Muskego book club founded after book blocked in school district

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

Ann Zielke is one of the co-founders of the Muskego Community Book Club. She is also a historian and librarian. The book club’s first book is the one not being taught in the school district this year.

“The book club is really kind of a hope for what we can bring to the community in the future,” Zielke said.


The book in question is “When the Emperor was Divine” by Julie Otsuka. According to a summary 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 resonating landlord for our time.”

The novel is set during World War II and is based on the experience of Ostuka’s family.

Earlier this year, the book was blocked by the school board from teaching in the upcoming school year. The decision was met with dismay 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 inconvenient parts of American history,” said Kellie Nimphius, who joined the local book club and has a child in the district.

Emily Sorensen is another member of the book club, and although she has no children in the ward, she feels the decision will affect the entire community.

“The kids that are there will be the ones running the show in a few years and I think we need to prepare them 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 founded 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 was never passed on to the full board. Members also pointed to procedural issues in selecting the book.

Zielk said, “If we focused only on the language, was it banned? Wasn’t it banned? Was it challenged? Was it rejected? Was it sent back? We don’t focus on the important core of the problem, which is the children won’t be able to read this book.”

She said she discussed her concerns with the school board members and was told there was also a balance problem when Ostuka’s book was combined with another text taught in the English 10th grade.

“What they said is we can’t quote too much, undo one side or the other,” she said.

Now she hopes the book club will reach more readers than in an English class. Their group on Facebook now has over 100 members. Zielke hopes students will join the community book club and encourages them to do so.

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

The book club will hold its first virtual meeting on August 17.

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

forbidden books


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