Mysterious woman tells school board that Scholastic book sparked porn addiction
On November 14, a 20-year-old woman named Lanah Burkhardt appeared before the school board of the Conroe Independent School District in Texas. Burkhardt told the board that, when she was 11, she read a Scholastic book that introduced her to "a single kiss." According to Burkhardt, her exposure to this Scholastic book was directly responsible for her developing a debilitating addiction to pornography.
Burkhardt said that after reading the Scholastic book with the "single kiss," she "looked for other books that gave me pleasure." This "led to internet searches" that Burkhardt will "never forget." By the time she was 13, Burkhardt says her porn addiction left her depressed and suicidal.
Burkhardt cited her story as a reason to restrict access to Drama, a novel published by Scholastic. The book includes this image of two people kissing:
But Burkhardt went further, arguing that Conroe should remove all Scholastic books from schools and stop hosting Scholastic book fairs. These steps were necessary, Burkhardt argued, to protect children from "sexual obscenity." According to Burkhardt, "getting rid of Scholastic books and their book fairs will inevitably protect kids."
Burkhardt's appearance was promoted by SkyTree Book Fairs, a newly formed organization marketing itself as "an alternative to the sexually explicit content distributed in Scholastic's book fairs."
While SkyTree Book Fairs presents itself as an independent non-profit organization, it appears to be a hastily assembled offshoot of Brave Books, which publishes children's books by right-wing pundits and pseudo-celebrities.
The president of SkyTree Book Fairs, Riley Lee, was listed as an "Executive Assistant" at Brave Books earlier this year. (Lee has omitted her employment at Brave Books from her LinkedIn profile.) A website, stopscholastic.com, which previously redirected to a page promoting book fairs by Brave Books, now redirects to SkyTree Books Fairs. An "extensive report" on the dangers of Scholastic, previously offered by Brave Books, is now being distributed by SkyTree Book Fairs.
The link between SkyTree Book Fairs and Brave Books was first reported by Book Riot.
After this story was published, Lee responded to emailed questions sent by Popular Information on Tuesday. Lee said that SkyTree Book Fairs “was created in response to the work Kirk Cameron did throughout his public library tour in 2023.” (The tour hosted by Brave Books.) Lee described herself as a “former employee of BRAVE Books.” William Bell, Head of Sales for Brave Books, is on the board of directors. Riley said SkyTree Book Fairs offers BRAVE Books along with books from other publishers.
Burkhardt's appearance at the Conroe school board was also promoted by Brave Books. The company called it a "must watch" and a "powerful message that needs to be heard." Burkhardt's story was also pushed by Kirk Cameron, the former child actor who has several titles published by Brave Books and is an advisor to SkyTree Book Fairs.
Neither Brave Books nor Burkhardt disclosed that Burkhardt is an employee of Brave Books. According to her LinkedIn profile, Burkhardt is the company's "public relations coordinator."
Burkhardt's employment was first reported by Frank Strong. It is unclear how an 11-year-old Burkhardt obtained the Scholastic book that allegedly caused her porn addiction. It appears she was home-schooled. Burkhardt did not respond to a request for comment sent via Facebook.
Burkhardt's gambit has already had an impact. The Conroe school board, after listening to her story, voted to restrict access to Drama, the Scholastic book featuring a kiss, from all students in the 8th grade and below. One of the school board members, Melissa Dungan, suggested replacing Scholastic with SkyTree Book Fairs. "All glory to God," Burkhardt posted in response to the news.
Inside Brave Books
Brave Books was founded by Trent Talbot, an ophthalmologist with no apparent background in education. According to Talbot’s LinkedIn profile, he founded the company in February 2021 after he “realized there was a war going on for the hearts and minds of our children and the wrong side was winning.” The company’s website states that it sells “[f]aith-based children’s books” and aims to “help parents instill a love of truth in their children” so that they can “withstand harmful progressive influences.”
Brave Books offers a slew of children’s books with conservative messaging written by right-wing influencers and politicians. Authors on Brave Books’ website include actor Kevin Sorbo, United States Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Donald Trump's former press secretary Sean Spicer, and Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Many of the titles published by Brave Books are set in an imaginary world based on the United States called Freedom Island. According to Politico, each book based on Freedom Island contains a “fold-out map marked with villages and mountain ranges,” with the southwestern corner of the map being called the “Car-a-Lago Coast.” The books also include “an afterword for parents” that is “filled with suggested games and discussion questions to drive home political concepts.”
One of the books sold by Brave Books is “Elephants Are Not Birds” by Ashley St. Clair. The book, which sells for $22.99, follows an elephant named Kevin “as he learns that even though he can sing, he is not a bird.” The villain of the story, a “vulture named Culture,” “gives [the] elephant a beak and a set of fake wings and watches as he plummets out of a tree.” Culture is a recurring character in the books set on Freedom Island who, according to Politico, “tries to poison innocent animals with progressive ideas.” In an interview with the New York Post, St. Clair described the book as “an unapologetic rebuke of transgender acceptance and the growing number of young people identifying as trans.”
Brave Books also sells a book called “Paws Off My Cannon” by Dana Loesch, a former spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (NRA). According to Brave Books’ website, the book “teaches kids the importance of the Second Amendment” by following the story of Bongo, a gorilla, who is shot at with a coconut cannon by a “villainous hyena.” Bongo’s friend Bonnie then “suggests the village ban all coconut cannons,” but “Bongo thinks that the hyenas are the problem, not the coconut cannons.”
Another book sold on Brave Books’ website is “No More Secrets: The Candy Cavern” by right-wing influencer Chaya Raichik. Raichik runs the X account Libs of TikTok, known for anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. The book is about “Rose the Lamb” and how her teacher is “focused more on candy than teaching.” According to the New York Post, the subtext of the book is “based on longstanding criticisms by parents that schools are encouraging gender transition in young students without informing parents.” Brave Books’ website advertises that “Donald Trump Posted in Support of the Book!”
Brave Books also sells “The Island of Free Ice Cream” by Jack Posobiec, which is a story about communism. Posobiec is a right-wing personality who “promoted the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory” and has ties to white supremacists.