February 24th, 2011

Much Ado About...???

I’ve had an exciting couple of days. A babysitter in Texas took three children to the library recently and one of them checked out my My Mom’s Having a Baby. The babysitter was “shocked.” You can read the story and watch the video here.

Interestingly enough, she didn’t file a complaint with the library or ask the library to remove the book; she took her complaint right to the media. To a local Fox TV station. The library in question (The Carrollton Public Library) never heard about it until they were contacted by the media.

Yesterday the story went National. I appeared on Fox and Friends this morning. You can see that video clip here.

She got to do a lot more talking than I did. And every time I tried to make a point, I was interrupted. But I sort of expected that. My goal was to remain calm and to not engage. I think I accomplished that.

Here is what I would've liked to have said if given the chance:

1. There's no "debate" here. There's no reason to debate. Ms. Schifferdecker believes the book is "wrong." It clearly IS wrong for her children. And that's fine. Nobody, least of all me, is forcing her or her charges to read it.

2. Despite what Ms. Schifferdecker thinks, there are people out there who want to read this book. There are even people who would go so far as to say it's a good book. Booklist gave it a starred review. It was also a Booklist Editor's Choice Book for 2005 and a Top Ten Sci-Tech award winning book. This book needs to be available to those who want to have access to it.

3. Children are naturally curious about where babies come from. When Mom's "stomach" is getting bigger and there's talk about a new baby coming, some children become even more curious. And some of those children are ready for more information. My Mom’s Having a Baby was written to help those children and their parents talk openly and honestly about where babies come from, what happens during pregnancy, and how the baby grows inside the uterus from month to month.

4. This is NOT a book about sex. It's a book about a close-knit, loving family, and the joy and anticipation prior to the birth of a new baby. It just happens to include that one piece of the puzzle that many other books leave out: how did that baby get inside Mom in the first place?

5. I believe in giving children accurate information. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents talk with their children about their bodies and about sexuality, using proper terminology, from the time they are preschoolers on up. This book helps parents do that. It's not up to me to decide when any child other than my own is ready for this information. But it's not up to Ms. Schifferdecker to make that decision for anyone other than her own children, either. Parents must make those decisions for themselves.

6. Parents/caregivers have a responsibility to pay attention to what their children are doing and what they are reading. I checked the Carrollton Public Library's catalog. They shelve My Mom’s Having a Baby in the nonfiction section...in the 618s. That's where you find the books about childbirth and sex. I don't know whether Ms. Schifferdecker's charges were roaming the 618s or not, but let's give her the benefit of the doubt and say the book was just lying on a table somewhere and one of the children happened to pick it up. If Ms. Schifferdecker had opened the cover and read the jacket copy, she would have seen this: "Elizabeth learns all about the baby's development, and she traces his growth, month by month. She learns how the baby got inside Mom, too." If this is not information Ms. Schifferdecker wanted her charges to have (and she has every right to make that decision), she should not have allowed those children to check out the book.

7. To any question that began, "What do you think..." or "Do you REALLY think...", I would've responded: What I think is nowhere near as important as what the parent who is holding the book thinks. Only YOU can decide whether this book is right for your family.

Ultimately, I stand behind my book. I stand behind the words; I stand behind the illustrations (even though they're not mine...one of the people who e-mailed me today also chastised me for drawing such obscene pictures!). It may not be the right book for everyone. No book is. But I know without a doubt that it's the exact right book for some people. And I've got a bunch of mail to prove it.

Before I close this entry, I want to say something about some of the mail I've received today. First of all, I feel like I've made a lot of new friends! And for that I am grateful. I've also heard from a few crazy people: people who saw a 3-minute clip on Fox News and think they know me; people who haven't even seen my book, but just "know" it's wrong etc. And I've heard from a number of people who want me to know that it's not MY fault; it's the librarian's fault.

To those people I want to say this: I appreciate your attempt to support me, but it's not "the librarian's fault," either. Librarians have a responsibility to serve ALL members of the community. That doesn't mean everything in a library (or even in the children's section of a library) is right for everyone.

A library is not a day care center. It's not the librarian's responsibility to supervise the children who come in. It's not the librarian's responsibility make sure every child only picks up books that are "appropriate" for them. How could it be? What's appropriate for one child is not appropriate for another child.

I know librarians make careful decisions about where to shelve books. Should My Mom’s Having a Baby be shelved in a restricted area? I'm not a librarian; that's not my decision to make. I probably wouldn't be upset if they put it in a restricted area. I don't think it's necessary to do that, but it wouldn't bother me to find out a library had done that. I WOULD be upset if they removed it from the library altogether. Ultimately, it's the parent/caregiver's responsibility to monitor their children in the library and guide their children's reading choices.