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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Marci Laffen’s position.
Children’s books that include transgender characters may be moved out of the kids section at Andover Public Library if board members follow the wishes of some members of the community.
At issue is whether the books should be considered appropriate for younger audiences, said Marci Laffen, who filed the challenge against “George,” “Lily and Dunkin” and “I am Jazz.” Laffen said she wants the books moved to the adult section — or at least the young adult section.
She cited the sexual content of the books, as well as issues such as bullying, rebelling against police and refusing to take medications. She also said the material was beyond the cognitive ability of a young reader.
Library board member Blake Cooper said that Laffen’s written challenge of the books referred to them as part of a “sexual revolution agenda, indoctrination of children.”
“I am Jazz,” a picture book biography of a transgender child, is classified as juvenile nonfiction at the Andover Public Library. It had apparently been shelved with other picture books in the children’s section, but is now shelved with other nonfiction books according to the Dewey Decimal system — placing it with nonfiction books on “institutions pertaining to relations of the sexes.”
“George” and “Lily and Dunkin” are both classified as juvenile fiction at the library. Both are about transgender kids, one in fourth grade and one in eighth grade.
Jennifer Clark, the library’s youth services manager, said that some children’s books address difficult or complex subjects.
“Yellow Star,” a juvenile fiction book, is about a Jewish girl’s experience during World War II and the Holocaust. A character is bullied in “Little House on the Prairie.” And, “Huckleberry Finn ran away from a large black man,” she said.
“We have many (nonfiction) picture books — we have a Martin Luther King picture book, we have a Revolutionary War picture book — all about factual events,” Clark said. “But they are illustrated, they have a certain word count, they are geared toward a certain audience. The same way ‘I am Jazz’ is.”
Nonfiction picture books are typically shelved with other picture books. “I am Jazz” was moved to the nonfiction section after the complaint was made.
Library board members will decide where each of the books will be shelved at a meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 13.
Several people tried to persuade the board either way at a meeting last week attended by about 55 people.
Brenda Way, who identified herself as a transgender woman, held up a book and pointed to the back cover.
“If a kid picks up a book and reads the back and then wants to check that book out, obviously that means there’s an interest,” Way said. “Obviously that child has something that makes them want to connect with that book.
“That child has a question. Why are we saying that a child who is 7, 8 or 9 years old and has questions and wants to pick up that book should be denied finding that book in their section?”
Board member Cindy Pfieffer said that in her experience as a middle and high school librarian, you have to be careful about shelving books in their recommended section.
“What happens when you move books to different categories is they can get lost from their intended audience,” she said. “And ‘George’ is set in fourth or fifth grade. In my experience with middle school and high school kids, they will not read down. If you’re in sixth grade, you do not want to read about fourth-graders.”
Elle Boatman, who said she is a member of the LGBT community, said she had questions as a child and eventually found a book in the adult section. Boatman said books provide a language and sense of belonging to children with gender dysphoria.
“I know that if I had these books at an age-appropriate time, it would have saved me a considerable amount of emotional issues and professional problems I experienced,” Boatman said
Jocelyn Bannon agreed.
“I didn’t have these books growing up,” Bannon said. “I didn’t know how to deal with all the thoughts and feelings I had. I just think that kids today are incredibly lucky that they are able to access material that can help them understand their reality.”
Donna Lippoldt, executive director of the Culture Shield Network, said she supported moving the books to a higher level because, “They will still be accessible, but maybe not just haphazardly found by children that would be confused.” She said she doesn’t think libraries should teach sex education.
She said just one experience being exposed to a confusing topic can give a child lifelong problems. It’s a parent’s responsibility to prevent that from happening, she said.
“Parents here (at the meeting) now are aware that you cannot let your kids come to this library and do anything without you being right over them,” Lippoldt said.
Stephanie Yeager said she checked out “Go Ask Alice,” a young adult book about a teenager and drug abuse, from a public library in fifth grade.
“It taught me that there’s a range of experiences in this world,” she said. “It did not lead me to drug abuse.”
Christy Newport cited theories on childhood development when saying she doesn’t think younger children could fully understand the subject matter. She called the books “more propaganda than literature.”
“George” has previously been the subject of controversy with libraries in Wichita public schools.
The district’s supervisor of library media decided during the 2017-18 school year that it would not be included on the master list of William Allen White award books provided to elementary schools. The book’s author, Alex Gino, helped raise money to buy copies for each school.
Liz Hamor, the founder of the local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said all public middle and high schools in Wichita now have copies of “George.” Only a handful of elementary schools accepted copies, though. GLSEN still has copies of the books available for school libraries.
“It’s important for students to see themselves reflected in literature,” Hamor said. “And for students who don’t hold those identities to see into the stories of people who do and people who are different than them.”