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Best-selling author Jodi Picoult says Menomonee Falls School District won’t discuss book ban

Picoult calls reasoning for banning 'Nineteen Minutes' weak

Author Jodi Picoult
Author Jodi Picoult attends the STARZ mid-season premiere of “Outlander” at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in New York. Evan Agostini/Associated Press

When best-selling author Jodi Picoult learned her novel, “Nineteen Minutes,” was one of the titles being pulled from the shelves of Menomonee Falls High School, she wasn’t surprised.

Picoult’s books have been banned in about 41 school districts in the U.S. But she also didn’t want to let her book, which is about a school shooting, disappear quietly.

Picoult reached out to Menomonee Falls Superintendent David Muñoz and School Board President Nina Christensen and asked them for a Zoom meeting, so they could explain to her why her book was targeted.

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She didn’t get a response.

“I’ve written, I think, three times now asking when they’d like to meet, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing,” Picoult said during an interview Friday with Wisconsin Public Radio. “I’m going to hazard to guess that it’s a lot easier to be a bully when you’re not face to face with someone.”

Muñoz and Christensen did not respond to requests for comment.

On Oct. 20, Menomonee Falls High School removed 33 titles from the library, including Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” after administrators in the School District of Menomonee Falls deemed them too “sexually explicit” for students.

Several of the books on the list were on the Advanced Placement English Literature reading list, but Muñoz said the titles were not in compliance with the “sexually explicit content and/or profanity guidelines” set in school policy.

The country started to see a surge in efforts to ban books in schools and public libraries in 2021, particularly with restrictions on books containing LGBTQ+ and racial content. That effort has continued.

There were 1,477 instances of books banned across the country in the first half of the 2022-23 school year, according to the nonprofit PEN America. Of those, 30 percent were about race, racism or featured a person of color. Twenty-five percent had LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

Picoult’s books have been a frequent target. In March, one Florida county removed 20 of her novels from school libraries. The author has been working closely with PEN America to raise national awareness against book bans. “I can’t get to all the school board meetings, because, believe it or not, I do have a day job,” she said. “I should be writing books not fighting bans.”

While Picoult said she was probably banned 17 times the week Menomonee Falls decided to remove her book from the high school library, she believes Muñoz’s explanation is “weak.”

“We all know the definition of pornography includes that there be no literary merit to material,” she said. “And every single book that was removed has literary merit.”

But what really struck Picoult was learning about the events in Wisconsin in the days that followed the Menomonee Falls book ban.

On Oct. 23, parents filled Menomonee Falls Village Hall to both protest and support the book ban. That same night, just four miles away, police shot and killed a person they said fired a gun at officers from the roof of Kennedy Middle School in Germantown.

“I just have no words for that,” Picoult said. “I think when you choose to ban a book about school shootings, and there is literally a school shooting happening one town over from you, maybe you should be reevaluating your priorities.”