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Texas school district pulls books by acclaimed Black author amid critical race theory claims

Author Jerry Craft said he remains committed to "helping kids become the kind of readers that I never was; letting kids see themselves on my pages."
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A school district near Houston canceled the appearance of an award-winning children's illustrator and author, whose books tell stories about Black children struggling to fit into unfamiliar settings, amid claims of critical race theory.

The writer, Jerry Craft, had been set to appear virtually Monday before students and staff members at Roosevelt Alexander Elementary School until the Katy Independent School District pulled the plug after some parents objected.

In response to a question about why his books were being "banned," Craft tweeted last week, "Apparently I'm teaching critical race theory."

A school district spokeswoman said that Craft's appearance can be rescheduled and that his books have been "temporarily" removed as the district reviews them in the next 15 days.

"Katy ISD library books are routinely reviewed through this process and the District encourages parents to do so," the representative said in statement. "The event was not canceled; it was postponed. To date, the District has received only one formal challenge and followed the Board policy concerning such requests."

The dispute over Craft’s book comes as school districts across the country are facing protests from parents and conservative groups over lessons on racism, equity and discrimination. In Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, parents mobilized to block a diversity and inclusion plan that would have brought new lessons and disciplinary rules to the Carroll Independent School District.

Craft's graphic novel "New Kid" was awarded the John Newbery Medal last year. It tells the story of seventh-grader Jordan Banks and how he navigates his worlds at home and at a prestigious private school where he is one of the few minority students.

"It is inappropriate instructional material," said Bonnie Anderson, a parent who is white. "The books don't come out and say we want white children to feel like oppressors, but that is absolutely what they will do."

Anderson started a online petition, which has been deleted, to have the event canceled.

IMAGE: Jerry Craft's graphic novel 'New Kid'
Jerry Craft's graphic novel "New Kid."Quill Tree Books

The American Library Association released a statement from Craft in response to the petition Wednesday. It said dissenters "claim the book teaches critical race theory and therefore should not be taught in schools."

Craft said in his statement that nothing will deter him from his goals of "helping kids become the kind of readers that I never was; letting kids see themselves on my pages; and showing kids of color as just regular kids."

"As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school," the statement said. "Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery."

Some parents and conservative activists consider critical race theory, the academic study of the pervasive impact of racism, to be leftist indoctrination.

Educational material that focuses on the role that race and institutional racism play in everyday American life is crucial, said Darius Benton, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Houston-Downtown.

"The critical race theory is definitely not about teaching white children they're inherently racist," Benton said. "It's really more so about understanding how institutional racism is instituted in society."