The inspiration for the popular children’s picture book “Everywhere Babies” came to author Susan Meyers more than 25 years ago, after the birth of her first grandchild. It was around Christmas, she recalls, and she kept seeing Nativity scenes everywhere – the baby Jesus being kissed by his beloved mother, surrounded by caring visitors. Meyers, deeply in love with her 5-month-old grandson, was struck by the daily and extraordinary miracle of babies in their first months of life, how their development touches the lives of everyone around them. So she decided to write about it.
Since its publication in 2001, “Everywhere Babies” — a whimsical, lyrical ode to childhood, illustrated by Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Marla Frazee — has become a staple on family shelves, a common recommendation in new bands. of parents and a famous title on Best Book Lists.
But for the first time in its history, “Everywhere Babies” appeared on a whole different kind of list this week: The book was among dozens of works recently banned from public school libraries in Walton County, Florida. School district officials confirmed the withdrawal. books at WJHG-TV in Florida. Walton County School Superintendent Russell Hughes told the outlet that it was “necessary at this time for me to make this decision and I have done so solely for the welfare of all people involved, including our constituents, our teachers and our students”.
Hughes did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education referred the questions to Walton County, noting that “individual school districts are responsible for making these decisions” and did not respond to follow-up questions.
The move made Walton County the latest jurisdiction to join a growing number of communities across the country that have sought to ban books dealing with topics such as race, LGBTQ people, gender, or other topics deemed offensive. by book reviews. A multitude of titles – including many classic and award-winning works of children’s and young adult literature – have been pulled from the shelves of school buildings and public libraries in states such as Texas, Montana, Louisiana and Florida.
Meyers and Frazee each told me about their book, the experience of seeing it banned from public school libraries for the first time, and what they hope parents can take away from what’s happening in County County. Walton and beyond. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What message did you want “Everywhere Babies” to convey to small children and the parents who would read it to them?
SUSAN MEYER: 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 wanted to write about these babies and how they affect everyone around them. It’s always struck me that babies have to figure out the whole world on their own, and they try so hard – and it’s just this miraculous, universal experience of what it means to have babies in a family. That’s really what it was about.
MARLA FRAZEE: I remember feeling like this text was so universal – it had a classic feeling about it. As an illustrator, I had a few decisions to make about the narrowness or breadth of my work. My first feeling from the script was that I was going to put it around a park, and I imagined a park in New York – Gramercy Park or something – and then follow some families that lived around that little park. But I realized that I was narrowing it down too much, that there were so many more family types, and I wanted to show as many family types and children as possible. I think my basic feeling has always been that I want a child who reads one of my books to feel at home there, to relate to it and to feel like it belongs. This is my role as an illustrator.
Q: When did you learn that this book was banned from public school libraries in Walton County? Tell me about your immediate reaction to this news.
SM: I hadn’t heard of it 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 all these book ban stories and wondering what’s wrong with these people. And they’re just bringing more attention to these books – there’s a lot of people who will then look for them and want to read them. So I wasn’t really upset. There are various LGBTQ children’s book sites that have included our book in their listings, so I suspect that may be so [the school officials in Florida] find her.
FM: I saw it Wednesday night on Twitter. I wasn’t surprised, given what’s going on right now. It’s odious to me, but it’s 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’m thrilled to be on any list with those people!
Q: When I first saw the short story, I grabbed a copy of the book and flipped through it looking for what might have led to it being included in this list. All I noticed were a few illustrations that might depict same-sex couples, which aren’t 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 different types of people and families exist in the world.
SM: Yeah, and it’s so weird – I think there’s an illustration they don’t like, where it’s two men. But how do they see it, that every time a man puts his arm on another man’s shoulder, it means he’s gay? It doesn’t seem obvious to me. I don’t know who they are! It seems strange to me that it’s forbidden, because it’s 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 children from the cradle. I do not know. I mean, you can’t understand this mindset.
FM: If you were a child raised by two mothers, you might look at this picture of two women together in a way. If you were a kid with a mom whose best friend, sister, or aunt was always around, you might see things differently. The two men in the street – this could be seen in different ways by a variety of cultures. Honestly, I’m not that concerned with what adults think of pictures in books, I’m concerned with what kids think. I want them to follow the story and understand what the picture says. Regardless of what the book is or what type of picture story is told, I often feel like adults miss the mark. I don’t think adults read pictures expertly, but I think kids do. I trust a child’s perception more.
Q: Is this the first controversy you have around this book?
FM: “Everywhere Babies” has been targeted a few times over the years, but never anything like this. It was mostly right after it came out, and it was maybe some Amazon reviews, customer reviews. Or maybe I was at a bookstore in a particular city and they were telling me they didn’t want it on their shelves, that sort of thing. It was more localized. And always disappointing, of course. I think quite strongly that illustrations can be read in different ways.
SM: There were a few negative reviews on Amazon at first, and once I finally got a website, I would sometimes get messages with someone saying “your mind dirty” or something. To which I often replied “you apparently think a lot more about sex than I do”.
Q: What do you hear most often from parents and educators?
SM: “Everywhere Babies” was overwhelmingly adopted. It was celebrated. I’ve spoken to women who run birth preparation classes, and some of them give out a copy of this 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 approaching.
FM: The predominant voices I’ve heard over all these decades – so many emails and letters and all kinds of responses – are so grateful that their child saw their family in a book, so grateful that non-traditional families are represented in the book . It is therefore the dominant feeling. The majority of responses have been so positive.
Q: What would you like to tell parents about what is happening with books like yours and so many others being removed from school libraries and public libraries?
SM: Parents need to open their eyes and see what is happening around them. If you don’t agree with that view, what these people are doing, you better show up at your local school board meeting. Authoritarian and fascist communities, that’s what they’re always looking for, they’re always burning the books. This actually shows the power of books. If they had no power, they wouldn’t burn them or banish them. So it’s something to remember and celebrate: the power of books.
FM: I watched Mallory McMorrow’s speech the other day, the Michigan state legislator. I feel like what she said – how we either oppose the rise of this hatred or enable it – is absolutely the truth. I think that’s exactly where we are. So for parents, I think what’s important 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 it’s going to happen, it could very well happen. I think we all need to be very aware of this possibility and start speaking out. We cannot leave it to marginalized groups to speak out. We all need to express ourselves.