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Hanover County students fight the book ban

A blue sign that reads "Banned Book Nook" sits on top of a bookshelf of colorful paperback books.
Screen Capture
VPM News Focal Point
Kate Lindley opened a “Banned Book Nook” at Morr Donuts in Mechanicsville to offer free access to many of the 91 books that the Hanover County School Board banned from public school libraries.

High school seniors from Hanover County are spearheading efforts to get around the book ban imposed by the county’s school board. They’ve created what one of them calls “underground libraries.”


ROBERT MAY: (at board meeting 12/12/23): All those in favor of coming back into open session, say aye.


KRISTEN HOLTE (at board meeting 12/12/23): I am Kristin Holte of the Cold Harbor District. This school board is truly the firewall protecting the children in the Hanover County public schools from indoctrination, manipulation, sexual pornography, and Critical Race Theory.

JACKSON DeHAVEN: (at board meeting 12/12/23) Good evening, my name is Jackson DeHaven. I'm a high school student from the Ashland District, and I'm here to speak about the implementation of policy 6-5.2.

JACKSON DeHAVEN: These books are not porn, they're not obscene. These are well-respected, highly regarded books that benefit students much more than they harm them. And I think when just extremely unwise educational decisions are made that limits access to information, which is a really foundational American principle, just to serve the political whims of the moment, I just can't put up with that.

BILLY SHIELDS: Jackson DeHaven wanted to get those banned books into the hands of students, so he founded a nonprofit called “The Missing Books” and raised funds to buy and distribute the banned books.

JACKSON DeHAVEN: I decided to give the books to students, so that they could bring them in and start our own little underground library.

WOMAN SPEAKER (at board meeting, 6/12/23): Last week when, last meeting when you had photocopies...

JACKSON DeHAVEN: It's just unfortunate to see our school board embrace political interests over the needs of students.

CONNIE PIPER: The Board gave themselves the sole authority to add or remove any books from school and classroom libraries.

BILLY SHIELDS: Connie Piper was a school librarian for 30 years. She recently retired from her role overseeing all of Hanover County School libraries. She says trained educators should choose books for schools, not an appointed school board.

CONNIE PIPER: The most disheartening thing about all of this is our librarians are highly trained. They have taken graduate-level courses in collection development, children's literature. Across history, Hitler, one of the first things he did was pull the books into the streets and burn them. We know that the Soviet Union banned books back when we had the USSR. We know that China's banned books. It's a way to control thought. If you can control what people read, then you can control what they think, and if you can control the access to information, you can control people.

KATE LINDLEY: Thank you. I heard the school board deciding, of course, to ban 19 books, and I really felt like I had to do something. Okay, so we're going to...

BILLY SHIELDS: Kate Lindley is a high school senior in the Hanover District who found another way to take a stand against the book ban. She used her marketing skills as a Girl Scout and brought in friends like Alison Jewel to open two free “Banned Book Nook” libraries. She put free copies of the banned books in a local print shop and a donut shop.

KATE LINDLEY: These books are really important to be available, especially to students which are the intended audience, because of a lot of the important representation within them of diverse communities and diverse groups, as well as the resources a lot of them have about the LGBTQ+ community. But this was one of the first books that was banned back in June, partially due to, or maybe even mostly due to the fact that it is about the LGBTQ+ community. And a lot of the books that have been banned for being sexual or considered pornographic are, in fact, very important resources or otherwise very important literature, like "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut, respectively.

KATE LINDLEY: So, this is "Looking for Alaska" by John Green, and it was banned for smoking and other substances and alcohol. But the point of the book is that those things are generally unsafe. It's about the message that alcohol and substance abuse isn't cool or safe, it's dangerous.

BILLY SHIELDS: Lindley decided to focus on the Banned Book Nook for her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

KATE LINDLEY: I had to do a certain number of journeys...

BILLY SHIELDS: The most prestigious award, similar to the Eagle Scout Award for Boy Scouts, and her Book Nooks are being noticed.

KATE LINDLEY: On my Instagram page, I have a Amazon wishlist in my bio, which a lot of people in the community have been very generous with donating and helping fund my project. I'm not entirely certain what's going through the heads of Hanover County School Board members, but I do believe that whether they intended to or not, this has become a very political issue.

ROBERT MAY: (at board meeting, 12/23/2023) Books that are age inappropriate or contain pervasive vulgarity will not be found...

BILLY SHIELDS: Focal Point requested an interview with many members of the Hanover County School Board. They all declined. We were able to speak briefly with Jack Dyer, Chair of the Hanover County Republican Committee and an outspoken supporter of the ban, but he says he has not read the books in question.

JACK DYER: I was shown the books and the excerpts from the books and the illustrations from the books, and I'm not going to read any of the books. We need to stick with core curriculum, and some of the books that I have seen, the illustrations, the language, actually just the explicit sexual content don't belong in K through 12.

PATRICIA HUNTER-JORDAN: We are denying our children the right to experience, to learn about other cultures. Because specifically if you look at the list of books that have been, as they say, "deselected" those books primarily relate by authors of Jewish ethnicity, Black, or LGBTQ. Those are the books that are being quote, "deselected."

BILLY SHIELDS: Pat Jordan has been fighting for freedom of speech and equity her whole career. She says that banning books is a way to silence minority voices.

PATRICIA HUNTER-JORDAN: Ideas come from books, understanding comes from books and especially the understanding of other cultures and other people. This is a big world. Most of our children in Hanover don't grow up and remain there, they leave, and they need to be prepared to face a world that is not like Hanover County.

JACKSON DeHAVEN: Freedom of thought is the underlying value behind free speech, that in order to make free speech mean anything, we have to be free to think, and to be free to think, you have to be free to learn. And to read widely, you have to have access to lots of different perspectives, experiences, and opinions.

BILLY SHIELDS: Meanwhile, in a corner donut shop in Mechanicsville, a couple of teens are taking a stand, they say, so that all students can continue to think freely.

Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
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