I try to be helpful, so when someone emails me asking me weigh in on a certain topic, I’m going to try to oblige. OK, this has straight up never happened to me before, but it’s the kind of topic librarians love to argue about until we make ourselves sick and then we all just hate each other: Censorship. It’s not as easy to discuss as it seems. In library school, we’re taught “Every Books Its Reader”, etc. etc. and it’s never really as easy as all that. I’m talking about ALSC’s recent post about the book Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? by Sheila Butt. Yes. Sheila Butt. Hehe. I digress. The folks at ALSC posed this question, does this children’s book, written to “combat the promotion of homosexuality”, belong on your library shelves?
Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.
I once worked at a private library with a historical children’s collection, and we had some pretty weird stuff in the closed stacks. The closed stacks collection could circulate and would show up in the catalog, but it wasn’t on the shelves that were accessible to children. In the closed stacks, you’d find titles that were too old and delicate to be handled all the time. Sometimes a book was a first edition or one of the few copies left in the area. Sometimes a book fell under these criteria AND had some “questionable” characteristics (for example, we definitely owned The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Hutchet Bishop. Great story, terrifying illustrations). If a child requested the book, hopefully their parents were around. I could explain that the book might not be appropriate for a school report (for example, be wary of the word “savage”, which was used, willy nilly, in place of “Native American” and other minorities), but I would never refuse the book to anyone. Often, people would want to look at these books for use in a paper or dissertation on historic children’s literature. Sometimes people were in search of some sort of nostalgic fix. I have no problem with any of this. Some libraries own Little Black Sambo. Some own Bishop’s version of The Five Chinese Brothers. Does this mean that they should own Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? Maybe. But probably not.
Little Black Sambo and The Five Chinese Brothers, offensive as they are (though I definitely know some older folks with fond memories of Sambo, as they were too young to know that the books played on stereotypes. I think many kids saw the Sambo books as little adventures and nothing more), are for better or worse, part of the history of children’s literature. They’ll probably always have a place in libraries. Butt’s (heheh) book is too new to know if it will have any real impact on children’s literature. I can’t find a single real reviewer of Does God Love…. We don’t really buy any title for our collection unless it’s by an established author, is well (or well-ish) reviewed by Horn Book or Kirkus or someone like that, or has some sort of Fifty Shades of CrayCray following (ie Low quality but very high interest). Butt’s book doesn’t fall into any of these categories. I’ve seen very low reader’s reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (at the time of this blog post, 1.5 stars TOPS). If Does God Love… gets some real reviews or is asked for by a huge surge of patrons (hopefully I’m not starting some sort of annoying grassroots Sheila Butt movement), we’ll talk.
If this happens, if Sheila Butt (ha! Butt! No, seriously. Stop it), somehow becomes a national phenomenon and is a guest on the View and has a big old kiki with Barbra Walters and Elizabeth Bird decided that Butt is Mo Willems meets Margaret Wise Brown with a tinge of Jackie Wilson (if she were a homophobe), then my big old liberal gay-loving butt (haha! No, a different kind of butt. Not a Sheila Butt), is going to have to deal with this book being in my library. And you know what? I already deal with books I hate on a daily basis. Orson Scott Card? HATE HIM. Seriously. I want to push all his books off a cliff. I don’t though. There’s something in the handbook about how I’m not supposed to do that. The only thing stopping me from having a festive old-fashioned book burning with his titles is this quote from my former professor, Mary Kay Chelton:
“[But] this is not to say that such views from organized religion are not hurtful to gays, but as in most things, people don’t always come in nice ideologically pure packages…I’m just damn glad the man writes books. “
Other books I’d like to vaporize, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt which scarred me for life (see also any other dead dog/cat stories), Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King, which had such despicable violence against women I had nightmares about it, any of Bill O’Reilly’s books for kids, Twilight (not just because it’s vapid, but because I think Bella Swan is the world’s worst role-model), and The Rules or any of its ilk that is repulsive woman-hate wrapped up in a little self-help disguise. These are all in my library! I have yet to use any of these books as toilet paper.
When I read nonsense about Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies? being excluded from libraries because we’re a bunch of bleeding hearts who spend every weekend in rainbow body paint at the Gay Pride Parade (which let’s face it, we kinda are), I can’t help but roll my eyes. Most librarians have things in their collection that make them at least a little sick to their stomachs. Butt’s book is excluded for a variety of reasons (which I stated above), but not because of idealogical differences.
That said, I’d prefer that Butt’s book never show up in my library. I swear to G-d. I am way too protective of our neighborhood’s kids to deal with this kind of crap. But I say that as a decent human being, not a librarian.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid