Wichita Most Wichita students will not find an award-winning children’s book about a transgender fourth-grader in their school libraries.
Gail Becker, supervisor of library media for the Wichita district, said the novel, called “George,” contains language and references that are not appropriate for young children. She says she decided the book would not be included in a set of master list titles provided to Wichita elementary schools.
The book’s author, Alex Gino, said Thursday he had raised enough money to buy a copy of the book for every Wichita elementary and K-8 school library.
The Wichita Eagle reports Wichita school librarians can choose to carry the book if they buy copies from their building funds or borrow one from the district’s library department.
Becker says four of Wichita’s 57 elementary or K-8 schools have the novel in their libraries. Two Wichita middle schools and one high school also have it.
“We haven’t denied access to the book,” Becker said. “I just left it up to librarians who know their buildings, who know the communities they’re serving, to make that decision.”
Gino said Thursday that an impromptu Twitter campaign raised enough money within a half-hour to buy a copy of the book for every Wichita elementary and K-8 school library. He plans to partner with the Wichita chapter of GLSEN, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ students, to distribute the books to school librarians.
Some librarians and advocates for transgender youth say Becker missed an opportunity to allow school libraries to fill a void in most libraries, which don’t have books that portray kids struggling with gender identity.
“All students deserve to see themselves reflected in curriculum, and one of the best ways to do that is through books,” said Liz Hamor, co-founder of the Wichita chapter of GLSEN, a national organization that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ students.
“We know there are trans students in Wichita elementary schools,” she said. “If we continue to treat it as a taboo topic, it’s going to continue to be taboo for people to live authentically.”
“George” was published in 2015 by Scholastic. Geared toward children 8 to 12, the novel is about a boy who knows he is a girl but doesn’t know how to tell his family and friends. It won a 2016 Children’s Choice Book Award, a Stonewall Book Award for LGBT books and was a finalist for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award for middle readers.
Becker said her decision not to buy the book for Wichita schools centered on language and mature references, not its theme of gender identity.
“When I read this book, I kept reminding myself to look at it through the eyes of an 8-year-old, because that’s the intended audience,” Becker said. “I made the decision that the maturity level of third grade was not appropriate for that book.”
Cory Gibson, superintendent for Valley Center schools, said his district did not add “George” to its library collections, although schools have most of the other titles from the William Allen White Award list.
“Librarians felt that the grade level and reviews of the language — not necessarily the topic — was not best suited for our elementary libraries,” Gibson said.
Beverley Buller, chairwoman of the selection committee for the William Allen White Awards, based at Emporia State University, said the committee, comprising Kansas librarians, teachers, school administrators, parents and others, winnowed more than 100 nominations down to the final master list, using guidelines established in 1952.
Members recognized that “George” deals with a potentially controversial subject, Buller said, but several commended the author’s “light touch” and courage in addressing a difficult topic.