In Our Childrens’ Library
Seasons greetings, my good readers. I recently stumbled across this article and thought it was something many of you would find interesting:
The article features a Utah mother’s lawsuit against her child’s school due to an instance of book banning. The school removed the children’s book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, save for a copy kept under glass which children must obtain written permission to read. In Our Mothers’ House is about life with two moms and the mother filing the lawsuit argues that, since the sole objection to the book is the inclusion and positive portrayal of homosexual parents, its exclusion from the school library is discrimination and a violation of the students’ rights. She also worries that forcing children to obtain written permission and have the librarian unlock the book in order to read it discourages students from reading it and may stigmatize those who do.
In Our Mothers’ House is one of many children’s books about children with homosexual parents that has come under fire. And Tango Makes Three, the true story of a penguin chick with two dads, came in at #1 on the ALA’s Most Frequently Challenged Books List in 2006 and many books featuring two-mom or two-dad families have been banned or challenged in recent years.
Yes, homosexuality is controversial, but so were divorce, adoption, and single parenthood at one point. Yet there are a slew of movies, books, and television shows about or featuring these once-scandalous families. Whether or not you approve, families come in many shapes and sizes and even a simple little children’s book can help kids feel like they aren’t alone or, if stigmatized by their peers, that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Many argue that by not taking sides, no one is hurt or offended. However, not taking sides means excluding one and sends a clear message that distinctly does take sides. Advertisements, television, movies, and books show us what is normal, what is accepted, and what is desired. Showing only heteronormative couples in the media does not remain neutral. It sends the message that heteronormative couples are accepted and normal. Children are listening, and the lack of families like theirs speaks volumes.
I am straight, but I have many dear friends who are not. In addition, like 1 in 6 American couples, I am in an interracial relationship. Not so long ago, this was still illegal in many states. Despite ‘mixed race’ being the fastest growing group on the US Census, nearly every single advertisement for dating websites feature no interracial couples. These dating websites are not staying neutral. They are telling me that my relationship is not accepted. I am an adult. I know who I am and what I believe. I can see these ads for the cowardly safe choice that they are. A child may not. When they realize their family is missing from the media, they don’t always have the confidence, sense of self, and perspective to shrug it off. And that breaks my heart.
One of my favorite series of picture books as a little girl were the Amazing Grace books. One of them featured a young Grace being very upset because every book showed a family with a mom, dad, brother, sister, dog, and cat. There were no books with families like hers (a mom, grandmother, girl, and cat). This made her feel abnormal and marginalized, so her mother (or maybe grandmother, it’s been about sixteen years since I read this) tells her to write books about families like hers. Despite coming from a standard nuclear family, this book’s simple message had a huge impact on me and how I looked at the world and my peers. My family was what the media said was normal, but plenty of other children had different normals and they were no less valid or loving or happy. That’s what bothers me the most about this whole situation. The people who ban these books are the same people who scream about family values at the top of their lungs.
So why ban books about family? Families with two moms and two dads value family just as much, perhaps more since they may have had to fight harder for it. Their families eat together, play together, solve problems together, argue together, celebrate together, make mistakes together, and come together the same as any other family. Their homes are no less warm, their love no less real. Children from said families would likely benefit from the validation and shared experiences of books such as In Our Mothers’ House. Children from heteronormative families would just as likely benefit from learning that their normal is not the only normal, just as I benefited from Amazing Grace in a time when divorce, single parenthood, and other ‘non-traditional’ families were an increasingly common reality for many of my peers. (As an anthropology student, I could lecture all night about what a ‘traditional’ family is, but I shall stay on topic).
If the ideas in this book so grossly offend you, then don’t read it. Having this book or others like it in the library does not force your child to read it. Even if they decide to read it, it does not brainwash them or force them to change their own beliefs. Discuss it with them, if you’re so worried. However, having this book does allow those who do want to read it and would benefit from it to have access. That is far more neutral than excluding it and the benefit far outweighs any negative. Children should not have to feel excluded and ashamed just so someone else’s child won’t have to feel confused or uncomfortable when their parents’ worldview is challenged. Whatever your thoughts on homosexuality, these families, these children, exist and you share a world with them. Your children share a world with them. That is something that no amount of book banning can change and even the most fearful reader must somehow find a way to accept.