- Last week, news outlets incorrectly reported that a northwest Florida school district banned a baby book, “Everywhere Babies,” due to LGBTQ imagery.
- The book was included on a list of potentially banned books created by an education reform nonprofit group after complaints from parents and grandparents.
- As of April 26, no schools have reported removing “Everywhere Babies” from libraries due to the list.
A children’s book about newborn babies was listed among those deemed unsuitable by a Florida education reform group for what it considered the inclusion of LGBTQ characters – leading to erroneous media reports that the state’s Walton County School District had banned it.
“Everywhere Babies,” published in 2001, includes illustrations of newborns being cradled, rocked lovingly and doted on by loved ones.
The book wasn’t banned by the district, but was included on a list created by an education reform nonprofit called the Florida Citizens Alliance. The list, called the “Porn in Schools Report,” flagged 58 books for what it deemed inappropriate content.
Walton County Superintendent Russell Hughes said in a news release Friday that schools found 24 of the books on the list – but not “Everywhere Babies” – within media centers throughout the district and removed them for the purposes of reviewing and re-evaluating age-appropriateness and content, especially in the context of Florida’s recent legislative session.”
Online chatter came down on both sides of the supposed ban. But interest in the book has since propelled it to the top of children’s book sales charts on Amazon.com.
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Keith Flaugh, a Florida Citizens Alliance cofounder, said the group started its suggested ban list about three years ago when parents and grandparents complained to the nonprofit about sexually explicit and LGBTQ content in public schools.
The list, which has been updated since it first started, includes “50 Shades of Grey” by EL James, “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and “The Hate U Give “By Angie Thomas.
According to Flaugh, schools that stocked the books violated two statutes in chapter 847 of Florida’s constitution, both sections one and two – which prohibit the distribution or sale of harmful materials to those under 18.
The group submitted public records requests to all 67 counties in the state to find out if, where and how the books were being used, he said.
But districts that have the book aren’t necessarily banning it. Seminole County Public Schools has four copies of “Everywhere Babies” and has not removed them, the district said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“No books have been removed from the shelves due to the list issued from that organization, as we have a formal process for challenging a book that begins at the school level,” the statement said.
Florida attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who is also running for state attorney general, posted the list on Twitter and told USA TODAY that the group wants to ban the book because it conflicts with Section 27 of the Florida constitution, which says marriage is between a man and a woman. FCA documents also support this claim.
“This group, this Florida Citizens Alliance, is engaging in conduct that is this divisive,” he said. “It’s discriminatory. It’s contrary to the bedrock of our country.”
Lara Schwartz, who leads American University’s Project on Civil Discourse and teaches in the university’s School of Public Affairs, said banning books that feature LGBTQ individuals and families is part of a longstanding, national trend to target positive representation of the community.
In one “Everywhere Babies” illustration, two men walk down the sidewalk together; one has his arm on the other’s shoulder while the other has his arm around the man’s waist. In another, a baby sleeps in a cradle while two women sleep on a nearby bed, one draped over the other, seemingly having fallen asleep while reading a magazine.
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“The picture could very well represent two neighbors, friends, a father, an uncle caring for a baby,” Schwartz said. “It’s a depiction of men lovingly caring for a baby together out in the world. But the possibility that it’s a gay couple is what seems to have put it on the radar.”
Other targeted books include “And Tango Makes Three,” which focuses on two male penguins who form a family, she said.
Discussions surrounding content with LGBTQ characters are often framed as parents’ rights issues, but a school district removing books because an outside group told them to do so actually infringes on parental rights, Schwartz said. Banning such books limits access to books that can help parents explain sexuality and puberty to their children in appropriate ways, she said.
‘Everywhere Babies’ author, illustrator speak out
North Carolina author Susan Meyers wrote “Everywhere Babies” after the birth of her grandson. It was Christmas time and as she thought about him, she envisioned a nativity scene, where onlookers gawked at the baby Jesus lying peacefully in a manger.
“I had been so struck by how we all just gathered around this little baby, and just everybody just adored him,” Meyers told USA TODAY.
More than 20 years later, Meyers did not expect the book to land on a list of books that should be banned – or learn it was on school bookshelves in the first place seeing as it’s often gifted to new parents.
As for the illustrations, Meyers said she was an admirer of Marla Frazee, a two-time winner of the Caldecott Award for children’s book artistry, and was thrilled with the illustrations.
Frazee told USA TODAY she wanted to reflect “the type of diversity of families that I see out in the world.”
Some Amazon reviewers object to what they perceive as “same-sex couples or interracial couples,” Frazee said.
And there’s occasional opposition from bookstores in more conservative places.
“There were a few times that I was told that ‘Everywhere Babies’ wasn’t a book they felt comfortable putting in their store,” she said. “Those stories were always rare and disappointing.”
The book’s inclusion on the FCA list is evidence of “a very disturbing rise of hate,” she said.
“I looked at that list,” said Frazee. “Anytime I am included on a list that includes the likes of Toni Morrison and Judy Blume, E. Lockhart and other renowned authors, I am in good company.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism