Since its publication in 2001, “Babies Everywhere,” a whimsical, lyrical ode to childhood illustrated by Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Marla Frazee, has become a staple of family bookshelves, a common recommendation in new parent groups and a celebrated title on Best Book Lists.
But for the first time in its history, “Babies Everywhere” appeared this week on an entirely different list: The book was among dozens of works recently flagged by an advocacy group called the Florida Citizens Alliance, which cited the picture book in a report identifying “extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic books…in the K-12 classroom.” In a document titled “2021 Pornography Report,” the group said the 58-book list was sent to every school district in Florida. In Walton County, Florida, school staff searched media centers across the district and found 24 titles from the list, all of which were removed “for the purpose of reviewing and re-evaluating age-appropriateness and content.” “, according to a statement issued. Friday night at Walton County Superintendent of Schools Russell Hughes.
Hughes did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Washington Post prior to publication. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education referred questions to Walton County, noting that “individual school districts are responsible for making these decisions” and did not respond to follow-up questions.
The decision made Walton County the latest jurisdiction to join a growing number of communities across the country that have removed books that address topics such as race, LGBTQ people, sex or other topics deemed offensive by critics of the books. A host of titles, many of them classic and award-winning works of children’s and young adults’ literature, have been pulled from the shelves of school buildings and public libraries in states like Texas, Montana, Louisiana and Florida.
The new frontier in the battle against censorship: your public library
Meyers and Frazee each spoke to me about their book, the experience of seeing it banned from public school libraries for the first time, and what they hope parents take away from what’s happening in Walton County and beyond. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What message did you want “Babies Everywhere” to convey to young children and to the parents who would read it to them?
SUSAN MEYERS: The opening line “Every day, everywhere, babies are born” is important to me because it’s the most common thing in the world, but it’s also the most miraculous. So I really just wanted to write about these babies and how they affect everyone around them. It always struck me that babies have to figure out the whole world by themselves, and they try so difficult, and it’s just this miraculous and universal experience of what it means to have babies in a family. That’s what it was really about.
MARLA FRAZEE: I remember feeling like this text was so universal, I had a classic feeling about it. As an illustrator, I had to make a couple of decisions in terms of how narrow or wide I wanted to go. My first sense of the manuscript was that I was going to set it around a park, and I would imagine a park in New York City, Gramercy Park or something like that, and then I would follow some families that lived around this little park. But I realized that I was limiting it too much, that there are many more types of families, and I wanted to show as many types of families and children as I could. I think my basic feeling has always been that I want a child who reads a book of mine to feel at home there, to relate to it and feel like they belong to it. That is my role as an illustrator.
When did you learn that this book was destined for Walton County Public School Libraries? Tell me about your immediate reaction to that news.
SM: I hadn’t heard of this until I checked my email this morning and saw your message. And I thought, “Oh my God, I’m banned! Wow! “I mean, I’ve been following this whole book ban thing, and I’m wondering what’s wrong with these people. And they’re just bringing more attention to these books — there’s a lot of people who are going to seek them out and want to read them. So I wasn’t really annoying. There are several LGBTQ children’s book sites that have listed our book, so I suspect it might be like this [the school officials in Florida] I found it.
MF: I saw it Wednesday night on Twitter. I wasn’t surprised, given what’s going on right now. It is abhorrent to me, but not surprising. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a list with Toni Morrison or Judy Blume. I mean the people on this list, I am thrilled to be on any list with these people!
Why is Maus banned?
When I first saw the news, I grabbed a copy of the book and flipped through it looking for what might have led to it being included on this list. All I noticed was some illustrations that could represent same-sex couples, which are not specifically identified in the text. What is your opinion on what caused this? Because the story itself doesn’t delve into LGBTQ issues, all it does is visually present the possibility that there are different kinds of people and families in the world.
SM: Yes, and it’s very strange. I think there is an illustration that they don’t like, where there are two men. But how do they see this, that every time a man puts his arm on another man’s shoulder, it means they’re gay? It doesn’t seem obvious to me. I do not know who they are! It seems strange to me that this is prohibited, because it is a preschool book, a family book. You read it to children when they are 2 years old. But maybe they think we’re trying to indoctrinate them from the cradle. I don’t know. I mean, you can’t figure out this mentality.
MF: If you were a kid raised by two moms, you might see that image of two women together in a way. If you were a child with a mother whose best friend, sister, or aunt was always around, you might see it differently. The two men in the street, that could be seen in a variety of ways by a variety of cultures. Honestly, I don’t care what adults think about the pictures in the books, I care what children think. desire them Follow the story and understand what the picture says. Regardless of what book it is, or what kind of picture story is being told, I often feel that adults miss the mark to a great extent. I don’t think adults read images that expertly, but I think children do. I trust a child’s perception much more.
Is this the first controversy you’ve had around this book?
MF: “Everywhere Babies” has been targeted several times over the years, but never anything like this. It was predominantly right after it came out, and maybe it was some Amazon reviews, customer reviews. Or maybe I’d be in a bookstore in a particular town and they’d tell me they didn’t want it on their shelves, that kind of thing. It was more localized. And always disappointing, of course. I firmly believe that illustrations can be read in various ways.
SM: There were some negative reviews of Amazon early on, and once I finally had a website, every now and then I’d get messages from someone saying, “Your dirty mind” or something. To which he would often reply “apparently you think about sex a lot more than I do”.
What do you hear most often from parents and educators?
SM: “Everywhere Babies” has been overwhelmingly received. It has been celebrated. I’ve talked to women who teach childbirth classes and some of them hand out a copy of that book to every new mother in the class. And it has been selling well since 2001. There have been many different editions. The 25th anniversary is coming up.
MF: The prevailing voices that I’ve heard over all these decades, so many emails and letters and all kinds of responses, are so thankful that your son saw your family in a book, so thankful that non-traditional families are represented. in the book. So that’s the prevailing sentiment. Most of the responses have been very positive.
What would you like to say to parents about what is happening with books like yours and so many others that are being withdrawn from school and public libraries?
SM: Parents have to open their eyes and see what is going on around them. If you don’t agree with this opinion, what these people are doing, you better show up at your local school board meeting. Authoritarian and fascist communities, this is what they always look for, they always burn the books. It actually shows the Energy from books. If they didn’t have any power, they wouldn’t be burning or banning them. So that’s something to remember and celebrate: The power of books.
MF: I saw Mallory McMorrow’s speech the other day, the state legislator in Michigan. I feel that what she said, how we oppose the rise of this hate or allow it, is absolutely the truth. I think that’s exactly where we are. So for parents, I think the important thing is to stand up for kids who don’t have a voice. Even if you’re not in a county like Walton County, Florida, even if you’re in a county where you don’t think this is going to happen, it very well could. I think we all need to be very aware of that possibility and start talking. We cannot let marginalized groups speak. Us everyone have to talk.