directly from Duval County.”

“We weren’t in touch with the numerous publishers of the some four dozen titles that were shipped to us from Duval County, amounting to about 22,500 books,” a Firestorm statement said. “Instead, we simply got a delivery of big pallets of boxes filled with the books.”

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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