Bridgewater College student sets up ‘banned book fair’ Thursday to offer access to titles removed from county schools

A colorful book held in someone's hands
“This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson is one of the 57 books temporarily banned in Rockingham County schools. (Photo by Bridget Manley)

Rockingham County students can’t access “The Invisible Boy,” “The Kite Runner,” “Heartstopper” or 54 other books in their school libraries now, but a local college student wants to make them available in a different way.

A “banned book fair” invites county students to Bridgewater College’s Learning Commons at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 4, where they’ll find the titles that were temporarily removed from RCPS libraries and classrooms earlier this year.

Katelin Carter, a student at Bridgewater, said she saw the news of the book removals back in January. At the same time, she needed a project proposal for her senior capstone course, so she decided to host a banned book fair.

“We were just trying to figure out what the best way we could advocate for intellectual freedom and not banning books,” Carter said. “We really wanted to target students in the Rockingham County public school system, and we felt like an event like a banned book fair would really appeal to students like that.”

She’s modeling it after the Scholastic book fairs she used to attend growing up and is soliciting donations for each of the 57 titles. The Green Valley Book Fair, Booksavers of Virginia and even some authors of banned books have donated to the cause.

To make sure the books are actually accessible to students, Carter said the fair will operate on a pay-what-you-want system.

“If we have a lot of younger students or middle- and high-school students that don’t have a ton of disposable income, I don’t want there to be any financial barrier,” Carter said.

Proceeds will go to the National Coalition Against Censorship, one of the several organizations that sent letters to the school board expressing concern over the temporary ban and requesting that those books be returned to school shelves. Carter said after seeing that letter, she did more research and felt the NCAC could use the money and “do the most with it.”

Carter said she’s received a positive response from the community, which she was initially worried about.

“When you’re organizing an event that’s directly calling out the action of a large organization like the school district, obviously you’re gonna get some negative backlash,” Carter said, but the college has been “super supportive” of her efforts.

At the end of the day, Carter said, she hopes to create a space for discussion about banned books and the topics in them. Many of the books removed from Rockingham schools discuss LGBTQ issues and storylines, which has been a primary point of concern for those who disagree with the board’s actions.

“When you’re in middle school or high school, you’re being confronted, oftentimes for the first time, with a lot of these really heavy issues, and it can be really powerful to talk through that in a safe and organized and educational space,” she said. “I just hope that students feel more comfortable talking about these uncomfortable topics in a healthy way with their teachers or their parents or their mentors.”

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