"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

12.04.2015

I am Jazz: Transgender picturebook controversy in Wisconsin


From deep within my batcave, I am able to keep my eye on the media as stories about picture books stream past. This past week, two stories left impressions on me, both involving the 2014 picture book I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas.

Jazz Jennings is a 15 year old transgender spokesperson with a very popular series of YouTube videos, and has been profiled by Barbara Walters and others, and is considered o be one of the youngest known people to be diagnosed as gender dysphoric. The picture book was published in 2014 and is written from her point of view.

Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia in Orange is the New Black had this to say about the book:

"This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty."


Regardless, on November 30th, this headline graced my Facebook feed:


My first thought was, I wonder if these were the same parents who are boycotting ABC because the new Muppets TV show is 'too adult?' Apparently, a Wisconsin elementary school was planning on hosting a reading of the book, due in no small part to the fact that they have a transgender student, and thought it would be a good show of support and community education. The Liberty Counsel - apparently acting on behalf of several of the parents - did not agree. They threatened to sue the school, and so the school backed out of the event.

I looked up the Liberty Counsel and found that their mission in life is "Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family." In October of this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized them as a hate group. In 2005, they threatened to sue another Wisconsin elementary school in for changing its Christmas pageant lyrics to be 'more secular.'

Prior to that, in 2000, they 'threatened legal action' against a library which hosted a Harry Potter party. "Witchcraft is a religion," they claimed. "And the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."

So, sounds like a swell bunch of folks, is my point.

The second headline, posted just a few days later, read thus:


A co-author of the book, Jessica Herthel, flew in from California for the event outside of Madison, in which the book was read to over 600 people crowding the library. It was a great show of support
from the community. The library staff had been hoping to get at least 15 people there, but were soon overwhelmed by the positive response.

I am Jazz reading


The parents of the transgender student wrote a statement:

"In the midst of all of the media attention that this important matter has stirred up, we just want everyone to remember that at the center of this is a brave little girl who can now be who she really is. And you have all helped to make that happen in a positive way for her and her family. For that, we are, and always will be, truly thankful.”

Herthel said of the event:

“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society, I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.”

Meanwhile, from the depths of Florida, the Liberty Counsel seethes, biding its time, plotting its next attack.

Sources:

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