In Fredericksburg, a celebration of books amid attempts to ban some of them from city schools

FREDERICKSBURG — Sitting in the middle of a quilt spread on the ground Saturday morning, R. Joseph Rodríguez read the last few lines of the children’s book “Corduroy,” about a Teddy bear in a store and his soon-to-be new companion.

“’You must be a friend,’ said Corduroy, ‘I’ve always wanted a friend.”Me too,’ said Lisa, and gave him a biiiiig,” Rodríguez extended the word and looked at the 10 or so kids sitting around him, raising his arms to offer them a hint.

“Hug!” the kids shouted.

The moment came at during a celebration of books Saturday organized in response to the Central Texas school district’s removal of 10 books from school library shelves this year and decision to send another 40-something to a committee to soon review, amid a blitz of such challenges across the state and nation to books that predominantly explore LGBTQ and race topics.

The American Library Association registered a record-number of such challenges, 729 of them, across the country since the nonprofit began 20 years ago compiling a list of challenges. While Houston-area districts have mostly avoided mass protests to books, the frenzy has hit certain parts of Texas, like McKinney ISD in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where two parents challenged nearly 300 books earlier this year.

At Fredericksburg’s Münch Food Park, Saturday’s fete included other readings, a performance by Los Texmaniacs, who in 2010 won a Grammy for Best Tejano Album and live interviews conducted by Tony Diaz, the Houston Librotraficante who a decade ago helped launch a movement against Arizona’s banning of Chicano studies and last month led a caravan to Austin to once again protest attempts at censorship.

Christine Granados, a local author and mother whose kids had read many of the books being protested, said the celebration’s origins traced back to the books being challenged in the local schools. Fredericksburg ISD teaches about 3,100 kids — roughly half of whom are Hispanic.

A few weeks ago, she and others who are outraged that books had already been removed without review for purportedly being pervasively vulgar in response to what seemed, at least to the parents, to be concerns from a vocal minority of residents.

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“We were just so angry about it all,” Granados explained as Los Texmaniacs performed, “that we decided we shouldn’t be angry — we should celebrate.”

Months into the school year, Dane Carter, an 18-year-old senior who plans to study political science at the University of Oklahoma, had read three or four books in his Advanced Placement literature class when the apparent uproar reached the city.

The next book the class was set to read was the memoir “The Glass Castle.”

His teacher had already ordered some 150 copies by the time it entered the ranks of the removed books.

Since, Carter said, the books have sat on a shelf, unread.

“I don’t think there was a problem before,” Carter said. “We read these books in class and they were uncomfortable to read but I felt like we learned real-life examples about what can happen in the world through them — and other people’s experiences in the world.”

In a way, a similar recognition of the power of learning through words got Rodríguez reading in front of the kids earlier in the day.

Growing up in Houston’s East End in the 1980s, Rodríguez recounted how a librarian at Houston ISD’s Franklin Elementary School would sit on a carpet with students and read to them.

“She would enact them, she would help us turn the page,” Rodríguez, an author and educator, recalled. “A storyteller came to life with stories, with language, with rhythm, music — a cadence for language arts that isn’t always captured in a solitary act when reading.”

So he modeled his reading Saturday after the “grand storyteller” from his youth.

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