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Muskego book club formed after book blocked in school district

Posted at 9:45 PM, Aug 01, 2022

The latest chapter in a battle over a book in Muskego-Norway School District saw the formation of a community book club.

Ann Zielke is one of the co-founders of the Muskego Community Book Club. She's also a historian and a librarian. The book club's first read is the book that won't be taught in the school district this year.

"The book club is really sort of a hope for what we can bring to the community moving forward," Zielke said.

book club

The book in question is "When the Emperor was Divine" by Julie Otsuka. According to a synopsis of the book, When the Emperor was Divine "paints a portrait of the Japanese American incarceration camps that is both a haunting evocation of family in wartime and a resonant lessor for our times."

The novel takes place during World War II and is based on Ostuka's family's experience.

Earlier this year, the book was blocked by the school board from being taught in the upcoming school year. The decision was met with pushback from students, parents, community members, and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Coalition of Wisconsin.

"I don't want my kids to be limited by uncomfortable parts of American history," said Kellie Nimphius who joined the community book club and has a child in the district.

Emily Sorensen is another book club member and although she doesn't have kids in the district she feels the decision impacts the whole community.

"The kids that are there are going to be the ones kind of running the show in a few years and I think we need to set them up for success," Sorensen said.

WATCH: Ann Zielke, co-founder of the Muskego Community Book Club, reads from the first page of Julie Otsuka's novel "When the Emperor was Divine."

Muskego book club formed after book blocked in school district

In a statement, the school board told TMJ4 that the book "was not banned and never denied" and said the book never moved forward to the full board. Members also pointed to procedural issues with how the book was chosen.

Zielke said, "If we just focus on just the language, was it banned? Was it not banned? Was it challenged? Was it rejected? Was it sent back? We're not focusing on the important crux of the issue which is the kids aren't going to be able to read this book."

She said she addressed her concerns with school board members and said she was told there was also an issue of balance when Ostuka's book was paired with another text being taught in the English 10 class.

"What they said is we can't have too much of quote, unquote one side, or the other side," she said.

Now she hopes the book club will reach more readers than there would be in an English class. Their group on Facebook now has more than 100 members. Zielke is hoping students will, and is encouraging them to, join the community book club.

"That would be fantastic. Because what we know for sure is that the kids in English 10 next year will not be reading this book. So, I think it's incredibly important for students to get their hands on the book," Zielke said.

The book club will have its first meeting virtually on Aug. 17.

According to PEN America, which tracks banned books nationwide, there are five books banned across all Wisconsin school districts.

banned books

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