United Families International: Dedicated to informing you about the issues and forces impacting the family.
Contributed by Tori Black
When I was little, I loved to have my mother read to me. I had two favorite stories that I requested over and over: The Little Red Hen and Little Black Sambo. Poor Little Black Sambo has fallen out of favor among some people, but I admired the quick-witted little boy who out-smarted the dangerous tigers threatening to “eat [him] up,” and hoped that I could learn be just as smart as him.
When I was about six years old, my mother took me to get my own library card. With her guidance, the first book I ever checked out was Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephants’ Child. I’m not sure when I started doing this, but soon after learning to read by myself, I took to wandering the shelves at the library and randomly choosing books based on an interesting spine. It was at my elementary school library that I happened upon The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The Boxcar Children was also a chance selection from the school library.
“There is no friend as loyal as a book” – Earnest Hemingway
For me, these books were not just entertainment. They were companions and mentors. The people that inhabited their pages were clever, enterprising friends that served as inspiration for my life and for my future. As someone who came from a family with little means, libraries helped to satisfy my hunger for the written word, and the next best thing to actual books was the Scholastic Book Club catalog passed out by our teacher and filled with lists of paperbacks for sale at super-low prices. For a bookworm like me, it was heaven!
Back then, parents could count on a library to safeguard the welfare of a child whose method of selecting her reading was so unstructured. And parents could trust that Scholastic’s mission to “encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children, beginning with literacy” would not run counter to values taught in the home. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today.
The transformation of children’s book publishing
This year’s Scholastic catalog for grades 3 – 6 was made in partnership with the activist group, We Need Diverse Books, and features stories intended to help children “see themselves in the pages of a book.” All of us who seek to be truly inclusive and build bridges within our communities want to find something of value in Scholastic’s intent, but you do begin to wonder what’s going on at the publishing house when you see a catalog designed for elementary school children pushing identity politics that includes stories about a girl questioning her sexuality – can you “crush on girls and boys?”, non-gender normative witches, and a child whose father is sneaking around with her best friend’s mother.
To understand better the direction Scholastic is going, you need to understand the group with which they have collaborated. The mission of We Need Diverse Books is to put pressure on the publishing industry to place “more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.” And it is such a predictable definition of diversity that includes, but is not limited to, “LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” Conservative Christians, no matter their race or ethnicity, are just out of luck. Literary agent, Thao Le, credits We Need Diverse Books in forcing the “children’s publishing industry to face its uncomfortable reality: that our books are predominantly white, straight, and cisgender and cater to a white, straight, cisgender readership.” Do third graders even care what it means to be “cisgender?” Do they need to?
In a Bustle article, several individuals in the publishing industry, including four from Scholastic, praised We Need Diverse Books for changing publishing “forever.” In the article, author,
Ibi Zoboi, reveals the scope of the change hoped for by We Need Diverse Books:
“We can also extend this need for diversity across all areas of our industry. We need diverse reviewers, librarians, teachers who will have the lived experience and wherewithal to unpack our books for young readers. We need diverse scholars and educators who will subvert the canon, the form, and many of our hierarchical systems of selecting and lauding books.”
“Unpacking” stories about gender identity with grade schoolers…I’m sure that will kindle their love of reading.
The radicalization of libraries
The need to shield our kids from the more extreme content found in the Scholastic Book Club is only the beginning. Librarians for schools and public facilities are also keen to mess with your kids’ heads. Librarians come in all ideological and philosophical shapes and sizes, so we are careful to not paint with too broad a brush. My aunt is a librarian, and most of the librarians I have known well and interacted with over the years just love books and want to help others love books too. However, what is being done in the name of the profession by the American Library Association (ALA) can’t be ignored.
The ALA has 57,000 members “including librarians, library workers, library trustees, and other interested people (emphasis added) from every state and many nations,” and its mission is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” Today’s ALA, however, does not restrict itself to issues regarding literacy and information services. These days, the American Library Association is also an activist organization promoting LGBTQ “inclusion” through programs such as drag queen story hours.
According to a recent article in The Federalist , the 2019 ALA conference, with over 21,000 attendees, included workshops to assist librarians in “Creating Queer-Inclusive Elementary School Library Programming,” “Developing an Online Face for a Lesbian Pulp Fiction Collection,” “Telling Stories, Expanding Boundaries: Drag Queen Storytimes in Libraries,” and promoting genderfluidity through “A Child’s Room to Choose: Encouraging Gender Identity and Expression in School and Public Libraries.” In case you are one of those pesky parents who likes to know what your child is reading, the ALA is there to help librarians keep you in the dark with the workshop “Are You Going to Tell My Parents?: The Minor’s Right to Privacy in the Library.” The description for this workshop said children “have a right to privacy and confidentiality in what they read and view in the library” and that participants would “explore positive and proactive ways that libraries can protect minors’ privacy and confidentiality.”
Just in case you object to your tax dollars going to Drag Queen Story Hour events, which sometimes include instruction in twerking as well as fashion design and make up workshops, the ALA gives librarians the resources they need to counter the protests of parents opposed to men dressed as caricatures of women reading stories that, in the words of one drag queen storyteller, “groom the next generation” to embrace genderfluidity. The conference made sure to include the workshop, “Controversial Speaker Planned for Your Library Event? Things to Consider.”
These events are not innocent and harmless. Adult humor and colorful, flamboyant costumes and makeup are being used to teach children to explore their sexuality and identity before they even have the capacity to understand what that means. This is a part of childhood growth and maturation that cultures have carefully fostered in their children from the beginning of time. Modern society is ignoring fundamental childhood development in the name of political correctness. No good can come of this.
The power of story
Mankind has been using stories to teach and influence throughout history. When humans hear stories, they have a neurological response that impacts their thinking and behavior. The release of hormones such as cortisol and oxytocin prompt us to focus our attention as well as respond empathically. We feel hopeful and optimistic after a happy ending because our bodies have released dopamine. The stories that captured my imagination as a child and youth taught me the meaning of courage, the virtue of loyalty and self-sacrifice while providing examples for how to live by those ideals. They helped me feel that goodness existed in the world and in the people around me.
No one understands better the power of stories to sway opinion than book publishers and librarians, and there are many great titles out there than can inspire and instruct our children for good. Do your homework and fill your children’s lives with those stories, but do not accept glib rationales for the use of children’s books and library story hours to harm the wellbeing of our young people.