April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Utah District Restricts Polacco’s ‘Our Mothers’ House’ in Elementary School Libraries

The removal of Patricia Polacco’s picture book about lesbian moms has created a stir after a Utah school district recently pulled the title from general circulation in elementary school libraries.

A committee of seven teachers, administrators, and parents from Utah’s Davis School District voted 6-1 to segregate In Our Mothers’ House (Philomel, 2009), described in an SLJ review as a “gem of a book” that illustrates how love makes a family, even if it’s not a traditional one.

“It’s still in the library, it’s just placed behind the counter,” says Chris Williams, a district spokesperson. “If a child hands in a permission slip they can still read it.”

The decision to restrict access to Polacco’s story-about a black girl who describes how her two Caucasian mothers, Marmee and Meema, adopted her, her Asian brother, and her red-headed sister-has raised concerns from the library community and anticensorship organizations, with the Utah Library Association (ULA) holding a meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the situation, says Anna Neatrour, ULA’s executive director.

While news reports have stated that other gay-themed books are being eyed for removal, including Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three (S & S, 2005) and James Howe’s Totally Joe (Atheneum, 2007), Williams says the district hasn’t received any challenges against the titles, nor has it requested that other books be pulled. And Tango Makes Three topped the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books in 2010.

“We haven’t asked librarians to put together a list, and we haven’t put together a list,” he explains.

The removal of In Our Mothers’ House from general circulation stemmed from a complaint in January by the mother of a kindergarten student who checked the book out from her school library and brought it home. In Our Mothers’ House was originally shelved in library’s K-2 section, says Williams, but following the complaint, a school committee moved the book to an area for 3rd to 6th graders.

The parent, however, wasn’t satisfied with that decision, adds Williams, so she and 24 others each filled out reconsideration of library materials forms-the minimum number of complaints needed for a district library committee to take up the matter. That group voted to relocate the book in all district elementary school libraries, and it will not reconsider returning the book to the general stacks for three years, explains Williams.

“In their mind, they looked at the age appropriateness of the book,” he says. “They didn’t look at [Polacco’s] past works, and they didn’t look at content.”

Polacco, who has written dozens of children’s books, says her inspiration for the book came from a Texas girl who wanted to read an essay about her family and same-sex parents but was told by a teacher that she couldn’t because she wasn’t from “a real family.”

SLJ‘s review of the book reads, “The story serves as a model of inclusiveness for children who have same-sex parents, as well as for children who may have questions about a “different” family in their neighborhood. A lovely book that can help youngsters better understand their world.”

Interview requests with the Utah Educational Library Media Association, which represents a portion of school librarians in the state, were not granted by press time.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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