Each year the state of Oregon holds the Battle of the Books where students are given a list of books to read, they form teams, and then compete in a district, regional, and statewide competition that tests their knowledge of the books. This is a voluntary program that promotes reading motivation and comprehension that is sponsored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries in partnership with the Library Services and Technology Act.
The program’s website reads:
The mission is to encourage and recognize students who enjoy reading, to broaden reading interests, to increase reading comprehension, promote academic excellence, and to promote cooperative learning and teamwork among students.
This year, however, there seems to be much controversy surrounding the Battle of the Books as a title appeared on the list for 3rd-5th graders that had some school districts questioning if they would move forward. The book in question is Alex Gino’s George, which tells the story of a 10-year-old boy who feels that she is a girl. Due to the transgender topic, Hermiston and Cascade school districts have decided to pull their 3rd-5th grade students from the Battle of the Books competition because they feel that the book is not appropriate (in subject matter) for those grade levels. Other school districts are also evaluating this with parent committees before pulling the plug. George was also one of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017 according to the American Library Association website.
On April 28th, parents from the Hermiston School District received letters that described the district’s decision to remove their students from competition, even though reading all the books is optional.
This ignited floods of communication and media from parties who support the district’s decision as well as oppose it. The decision to pull the students comes even after many have discussed that the Oregon Health Education Standards for grades K-12 describe that grades 3-5 are when students should be taught about gender identity and expression.
Alex Gino, the book’s author said in a statement:
My book will not make anyone transgender, but it can help make people trans aware, and bring connection to those who already are trans, and I believe that those are good things. I don't believe that there's any age before which it is appropriate to learn compassion.
The list of books went through a selection process with a committee and even saw a timeframe for public comment and nothing stopped George from making it on the list.
The Battle of the Books website states in their nomination criteria:
In accordance with the Library Bill of Rights and its interpretations, titles that otherwise meet the selection criteria will not be excluded:
- “because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation;” or
- “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval;” or
- “because of actual or suspected parental objections;” or
- “in an effort to avoid controversy with parents.”
As a librarian, this is the type of censorship that we fight every day. When intellectual freedom is endangered, we strive to eliminate the suppression of ideas and information based on bias or prejudice and provide equal access to information and education for all.
The chair of the Intellectual Freedom roundtable for the Oregon Library Association sent out a statement about this issue:
You may have heard about the controversy surrounding the selection of George by Alex Gino as part of the 3-5 grade booklist for the 2019 Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB). The book is about a 4th grader coming out as transgender. There has been objection by some to content in the book and its inclusion in the OBOB program.
The situation has generated an increasing amount of media attention of late, and that will probably only increase. (For an example, see "2nd school district scraps Oregon Battle of the Books over novel about trans child" from Oregonlive.com, originally posted 5/1/18).
OBOB followed a formal process when they selected this title and all the the other books that are on the reading lists. George is being retained as one of next year's OBOB books.
OBOB and Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL) leadership have been meeting and responding to the reaction that this book has generated. OLA and OASL are working on a statement in support of the book's selection. A list of contacts for the media is being created. The OLA Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) is in communication with the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.
The attention on this book may lead to challenges or other attempts to curtail access in libraries. Now is a good time to prepare for such challenges. Review your collection development policy and your policy for when you receive challenges. When you get a challenge, stay calm, listen respectfully to the complainant, and follow your library's process for patron concerns about library materials.
If you need help or advice or just a sympathetic ear regarding intellectual freedom issues at your library, please reach out to the OLA IFC (firstname.lastname@example.org), the OLA IFC chair (email@example.com), and/or the OASL IF chair (firstname.lastname@example.org). Be sure to report any challenges at your library to the State Library's Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse.
Thank you for the work you do every day in supporting intellectual freedom in Oregon libraries!
George currently remains on the reading list for the 2018 Battle of the Books, but parents are still fighting to make their points on both sides–showing their true colors and stance on this LGBT children's title.