An Open Letter to the Forest of Reading:

As Canadian authors and illustrators, we are deeply concerned about the issue of shadow banning in the Forest of Reading awards program.

Based on a number of screenshots we have received, it appears that the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) has been restricting its students’ access to four Forest of Reading-nominated titles for a number of years, because those books “don’t align with the Family Life Curriculum”—ie. they include 2SLGBTQ+ characters. The screenshots we have received reflect a discussion via email, as well as meeting minutes, indicating that WCDSB librarians have been directed to segregate these titles from the other books on the list, moving them to a “Professional” section of the library that children can't access on their own. Unless a teacher chooses to pre-read the book and provide "the Catholic context" before reading the book to their students, the students will not be able to read these books.

The books affected are nominees for the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch Express, and Silver Birch Fiction Awards, and include Princess Pru and the Ogre on the Hill by Maureen Fergus and Danesh Mohiuddin; The Mystery of the Painted Fan by Linda Trinh; Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan; and Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley.

Segregating and restricting access to 2SLGBTQ+ books is a form of book challenge or silent censorship sometimes called shadow-banning. Shadow-banning includes actions designed to limit a book’s readership by relocating it, restricting who can access it, or discouraging teachers from using the book in the classroom. These actions often target books by and for marginalized communities, as they do here, while allowing schools to avoid the backlash that might follow an outright ban. Shadowbans like the one currently being practiced by WCDSB hurt 2SLGBTQ+ children and those from 2SLGBTQ+ families, who will miss the opportunity to see their own identities and families represented on the page. It denies all students an opportunity to learn about the diversity of the world they live in.

Although these schools will be participating in Forest of Reading, their students will be voting without having equal access to these nominated titles. This practice also biases the Forest of Reading awards program against authors who write about 2SLGBTQ+ characters. If students from multiple schools can’t read their books--if they don’t even see their books on the shelves—they won’t vote for them.

The Forest of Reading is a much-loved program--by authors as well as schools! It’s an important pillar of our Canadian kidlit community and with book bans, censorship, and anti-2SLGBTQ+ rhetoric escalating–and shadow bans becoming more and more prevalent- we all need to make sure that we protect the award and its integrity.

The program has now released a statement highlighting the rise in book challenges and addressing the importance of providing students with access to diverse books in response to this issue. In this statement, the Forest of Reading makes a number of important and valid statements. However, the impact of this statement is significantly weakened by this sentence:

“The Forest of Reading has created resources and activities to support running these programs, but recognize that each library professional, educator or family member’s program could look different since it is an optional program and not mandated at the government level.”

Our response to this is simple: optional, non-government mandated programs can still require participants to be inclusive and fair. The statement encourages organizations to be inclusive, but does not require it. That is not an effective way to ensure that all children are given access to all of the diverse selection of books that have been so carefully and expertly chosen by the Forest of Reading staff. Censoring books to avoid 2SLGBTQ+ content is never in the best interest of children. This practice harms students, some of whom might be struggling with their sexual orientation and gender identity. It tells 2SLGBTQ+ students that their identities are wrong, or shameful, or can’t be spoken about, instead of supporting them to feel free to be themselves in their own schools.

It is also not an effective way to ensure that all nominated titles are given an equal opportunity to compete in the program, and to find their intended audience. As authors and illustrators, we invest significant amounts of time, care, expertise, and love into our work. Being recognized by a program like the Forest of Reading–and then finding out our books are being hidden away because they include characters who in many cases share our own identities or have families that look like our own families–is a painful experience.

We appreciate the work, time, and energy that Ontario Library Association staff and volunteers put into this program. We understand that for many, it is a labour of love–for children, for books, for authors. We also empathize with the librarians and teachers who have been working hard on the front lines to navigate these book challenges. We feel strongly, however, that in order to resolve this situation and preserve the integrity and fairness of this much-loved children’s choice awards program, concrete action needs to be taken.

We are asking the Forest of Reading to take a strong stance against book banning and shadowbanning by requiring all participating organizations to sign an agreement that indicates they will provide equal access to all nominated titles, without segregation.

This is an important time for the Canadian kidlit community to stand up for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, and to advocate for schools to continue to create a supportive environment for all their students. Please share widely. 

Are you a writer, illustrator, librarian or an educator?

Signed By: 

  1. Danny  Ramadan
  2. Maureen Fergus
  3. Ronnie Riley
  4. Linda Trinh
  5. Robin Stevenson
  6. Sal  Sawler
  7. Cherie Dimaline
  8. David A. Robertson
  9. Lawrence Hill
  10. Ivan Coyote
  11. Nita Prose
  12. Stephanie Cooke
  13. K.R. Byggdin
  14. Laurie Elmquist
  15. Anita Daher
  16. Star Spider
  17. Curtis  Campbell
  18. Caroline Fernandez
  19. Regan McDonell
  20. Teresa  Toten
  21. Larry Verstraete
  22. andrew larsen
  23. Margaret DeRosia
  24. Jennifer Lanthier
  25. Cory Lavender
  26. Chad Lucas
  27. Christie  Williamson
  28. Oksanna  Crawley
  29. Sandra  Dumais
  30. Andrew Katz
  31. Juliana Léveillé-Trudel
  32. Lee Fodi
  33. Mireille  Messier
  34. Arushi Raina
  35. Daniel Miguez
  36. Sara Cassidy
  37. Anna Bron
  38. Tanya Boteju
  39. Sennah Yee
  40. Hope Dalvay
  41. Tash McMillan
  42. Lea Beddia
  43. Ken Setterington
  44. Wendy Wayling

  45. Jeff Ross

  46. Colleen Nelson

  47. Hasan  Namir

  48. Leanne Baugh

  49. Sara Davidson

  50. Jean Pendziwol

  51. Annick MacAskill

  52. Barb Pepin
  53. Erin Bow
  54. Shelley Pomerance
  55. Robin Grant
  56. Nicola Davison
  57. Linh S. Nguyễn
  58. Markus Harwood-Jones
  59. Salma Hussain
  60. Ray Fernandes
  61. Jack Wong
  62. Tom Ryan
  63. Richard  Levangie
  64. Carol Matas
  65. Leonarda Carranza
  66. Maureen Bush
  67. Karen Krossing
  68. Sheryl McFarlane
  69. Mahak Jain
  70. Marsha Skrypuch
  71. Marty Chan
  72. Heather O'Connor
  73. Shannon  McFerran
  74. Melanie Siebert
  75. Dave Atkinson
  76. Joanne Levy
  77. Elise  Moser
  78. Kari Jones
  79. Theresa Sanchez
  80. Harriet Zaidman
  81. Bev Katz Rosenbaum
  82. Jodi Carmichael
  83. Shari Green
  84. Anthony Nerada
  85. Rebecca  Sky
  86. Nic Brewer

  87. Kevin Chong

  88. Erin Wunker

  89. Laura Kenins

  90. Brandi Bartok

  91. Alice Burdick

  92. Kristen Butcher

  93. Carol Bruneau

  94. Zoe Whittall

  95. Janet Barkhouse

  96. Lana Crossman

  97. Heather Jessup

  98. Jenna Lyn Albert

  99. Cyril Rouhana

  100. Mahtab Narsimhan

  101. Carol Bruneau

  102. Helen Brown

  103. Jodi Carmichael

  104. Kirby

  105. Kevin Shaw

  106. Kimberly Fyke

  107. Trystab Warnock-Juteau

  108. Todd  Stewart

  109. Rowan McCandless

  110. Sandra Rodrigues

  111. Julie Mannell

  112. Natalie  Walder

  113. Nanci  Lee

  114. Kate Jenks Landry

  115. Erica Shopland

  116. Amanda Hope

  117. Sita MacDonald

  118. Ellen Chang-Richardson

  119. Michelle Falardeau

  120. Kim Edwards

  121. Jane Baird Warren

  122. Bruce  Simpson

  123. Lori Sebastianutti

  124. May Q Wong

  125. Jonelle St Aubyn

  126. Sara O’Leary
  127. Lea  Grießbach
  128. Sonja  Boon
  129. SJ Sindu
  130. Paige McGeorge
  131. Nan Forler
  132. Raiven Creid
  133. Joy Jumphol
  134. Laurie Patterson
  135. Heather Camlot
  136. Kim Fahner
  137. Seyward Goodhand
  138. Kevin White
  139. Hannah White
  140. Casey Lyall
  141. Rebecca Upjohn
  142. E.K. Johnston
  143. Patricia  McCowan
  144. Kellie Kiakas
  145. Andrea Kerr
  146. Spencer Miller
  147. Amelinda Berube
  148. Jennifer Harris
  149. Tas Mukanik
  150. Susan Juby
  151. Tegan Thuss
  152. Winter Jay Kiakas
  153. John Degen
  154. Jesmeen Kaur Deo
  155. Ria Voros
  156. Nicholas  Selig
  157. Jon-Erik Lappano
  158. Laurie Lascos
  159. Janette Fecteau
  160. Oriana Duinker
  161. Stephanie  Tudor
  162. Julia Crocker
  163. Rosiee Thor
  164. Luciana Erregue
  165. Jennifer Phelan
  166. Pat Bourke
  167. Jessica Westhead
  168. Amanda Merpaw
  169. Jan Thornhill
  170. Sandy Welbergen
  171. Rebecca Salazar
  172. S Faruqi
  173. Jaymie Heilman 
  174. Angela Misri

  175. Thea Lim 

  176. Robert Bittner
  177. Hadley Dyer
  178. Melanie Fishbane
  179. Jessica Vitalis
  180. Brooke Carter
  181. Skot Caldwell
  182. Christine Haladay
  183. Kavita Verma
  184. Jocelyn Harrison
  185. Diana Richardson
  186. Ann Douglas
  187. Faiza Anam
  188. T COSE
  189. Katie Cameron
  190. Julia Floros
  191. Susin Nielsen
  192. Zain Bandali
  193. Jenny heijun Wills
  194. Micaela Clarke
  195. Deborah Hodge
  196. Pamela Roberts Griffith
  197. Koreen Duckhorn
  198. Laura Alary
  199. Jules Wilson
  200. Jelena Milojevic
  201. Alexis Kienlen
  202. Christie Vella
  203. Nicola Maher
  204. Triny Finlay
  205. Ben Gallagher
  206. Mark Pierce
  207. Lindsay Wong
  208. Thera Issawi
  209. Kate Tuff
  210. Carey Sookocheff
  211. Elaine Burgess
  212. Charlotte Dunnell
  213. Lily Smith
  214. Diana Will Stork
  215. Richard Beaudry
  216. Roseanne Luscombe
  217. Jamie Ly
  218. Jennifer Jack
  219. Paul Schedlich
  220. Alayne Crossman
  221. Anne Barbier
  222. Catherine McGregor
  223. M-E Girard
  224. Celine McDonald
  225. Kara Hiltz
  226. Alex Zumpino
  227. Harold Semenuk
  228. Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
  229. Gordon Nore
  230. Arthur Slade
  231. Orla McGinnis
  232. L. E. Carmichael
  233. Danielle Younge-Ullman
  234. Ishta Mercurio
  235. kc dyer
  236. Jennifer Brown
  237. Christopher Hunt (Teacher-Librarian)
  238. Lana Cullis
  239. Erin Alladin
  240. Brenda Young
  241. Cherysh Furberg
  242. Art Smith
  243. Yilin Wang
  244. Tanya Kyi
  245. Nolan Pike
  246. Stephanie Sawyer
  247. C Stephenson
  248. Zoe Imani Sharpe

© 2023 Danny Ramadan