While all the Mr. and Mrs. Van Winkles were dozing, radical changes were taking place inside the schoolhouse. Once upon a time the changes were so gradual that few noticed. Suddenly, radical changes were happening at warp speed with no attempt at concealment.
Parents began showing up at school board meetings in great numbers and videos of their passionate short speeches went viral. In the minute to five minutes allowed, these parents expressed concerns about everything from critical race theory, sex ed and other school curricula, mask and vaccination mandates, and library books.
On September 9, 2021, Brandi Burkman spoke at a Leander Independent School District meeting in Austin Texas. [Burkman's speech begins at 1:19:55.] She was objecting to a book her son received at Leander High School. The book was Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison. Michael is the protagonist and narrator of this story. Burkman read some of the excerpts from this book. She read passages from four different parts of this book, but all concerned this same incident. I will include one of these:
. . . in fourth grade, at a church youth-group meeting, out in the bushes behind the parsonage, I touched Doug Goble’s dick, and he touched mine. In fact, there were even some mouths involved. (25)
At the end of her speech, Burkman asked and then answered her own question, “Who normalizes sex acts between fourth graders? Pedophiles.”
Notice that Burkman did not say that the featured sex act was between an adult and a child. She said that it was “between fourth graders.” She simply gave her opinion that pedophiles normalize such acts.
Later in September, at a Fairfax County School Board meeting in Virginia, another mom, Stacy Langton, addressed her school board. She commented on both Lawn Boy, by Evison, and Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe. Langton said:
“One book describes a fourth-grade boy performing oral sex on an adult male.”
News sources have picked up this story and are using this quote. I want to first be clear on this issue: The passage read by the Virginia mom was not between an adult male and a child. The narrator is reflecting about his fourth-grade experience with another boy. The other boy’s age is not given, but they were in the same church youth-group meeting on Thursday nights, so they would have been close in age. (page 49) Twelve years have passed, and the other boy is now --“the hottest real-estate agent in Kitsnap County. (page 25).
Twelve years after this incident, Michael tells his friend Nick about that experience. (page 96) Nick asks, “You mean the real-estate guy?” “Yeah.” Doug Goble is currently the real-estate guy. Like Michael, he was just a boy twelve years earlier. It is extremely important to read these passages in context.
I appreciate Langston’s perseverance in continuing until her mic was cut. She was interrupted and told that there were children in the audience. I cannot vouch for that one way or the other. I can tell you that many parents are silenced for reading passages from books their children are required to read. At a school board meeting in West Virginia in 2000, a father was silenced by the board president while reading such passages. Betty Jarvis, a school board member spoke up:
Wait a minute. If this is assigned reading homework . . . if they can read it, I can hear it. If a student in the 11th grade has to read it, at my age, I can hear it.
The Lawn Boy book Burkman and Langston were objecting to received a 2019 Alex Award. The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.
Let me translate. This book was not written for minors. The Alex Award is an American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) award given to books written for an adult audience that, supposedly, will appeal to those young adults 12 through 18. [Chapter Eight of my book, Between the Covers: What’s Inside a Children’s Book? is devoted to these “Adult Books for Teens.”]
I checked the public library online catalogs in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Jacksonville for Lawn Boy. All the entries of the hard copies of this book are shelved in the adult fiction sections. However, once an adult book gets slapped with an award label declaring its appeal to teens, it often finds its way to middle- or high-school libraries and sometimes even to the young adult sections of public libraries. [Please do not confuse this book with Gary Paulsen’s, Lawn Boy, which is written for middle grade students.]
If your senses were jarred when you listened to the moms on the linked videos, I have more disturbing news to share. I just finished Lawn Boy. It is mild compared to many of the books specifically written for minors.
If you are concerned about profanity, the 100+ f-bombs and 100+ sh#t’s in this book pale in comparison to many of the books published for minors. The most I have found in a book targeting young adults is 1300+ f-word variations in Run the Game, by Jason Myers. This does not include the 900+ other “choice” words. I will repeat what I often say about that book—those words are probably the nicest part of the book. The passages in Lawn Boy would be too mild to be included in one of Jason Myers’s books. Those books carry the Simon Pulse imprint from the Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. Tap Out, a young adult novel by Eric Devine (NOT Tap Out, by Sean Rodman), was written by an English teacher. This book includes 896 f-word variations and is written on a third-grade, seventh-month reading level.
While some schools still have strict penalties for students using profanity, the books for young adults in their local school libraries often contain hundreds of expletives. On pages 94-95 of the Leander Independent School District High School Student and Parent Handbook 2021-2022, “Profanity, vulgar language, or obscene gestures” are listed under “Serious or Persistent Misbehavior.”
The defense for profanity in young adult books is that it is “realistic language.” It’s just fascinating to me that the kids are encouraged to read books with heavy doses of this “realistic language,” but suffer consequences when they say those “realistic” words out loud. Many of these books are also available as AUDIO books, too. The profanities are not bleeped out. Lawn Boy is available as both an Audiobook and an Audio CD.
By the end of Lawn Boy, Michael, the protagonist, has decided he is gay and begins a relationship with Andrew, a social activist. Had this been a book for minors, more graphic details of their relationship would have been given.
Michael loses his virginity when a classmate takes his hand and leads him to her car. There was no relationship; only a twenty-five minute encounter in Gina Costerello’s white Malibu. (31-33)
Michael’s mom has had three husbands and raises both Michael and his special-needs older brother Nate. Always trying to make ends meet, she rents Freddy the shed in their back yard to live in. Freddy, who writes accompaniments to vintage porn on his electric bass, eventually becomes mom’s boyfriend.
Michael describes some high-school kids who drive new cars:
They all appear harmless enough on the surface, except that most of them don’t seem to realize how good they’ve got it or how people less fortunate than themselves have helped account for their good fortune, have even suffered, so that they can enjoy their wealth and security. (38)
The library was the most stable thing in our lives . . . (52)
I wanted realism. Grit. I wanted my transcendence with grease under the fingernails and unpaid bills piling up on the countertop. Where were the books about me? (53)
The fact is, besides our dangling muffler, we did nothing worthy of suspicion. If we were driving a Lexus, and Freddy were white, I doubt we would’ve been pulled over at all. (160)
. . . At least angry white men weren’t calling for my deportation, blaming me for their problems; at least they weren’t trying to wall my people out. (169)
This is how our conversations usually ran: one minute we were railing on the Republican establishment and lamenting greenhouse gases, and the next minute we were discussing ‘90s TV shows or tropical fruit. (260)
“Mom, I’m gay.”
Visibly relieved, she resumed scrubbing the mirror. “Oh, thank God. I thought you had a tumor.” (284)
“Look, bro. I got to thinking about it. And as much as it grosses me out, you sucking dick and the rest of it, I gotta admit you’re pretty f#cking brave. It takes guts to be a fag—I couldn’t do it.” (292)
Somehow Christianity usually works itself into these books. Lawn Boy is no exception. Notably, the encounter between Michael and the other boy took place at a church youth-group meeting, “out in the bushes behind the parsonage.” (page 25)
. . . Thursday evenings, Nate and I went to the youth group meeting at the church and played wholesome games designed to engender trust and communication and unwavering faith in God. . . . I drank the Kool-Aid, but I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid, if you know what I mean. It’s not that I had anything against Jesus or God, I was just underwhelmed by the evidence. (48)
On pages 65-66, Michael is on his way to a new job. The employer had told him that if he was there at 1, he would give him a shot, “at least for the day.” Michael’s truck gave out.
I actually prayed. Or maybe begged is the proper term. I beseeched God: Please throw me a crumb here. . . . (65-66)
The truck doesn't start. He didn't get the job.
Tyrell, by Coe Booth, is another book for young adults. Tyrell’s girlfriend, Novisha, lost her virginity at a Bible Camp her mother made her attend when she was just thirteen.
In Julia Scheeres’s memoir, Jesus Land, she writes about her adopted brother molesting her, beginning when she was twelve, as her mother played hymns on the piano in another room in the house. Her parents eventually send her to a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic. One of the preachers at the reform school gets one of the girls pregnant. On page 64, she writes:
The other girls were also molested by male relatives living in their households, and this surprises me since they all come from upstanding Christian families. But then again … so do I. (264)
Jesus Land received a 2006 Alex Award. Just one more adult book that will appeal to teens. Anyone see a pattern here?
Books that would be deemed obscene by anyone who still has a conscience are commonplace in school libraries. Any type of sexual behavior is presented in graphic detail. After all there are infinite numbers of sexual identities and genders, and all these children must have books available to them in which they, personally, can identify. So say the experts.
If the subject of children’s books is new to you, I encourage you to read my book. Yes, the sex and bad language in kiddie books draws a great deal of attention, but the more subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) indoctrination is often overlooked. Who publishes such books for minors . . . and why? How do these books end up in school and public libraries?
If you are going to object to a book, please read it in its entirety. The other side has been using the same game plan for decades. After a parent reads a passage, the teacher or administrator is trained to ask, “Did you read the whole book?” When you sheepishly admit that you did not, you are accused of taking the passage out of context. Often name hurling comes next—“Censor, Nazi, or Book Burner! By the time the meeting is over, other concerned parents have decided not to voice their concerns as they do not wish to be subjected to the same treatment.
I apologize, but my message is going to get darker.
Clear a day from your calendar and binge-watch some of these school board meetings available on YouTube and other venues. Whether the meetings are held in the North, East, South, or West, or if the schools are small or large, you will hear the same complaints by passionate parents across this nation who are just hoping to help fix the system.
There’s only one problem. The system isn’t broken. It is accomplishing exactly what it was designed to do.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Between the Covers: What’s Inside a Children’s Book?