Two parents challenged nearly 300 books in McKinney ISD. Here’s how the author of one responded.

About two weeks ago, Bill Konigsberg, author of six young adult novels, was at his computer when he read a social media post by another author whose book had been challenged by two parents in north Texas.

He clicked on a link in the post and found copies of 282 forms challenging 282 books in McKinney ISD in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As he read the challenges, he noticed the language in each challenge was the same in response to a question asking what the complainant objected to in the book: “Contains 1 or more of the following: Marxism, incest, sexual explicit material — in written form and/ or visual pictures, pornography, CRT, immoral activities, rebellious against parents, and the material contradicts the ISD’s student handbook.”

The list, it turned out, included several of Konigsberg’s books. One, however, did not make sense to the author who lives in Phoenix: His latest, “The Bridge.”

The novel, about suicide and depression, seemed like the “least reasonable choice” to challenge, in his view. His first five books had LGBTQ protagonists, and almost all of them already have been acquainted with objections.

This one was not about LGBTQ issues, though. He started writing it around 2017, following a series of teen suicides in Arizona, he said, digging deep within his own feelings to create a piece of literature he hopes could convince a young person they are not alone, that they have a choice not to die.

Where his other books took him about a year to write, he said, this one consumed two years.

“It is written very, very carefully to be a book of hope,” Konigsberg said. “But also to help young people who have suffered from depression understand that they are not alone. That is terribly important. I know that I have suffered from depression — as a teenager I did and in my adult life, too — and the worst part of it is the isolation.”

Since “The Bridge” was published in 2020, Konigsberg has received “so many” emails from young people who said his words made them feel less alone, and convinced them to live another day.

Still, there he was, on a February day, reading a protest to the same book for purportedly being laced with Marxism, sexually explicit material and other hot-button wrongs popular among Republican politicians and adults who often insist they are concerned as parents, not activists. He had seen other authors whose books had been challenged or removed from school libraries receive congratulations from people on social media, but he did not see his situation as a cause worth celebrating.

“I felt a little sick to my stomach,” Konigsberg said. “This is a book that I believe in with all my heart, and I believe that it saves lives.”

While he read over the reasoning for the challenges, his brain began concocting an argument. So, he decided to do what usually helps him organize his thoughts. He started writing.

The result was a 2,290-word open letter to the two parents in McKinney ISD who took issue with his book, responding to each of their concerns — from the Marxism (“its author is a capitalist”) to the critical race theory (“My book doesn’t touch on this”) to the alleged immoral activities (“Wow, that’s quite an umbrella there”).

“I want to say up front that I believe your intent here is to protect your children. I echo your concern; I also want safety for children,” Konigsberg wrote in the beginning. “It’s one of the main reasons I write books for young adults.”

Konigsberg figured perhaps his fans would read the letter. Instead the letter has received nearly 500 likes on Twitter and, Konigsberg said, some 100,000 hits on his website.

“This is a very serious issue,” he said. “But the people on the other side of this issue are people. I tried in the letter to reason with them and to treat them as people.”

The two people on the other side of this specific issue, Paul and Rachel Elliott, parents of an elementary school student, had not responded to his letter as of Wednesday, he said.

In an e-mail responding to an interview request from the Chronicle, the couple wrote: “Thank you for the inquiry. At this time, we politely decline to comment.”

They told WFAA, a news station in Dallas, they had read all the books, which is required by the form requesting learning material be reconsidered.

“It took some time,” Rachel told the station, “but I love my daughter, and I love the 23,000 other students within this district. I believe they’re all worth it.”

The district did not respond to requests from the Chronicle for information regarding the Elliots’ challenges. The couple had not won any of the challenges and the district had not removed any of the books as of two weeks ago, according to WFAA.

Meanwhile, Konigsberg in an interview struggled for a few seconds to describe his feelings about “The Bridge” being included in such an effort, as well as the list of about 850 titles state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, asked districts if they owned. Krause’s list included some of Konigsberg’s books.

“Have you ever been wronged?” he asked. “It’s like, I know that I have done something good for the world and somebody is telling me it’s bad, and that’s like somebody telling me that the sky is yellow rather than blue; it’s very confusing and infuriating.”

Still, he would like to start a “reasonable but firm” conversation, he said — an exchange of ideas about what everyone believes in but maybe without much yelling.

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