A public library system in Alabama flagged a children’s picture book as potentially “sexually explicit” because the author’s last name is “Gay.”
The picture book is Read Me a Story, Stella , by Marie-Louise Gay and, according to the book’s description, is about a girl named Stella who teaches her younger brother about the joys of reading. The book is volume 7 in a popular series, and has been published in 10 languages and sold 2 million copies worldwide.
Last month, the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library system put the book on a list of potentially sexually explicit books for it to be reviewed and possibly moved out of the children’s sections in its 10 branches, as reported by the Alabama Political Reporter .
Jay Hixon, the library system’s public relations director, stated in an email to NBC on Monday that the list was created to “protect the collection from anticipated challenges” and was never intended “as a directive to move or remove materials.”
According to Hixon, Gay’s book was never moved and the inclusion of the author’s last name was the result of a keyword search used to identify potentially targeted subject areas. He noted that the system is aware of concerns about the list’s focus on LGBTQ+ related books .
Book bans on the rise
Hixon said that the Alabama Public Library Service voted last month to create and post a list of books that are considered inappropriate for children. The list is to be created based on submissions from community members but the list has not been posted publicly. The system decided to review its collection in an effort to be proactive and in anticipation of a large number of book challenges .
“We initiated the review because we believe that professional librarians, trained in collection development, should be the ones to make decisions about book placement,” Hixon continued. “The review encompassed a number of different factors. The list was just a preliminary step to identify materials that might be challenged.”
The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library system put out a news release on Sept. 28 that stated that the book review has been halted and that any materials that were relocated will be returned to their original locations. Local news outlets reported that most of the 246 books on the Alabama list do include keywords such as “lesbian,” “gay,” “gender” and “identity.”
Gay’s publicist at books publisher Groundwood Books, Kirsten Brassard, told local outlet AL.com that the censorship is "laughable," but that the "ridiculousness of that fact should not detract from the seriousness of the situation."
“This proves, as always, that censorship is never about limiting access to this book or that one. It is about sending the message to children that certain ideas — or even certain people — are not worthy of discussion or acknowledgement or consideration,” Brassard continued. “This is a hateful message in a place like a public library, where all children are meant to feel safe, and where their curiosity about the world is meant to be nurtured.”
Alabama is not the only state to be censoring and restricting books with LGBTQ + themes. Last month, a report from the American Library Association found that book challenges have reached a historic number this year. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 there were a total of 1,915 books that have been disputed, which is a 20 percent increase compared to last year. The ALA found that a majority of those are about LGBTQ+ people, race, or have authors who are people of color or are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
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