A Wichita School District official made the very sound decision not to purchase additional copies of a recommended children’s book about a transgendered fourth grader, and the Wichita Eagle is on the case.
The book, “George” features a fourth grade boy who identifies as a girl. He decides to try out for a female character in the school play. It’s geared to 8-12 year-olds and is available the district already owns a handful of copies of the book, and it is available in four Wichita elementary school libraries, two middle school libraries and one high school library, and librarians in the district can purchase copies from their own building funds or borrow one from other district libraries if they want to make it available to students in their own buildings. There are also 14 copies in the Wichita Public Library. That’s not enough for gender-identity activists, apparently.
“All students deserve to see themselves reflected in curriculum, and one of the best ways to do that is through books,” said Liz Hamor, co-founder of Wichita’s GLSEN, a national organization that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ students, told the Eagle.
The book’s author is also disappointed that the school district isn’t putting the book in all school libraries. The author cites concern that someone is “afraid of exposing children to reality. They’re either afraid that the book is going to turn them trans — I promise you that doesn’t happen–or they’re afraid of uncomfortable conversations… People are afraid of talking about what they don’t know how to talk about,” the author tells the paper.
People also don’t like exposing their children to ideas they’re not mature enough to process, which may be why most school libraries (hopefully, the Eagle hasn’t done an expose on the topic, so we don’t know) aren’t carrying books about aphrodisiacs, the karma sutra, and serial killers either.
According to the Eagle, a committee of librarians, teachers, school administrators, parents and others selects from more than 100 nominations to create the William Allen White master list, a list of books used to encouraged kids to read and enjoy good books. “George” made this year’s list. (The Eagle doesn’t explain who “others” participating on the selection committee might be. Authors hoping to earn a bit more? Lobbyists?)
The chairman of the selection committee, Beverley Buller, says “George” made the list because committee members recognized it delicately deals with a controversial subject. Fortunately, the Wichita supervisor of library media Gail Becker actually read the book before simply adding it to every school’s card catalogue.
She told the Eagle she decided not to purchase the book due to language and mature references as opposed to its theme of gender identity. Specifically, she lists a passage in which a school bully refers to George as “finally starting to grow some balls,” and another passage in which George’s older brother refers to porn as well as a snipping gesture allusion to sex-reassignment surgery.
“So I’m looking at the words and going, ‘Hmmm,’ … Would the average 8-year-old be familiar with these terms?” Becker told the Eagle. “When I approached this book, I tried to read it from the point of view of a child and not from an adult who’s seen some of these words before.”
The selection committee chair also said librarians don’t want to be parents. If parents say they don’t want their fourth graders reading about a transgender fourth-grader, that’s OK.
School libraries are often more selective than public libraries. She said when she worked in a middle school library, she was sometimes asked by students for copies of Stephen King books, which the library didn’t have.
“I’d say Stephen King is an adult book. If you’d like to read him, go to the public library,” she said.
The only people scandalized by the decision not to purchase more copies of “George” appear to be the Wichita Eagle, the author, and gender-identity activists.