As a target for a book ban, this seemed like an unlikely candidate: a book about babies, about how adorable they are, a book inspired by a grandmother’s love.
The story of how he was attacked takes unexpected turns.
It is a story of censorship, hypocrisy and distorted facts, details lost in the fog of an all-consuming culture war sweeping across the United States.
A popular children’s book, babies everywhereit was found on a list of 58 books that a Florida conservative group aimed to ban from school libraries.
The author of the book was stunned last week when the topic made national and international headlines and was found out by The Washington Post.
“It’s so unexpected,” children’s writer Susan Meyers later told CBC News in an interview.
“I think it’s extremely annoying. Really annoying.”
This 2001 book was inspired by the birth of Meyers’ first grandson and how all of the boy’s grandparents looked up to him with love.
What the book shows
Meyers decided to write babies everywhere after witnessing Christmas nativity scenes: it was based on images of adults gathered around babies.
A prominent artist was hired to illustrate these scenes and she drew all kinds of families: young parents, elderly parents, light-skinned and dark-skinned.
In a couple of images there are two men or two women with a baby. Artist Marla Frazee says that she never specifies whether they are sisters, brothers, friends or spouses.
But he says he wanted families with same-sex couples to feel included.
“That was by design,” Frazee said in an interview.
“I wanted to make sure, as best I could, that any child looking at the book would find something like their own family… I wanted them to read the book and think, ‘That’s who we are. That’s what our family is like.'”
Now he is concerned that this controversy will occur two decades later, with same-sex marriage legalized seven years ago in the US
A culture war engulfs schools
The pace of book banning has quickened, says a study by the literature and free expression group PEN America. That bill 1,145 books banned in the US over a nine-month period in 26 states, defining bans as student access to previously available books that are restricted, diminished, or eliminated altogether.
Most of the banned books dealt with race, sex, and sexuality, and unlike most book bans of the past, these were prompted primarily by calls from state and elected officials.
In this new political culture war, Florida is a central battlefield.
Governor Ron DeSantis is considered a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and some of his opponents view his moves as an effort to gain national attention.
In the past few weeks alone, the state has passed laws restricting teaching about sexual identity before grade 4 (called by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” bill); allowed parents to sue school boards that fail to address their complaints about inappropriate material; teaching concepts that make people feel guilty because of their race or gender is prohibited; and created new oversight rules for school boards.
When Disney complained about one of these bills the state targeted Disney with another law: cancelled tax free district around Disneyworldand he did it so quickly that he might not have considered the unintended tax consequences: a major debt rating agency now warns of potential liabilities for regular Florida taxpayers.
Enter the book brouhaha.
In the northwestern corner of the state, on the Alabama border, Walton County school officials received a list from a conservative group of 58 books deemed inappropriate for schools.
Those school officials say they are still trying to figure out the legal implications of the new Florida laws.
There are differing interpretations of what happened next, but the county says some of the media and national reaction has been exaggerated.
The targeted books in Florida
“I’m a little disappointed by the misinformation,” Walton County Schools Superintendent Russell Hughes told CBC News.
“We don’t ban books.”
Based on the discussion in the comments on county Facebook pagenot all area residents agree with that characterization of what the school district made make.
The basic details, however, are not in dispute.
A conservative group called the Florida Citizens Alliance, a small in size organization by the standards of American politics, compiles a annual list of allegedly pornographic or age-inappropriate books that violate state rules about what belongs in schools.
Some of the 58 selections are not surprising. the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey it is described in the report as: “Excellent instructional material for newlyweds.” [But not for people] younger than that.”
Some are literary gems. Loved Toni Morrison’s is included for mentioning slave girls having sex with farm animals; The kite flyer Y The God of small things to describe sexual abuse.
Some are picture books intended for younger children, such as tango three agothe story of the gay penguins, and babies everywhere.
The list went to Hughes, the superintendent of schools, a Republican who was elected to the post.
Superintendent: ‘Not removed’
Hughes is popular: He won the Republican nomination and the general election in 2016, then ran unopposed and was re-elected four years later when schools in his county far outnumbered those in his county. state averages on a number of criteria, including improvement.
In an interview, Hughes said he didn’t want any trouble. Especially not now, with all the uncertainty about new state laws.
“I’m not going to risk getting my staff members in trouble,” Hughes said.
So he asked for a review and learned that among the books on the list, 24 were in their school libraries, 34 were not.
He ordered all 24 library shelves removed and asked staff to review them to see if they violated state rules.
what happened with Babies everywhere?
Nothing happened, Hughes said. First of all, he wasn’t on any of the library shelves in his county schools, he said.
“So it was not removed,” he said.
He is frustrated with the way the news spread nationally, after a Democratic candidate for state office tweeted the complete list of 58 books to which it points.
BREAKING: My home county, Walton County, Florida, has moved forward in banning 58 books from Walton County Public School Libraries.
Here is the list: pic.twitter.com/IDjnq0XKNP
Nuance is often AWOL in a political skirmish. And in current debates about censorship, so does consistency.
American political discourse has lately been plagued by complaints about censorship, from right to left, with each side selective in its outrage, the author of a New book warning of threats to our traditions of freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression: Right, left, hypocrisy
In The constitution of knowledgethe author and journalist Jonathan Rauch warns that we are losing the ability to talk to each other and breaking the model that has allowed the growth of democracy.
“I’m very worried,” Rauch said in an interview.
Conservatives are currently staging a crusade for free speech, even as they celebrate Florida targeting Disney and restricting classroom discussion.
A current famous cause On the right is billionaire Elon Musk’s attempt to take over Twitter and reform it after it censored stories during the 2020 election.
The same conservative media as last spring up in arms on book censorship and ran days and days of segments on The Dr. Seuss Legacy the cessation of publication of books with racially offensive images now applauds the news from Florida.
Liberals have a spotty record here, too: They now speak out against censorship in American classrooms, but spoke less during the last election.
During the campaign, Twitter censored posts about the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son; he even suspended the New York Post account. Facebook prohibited and then not prohibited Posts about unproven theories about the origins of COVID-19.
How censorship fails
Rauch describes the phenomenon as increasingly radicalized politics in which people on the left and right use whatever weapons are available to attack unwanted speech.
In his opinion, the right uses tools that it controls: state legislatures or media bubbles that restrict the truths about vaccines (they help) and about the last US election (Donald Trump really lost).
He accuses the left of using its own cultural institutions, like academia, to intimidate dissidents into silence, and create a false appearance of agreement on ideas like defunding the police and gender identity.
His book suggests ways to reverse these trends. That includes the challenge of setting standards for social media that allow free speech, while discouraging lies.
“If we don’t back down … we could lose this battle,” Rauch said, expressing fear of democratic erosion. “We could be much more like Hungary.”
A way to undermine censorship? Illustrate that it can be counterproductive. ask the author of babies everywhere.
News of the banned list pushed sales of Meyers’ former book to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-selling children’s activity book list, and No. 21 for children’s books overall.
“It has exactly the opposite effect when you ban a book,” he said.