The Book That Scares Some Parents
Parents of children at Windridge Elementary School near Salt Lake City, Utah, are afraid. The focus of their worries is a sweet picture book by Patricia Polacco, “In My Mothers’ House.” The family that makes them fear for the future of their children has two loving mothers and three happy, adopted children.
A child took the book home. The mother complained. The school’s response is one I am familiar with from my years as a school librarian. A school committee told the librarian to restrict the book to children in grades 3 through 6 who brought a note from home.
That kind of appeasement never works, which is why I would not agree to it in the years I worked at every level of public-school education in Washington and New York states. It did not work in Utah either. When parents complained again, the committee voted 6-1 to keep the book in the collection but behind the counter.
For the immediate future, that is where the issue ends, with a book languishing in library purgatory in order to appease fearful parents. No one is truly satisfied. The parents would undoubtedly like the book removed from the catalog so no one can ask for it. Librarians and more liberal parents would like to have it on the shelves. Children with same-sex parents no longer have easy access to a book that shows a family like theirs.
Why I Retracted My Claws and Opted for Compassion
Before I read Patricia Polacco’s censored tale, “In My Mothers’ House,” I was ready to whip out my mother-bear claws and swipe away at the Utah parents for daring to ban a book about a family with same-sex parents. My Australian granddaughter has two mothers. I want her to find her own experience of family reflected in books and movies. I never want her to feel confusion or shame because her loving parents are lesbians.
That was yesterday. Today I read the book. When I came to the sweet ending, my ferocity softened. It softened because I recognized that my fears for my granddaughter have the same foundation as the Utah parents’ fears: love.
The Utah parents’ attitude toward my granddaughter and her family, as evidenced by their insistence the book be censored, is abhorrent to me. At the same time, I acknowledge their fervent wish that they could shelter their children in a stormy world.
Library Censorship Doesn’t Protect Children
My ferocity also softened because I used to be a children’s librarian. Every year I was called into the office to answer for some book or magazine parents wanted pulled from the collection.
Although occasionally the issue went all the way to the school board, I was never required to remove the offending item. That’s because I always knew the book or magazine was not the heart of the parents’ concerns. They loved their children and wanted to protect them from harm. They read the news, watched television, went to church, and worried.
They were good people who were very afraid. I spent a lot of time with them, listening to their fears and searching for ways to reassure them. Somehow we always found a path that allowed them enough comfort to keep the targeted material in the collection, without restrictions.
My hope for the children of Windridge Elementary School is that “In Our Mothers’ House” will return to the open shelves, where it can be just another sweet book about a loving family instead of an object of suspicion.
Winds of Change in Utah
That time may come soon. People in Utah are examining long-held misunderstandings and stereotypes about the LGBTQ community. When Moab, Utah, hosted Pride last year, about 500 people joined the “Visibility March” that kicked off the festival. In Salt Lake City last Sunday, the gay pride parade drew thousands of participants, including several hundred Mormons. When President Obama spoke in favor of marriage equality, Mormon and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (a Utah Democrat) came out publicly in support of same-sex unions.
I know I cannot protect my granddaughter from the hurt those Utah parents would inflict on her. Still, Bob Dylan’s song runs through my head as I write: “The times, they are a-changin’.”
And they are changing for the better.
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