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.
Jerry Craft had been set to appear virtually Monday before students and staff at Roosevelt Alexander Elementary School until the Katy Independent School District pulled the plug over the objections of some parents.
In response to a question about why his books were being “banned,” Craft tweeted last week, “Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory.”
A Katy ISD spokeswoman said Craft’s appearance can be rescheduled and his books have been “temporarily” removed as the district review those works within the next 15 days.
“Katy ISD library books are routinely reviewed through this process and the District encourages parents to do so,” the district rep 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.”
Craft’s graphic novel, “New Kid,” was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 2020. In “New Kid,” Craft tells the story of seventh-grader Jordan Banks and how he navigates his worlds at home and at a prestigious private school where he’s one of the few minority students.
“It is inappropriate instructional material,” said parent Bonnie Anderson, 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 now-deleted online petition to have the event canceled.
On Wednesday, the American Library Association released a statement from Craft in response to the petition. The association said dissenters “claim the book teaches critical race theory and therefore should not be taught in schools.”
In his statement, Craft said 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,” according to Craft’s statement. “Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery.”
Critical race theory, the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact, is considered by some parents and conservative activists to be leftist indoctrination.
Educational material that focuses on the role race, and institutional racism, plays in everyday American life is crucial, said Darius Benton, who teaches communications 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.”
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.