Local libraries struggle to censor children’s books

In the Children’s Department of the Henrietta Public Library, Library Director Adrien Pettinelli opens a picture book.

So here’s these two penguins and they have an affinity for each other,” Pettinelli said while flipping the colored pages. “Oh, little penguins.”

The title is “And Tango Makes Three. “ The film revolves around the true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who raised a baby chick from an egg.

“So this is an egg, I don’t know what happened to the parents, but they started to take care of it. And they hatched it. She said.

Then Bettenelli closed the book.

She added, “So, this book, it’s banned all the time.”

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, “And Tango Makes Three” It has been listed eight times in the Top 10 Books of the Year for Most Challenging Institution. Still facing backlash today.

The challenge is to try to remove or restrict library materials.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had one or two book challenges every year, you know, so they’re a pretty normal part of any library,” Pettinelli said.

growing anxiety

Recently, there has been a wave of challenges across the country.

Last year, the American Library Association documented nearly 730 attempts to censor library resources, targeting nearly 1,600 books. This is the largest number of ban attempts since the organization began compiling records 20 years ago.

This year, the ALA said the number of challenges is on track to break that record.

Beth Hightower searches for books for her two sons at the Henrietta Public Library. Hightower says she checks out about 40 to 50 children’s books a week for her family to read.

Elsewhere in Monroe County, a local right-wing fringe group is using social media to target suburban school libraries.

The Fairport Educational Alliance used some of the young adult fiction books in high school and middle school libraries at the Fairport Central School District to claim that the district is trying to “nurture” the children. Most of the snippets shared by the group depict LGBTQ+ or sexual experiences.

In a statement, Fairport Director Brett Provenzano said the district is aware of publications objecting to books in school libraries.

“We take these objections very seriously and review them internally on a case-by-case basis,” Provenzano said. “The district will also examine the vetting process by which new materials are added to our collections.”

WXXI News emailed the group for comment but did not receive a direct response. Instead, a screenshot of the email was taken and shared on the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

“We are delighted that (WXXI News) are covering this story and encourage them to ask the BOE (Board of Education) and Brett Provenzano for an explanation as to why these books are available to children,” the group tweeted.

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Henrietta Library Director Adrienne Pettinelli receives one or two book challenges per year at the library.

Provenzano’s statement answered this question: “The district is committed to creating diverse, welcoming and emphatic library spaces … providing information that will enable our students to make informed judgments in their daily lives.”

More censorship efforts

At the Henrietta Public Library last spring, Pettinelli said a different challenge appeared on another children’s book, Making Up a Child, Which includes nudity.

“It’s helpful, sure… It shows pictures of body parts, labels them with their names. It explains the process of having children,” she said. “Obviously a lot of families come together because of adoption, surrogacy, and fertility treatment. So, this addresses that for those families.”

Around late March, a parent complained to a staff member that the information was too much for her child and she wanted it removed from the children’s department.

It has turned into a local firestorm on social media. One post on March 31 had 126 comments and 16 shares. The last post on April 1 attracted over 200 comments and 30 shares.

“People were talking about burning books, they were talking about coming in droves to do what? We didn’t understand. They were talking about taking the books and getting rid of them,” Pettinelli said. “I mean, it was really annoying to see.”

In early April, Pettinelli was transcribed in an email to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The sender was calling on law enforcement authorities to investigate the “alleged dissemination of child pornography”.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said they looked into the case, and considered the book’s presence in the library “not criminal.”

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Librarian Megan Stoffel reads “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Moe Williams during story time at the Henrietta Public Library.

argument for access

Eva Goldfarb, the professor at Montclair State University who helped write the National Sex Education Standards Published in 2020, he said it’s important to examine where young children get information about sex and sexuality.

The Internet, television, and peers were included as common sources.

“There is a lot in the culture that teaches our young children about sex and sexuality, and I would argue, not necessarily in a healthy way,” Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb said that when parents and educators don’t teach or talk about aspects of sex education — such as anatomy, healthy relationships, and setting boundaries — it creates a culture of silence.

She said taboos and the shame that accompanies them can harm children more than they can protect them.

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Caitlin DiMaio and her 2-year-old son, Miles, talk about their next activity at the Henrietta Public Library after they attend story time.

“By taking books off the shelves, taking curricula out of schools, you basically leave it up to the culture in general for the kids to learn things. And that can lead to more confusion,” Goldfarb said.

Finding solutions

In the distribution desk in the children’s section of the Henrietta Public Library, Pettinelli put together an illustrated book, Making a Child.

After outrage online and emailed to the sheriff’s office, two people filed formal requests to remove the book.

Someone said the book is pornographic in nature, but also acknowledged that it “can be a great resource for (much older!) children,” they wrote. “This is a sex book, not a children’s book!”

Another said they understood the purpose of the book was educational but described its images as “too graphic” and asked to move them to the parenting resource shelf.

This person wrote: “I would freak out if (my six-year-old daughter) opened the book and looked at the pictures at her age.”

With challenges at hand, Bettenelli formed a committee. Within two weeks, they came to a decision.

She said, “We decided to put it in the non-fiction section because of the huge amount of information in it.” “It’s still in the kids’ room, but it’s just in a different department.”

Bettenelli said she believes it is up to parents to decide what is right or appropriate for their children. But, she said, no parent has the right to unilaterally decide this for others.

“We’re here to protect the First Amendment and give people access to information,” she said.

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