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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
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This fall marks the thirtieth anniversary of Banned Books Week. In 2011, for the first time in a number of years, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, wasn’t on the Top 10 Most Challenged Books list, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. But sex and sexuality remain troublesome topics in school and public libraries across the nation. My Mom’s Having a Baby!, by Dori Hillestad Butler, is currently number four on the list. The challenges to this factual picture book about childbirth were sparked after Fox News did a feature with a Texas babysitter who felt that the book was inappropriate for the nine-year-old girl in her care. Soon after the 2011 Top 10 Most Challenged Books list was published, I received an e-mail from Butler, who asked, “Did you see that I made the list?” Of course I saw, and I was actually thrilled because now the book will become even more popular, as is often the case when a book is challenged. My Mom’s Having a Baby! is an important book that answers questions that parents are sometimes uncomfortable broaching. In an interview, I asked Butler to respond to her newly crowned position on the Top 10 Most Challenged Books list.
BKL: How did you react when you learned that
My Mom’s Having a Baby! had landed on ALA’s 2011 Most Challenged Books list?
Butler: I was shocked. I knew the book had been challenged in some communities, but fourth-most-challenged book? Despite what would-be censors might say, My Mom’s Having a Baby! is not a book “about sex.” It’s a book about a close-knit, loving family and their joy and anticipation prior to the birth of a second child. It does go one step further than similar books and answers the question that many children ask: How did that baby get inside Mom in the first place?
BKL: What do you say to parents, or even librarians, who question whether this book should be in a library collection?
Butler: It should definitely be in a library collection. It makes me sad that some people don’t want children to have accurate information about sex and reproduction, and it makes me angry that a few parents think they have a right to prevent other people’s children from having access to that information. I know parents who use the book as a tool to begin discussing sexuality and reproduction with their children, and they want it available to them. Parents must make the decision for their own family. Librarians must serve all members of a community.
BKL: Have you had face-to-face contact with kids who want to discuss your book? What are their reactions?
Butler: Yes. Some think it’s a badge of honor to have a challenged book, and they are proud to know me. Others read the book and ask, “Why was this challenged?” I show them the two pages that are cited most often in challenges, and they ask, “That’s it?” or “What’s wrong with that?” Some laugh. One teenager told me her parents never talked to her about where babies come from. She’s always gotten all of her information about sex from books, and it makes her mad that people want to “get rid of all books that mention sex.”
BKL: Do you have other books that have been challenged in school and public libraries?
Butler: Yes, Alexandra Hopewell, Labor Coach, which is a humorous story about a fifth-grade girl’s struggle to convince her mother she is responsible and mature enough to be her labor coach. When I was on an author visit, a school librarian told me that she “temporarily removed” the book from the library prior to my visit because she didn’t want a student to take the book home and risk having a parent see it and get upset. She was worried that a parent might ask the school to rescind its invitation to me. The Truth about Truman School deals with cyberbullying from the perspective of the bully, the bullied, and several bystanders. Before I visit schools, I send a survey on bullying and cyberbullying, and I incorporate the responses into my presentation so that the students, teachers, and administration can all see what kind of bullying problem they have at their school. But in some communities, some parents have flipped through the book and come across words like gay or lesbian, and they have not only asked that their children not participate; they have tried to remove it from the curriculum. I also know of a teacher who refused to teach the book because he didn’t like the fact that the characters questioned each other’s sexual orientation.
BKL: How has your view of censorship changed since making the most frequently challenged list?
Butler: I’m not sure my view of censorship has changed. What’s changed is my willingness to stand up and be counted. I’m not sure any book is truly immune from censorship, and that frightens me.
BKL: You are now in a “Sorority of Most Challenged” with writers like Judy Blume and Robie H. Harris, who are committed to fighting the censors. What will you tell writers who face a first challenge to a book they’ve written?
Butler: I would advise a challenged writer who has been called upon to respond to the press to keep calm. Figure out the points you want to make, and just keep repeating them as calmly and concisely as you possibly can. I understand that when one of her books has been challenged, Robie H. Harris actually sends a letter to the school or library and asks how she can help. I want to learn from her about how to be better prepared to do something if my books continue to face challenges.
Bibliography of Facts-of-Life Books
The following standout titles use a straightforward, sensitive approach to informing young people about sex and sexuality.
Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts. By Gail Saltz. Illus. by Lynne Avril Cravath. 2005. 32p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525473893); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780142410585). 612.6. PreS–Gr. 2.
Illustrated with cartoon drawings and told in simple language, this book discusses the physical differences of girls and boys, how the body changes from infancy to adolescence, and basic information about reproduction.
How You Were Born. By Joanna Cole. Illus. by Margaret Miller. Rev. ed. 1984. 48p. HarperCollins, paper, $7.99 (9780688120610). 612.6. PreS–Gr. 3.
This photo-essay traces the development of a fetus to the actual birth. How a baby is conceived isn’t described. The color photos make the process seem real to a child who is asking first questions about childbirth.
It’s Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends. By Robie H. Harris. Illus. by Michael Emberley. 2006. 64p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763600471); paper, $11.99 (9780763633318); e-book, $11.99 (9780763658632). 649.65. K–Gr. 3.
This straightforward text, with humorous cartoon illustrations, emphasizes sexual health, including growth and development and how parents make babies. A short discussion called “Okay Touches, Not Okay Touches” sparks an understanding of the importance of the body and personal privacy.
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health. By Robie H. Harris. Illus. by Michael Emberley. Rev. ed. 2009. 96p. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763626105); paper, $12.99 (9780763644840); e-book, $12.99 (9780763658649). 613.9. Gr. 4–7.
Conception and puberty, birth control and AIDS, sexual intercourse, and heterosexuality and homosexuality are covered in this detailed text, which focuses on the biological and psychological questions that children have about sexual development. The cartoon illustrations, including small drawings of a bird and a bee sprinkled throughout the text, are scientific but humorous.
It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. By Robie H. Harris. Illus. by Michael Emberley. 1999. 80p. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763600518); paper, $12.99 (9780763613211); e-book, $12.99 (9780763658656). 612.6. Gr. 2–5.
This honest approach to the way a baby is made, from the moment a sperm and an egg connect to the actual birth, includes realistic but funny cartoon illustrations, with the signature bird and bee creating dialogue throughout the text. Topics like love, gender, heterosexuality and homosexuality, sexual abuse, and HIV and AIDS are dealt with in a clear and sensitive way.
Mommy Laid an Egg!; Or, Where Do Babies Come From? By Babette Cole. Illus. by the author. 1993. 40p. Chronicle, o.p. 649.657. PreS–Gr. 2.
When nervous parents use ridiculous ways to teach their children the facts of life, the children set them straight by telling them all about sexual development, sexual relations, and childbirth, with their explanations illustrated by childlike, anatomically correct (but not graphic) cartoons.
My Mom’s Having a Baby! By Dori Hillestad Butler. Illus. by Carol Thompson. 2005. 32p. Albert Whitman, $16.95 (9780807553442); paper, $6.95 (9780807553480). 618.2. Gr. 2–4.
Elizabeth is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her baby brother and follows his month-by-month growth. She is curious about everything related to the pregnancy, but her biggest question—how the baby got inside her mom—is answered honestly, using correct anatomical terms. Cartoonlike illustrations of the baby’s development, the mom’s labor, and the actual birth expand the understanding of the text.
There’s Going to Be a Baby. By John Burningham. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. 2010. 48p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780744549966). 823.914. PreS.
A mother explains to her curious son about the baby that she is expecting. He wonders what they will call the baby and how the baby will change their lives, but he never questions why there is no father in the home. Illustrations of the mother and son’s exchanges are interspersed with wild scenes from the boy’s imagination.
What’s Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? By Abby Cocovini. Illus. by the author. 2008. 20p. Holt, paper, $8.95 (9780805087604). 618.2. PreS–K.
Using cartoon-style illustrations, Cocovini’s book shows how an expectant mother helps her child understand the month-by-month development of the baby by comparing its size to everyday objects.
When You Were Inside Mommy. By Joanna Cole. Illus. by Maxie Chambliss. 2001. 32p. HarperCollins, $7.99 (9780688170431). 612.6. PreS.
A young boy’s parents tell him how happy they were on the day that he was born while presenting him with the facts about pregnancy and childbirth. The simplicity and sensitivity of the writing is well matched by the line and watercolor-wash illustrations.
Where Willy Went: The Big Story of a Little Sperm! By Nicholas Allan. Illus. by the author. 2005. 32p. Knopf, e-book, $10.99 (9780375983801). PreS–Gr. 1.
Willy is one of 300 million sperm that live inside Mr. Brown, and more than anything, Willy wants the big prize of getting an egg. Although children might not glean many biological truths from the whimsical cartoon artwork, they will still enjoy the world of Allan’s endearing, tadpole-like creatures.
Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies. By Robie H. Harris. Illus. by Nadine Bernard Westcott. 2011. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763629311). 612.6. PreS–Gr. 2.
A brother and a sister change clothes for a day at the beach and become curious about the differences in girls’ and boys’ bodies. Humorous illustrations label the actual parts of the body so that children have no confusion about who has what.
After 36 years as a school librarian, Pat Scales is a freelance writer and children’s literature advocate.
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