Librarians Refuse to Carry 'The Trouble with Babies'

( [email protected] ) Jan 02, 2004 11:33 AM EST

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--Probably the reason why Martha Freeman's book "The Trouble With Babies" has only sold 2,292 copies since it was published last year has to do with the decision many librarians have made to not purchase the book. The book's main character is a young San Francisco girl and although Freeman's previous book "The Trouble With Cats" featured the same main character, it sold approximately 10,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. The key difference between the two books is that in "The Trouble With Babies," there is a brief mentioning of a gay couple who lives on the same block.

The reaction of many people have made the content in the book controversial. One mother from Pittsburgh, who described herself as Christian, wrote to her child's elementary school librarian, demanding that the book be taken off the shelf, because she felt it had a "homosexual agenda". The librarian obliged the mother's request.

On page 52 of the hardcover version of the title contains the material subject to much debate. A character of the book named Xavier and nicknamed Dr. X in the book tells the main character Holly that he has two dads and no mom. Holly reacts without being appalled.

"Oh, now I get it," [Holly] said. "You mean they're gay."

Dr. X nodded. "Exactly."

Mom and William have friends who are gay. Some of them have kids. But this was the first time I had met a kid with two dads and no moms.

"Okay," I shrugged.

"You don't think that's weird?" Dr. X asked me.

"It's not usual," I said. "But it's not weird."

Freeman claimed she was only trying to use the scene to portray the characters living on the city block in the story. "You could have knocked me over with a feather," Freeman said recently, folding laundry in her home here near the Pennsylvania State University campus. "The story I wrote had nothing to do with gay issues, and the reference to those fathers was strictly in the background, to show you the kind of people who live on a city block."

Sales of have dropped so low that print of the title to paperback edition may not happen. The publisher of Freeman's book, Holiday House, has asked her to produce a third installment. "For some readers, the mere use of the word 'gay' is inappropriate, and they can't separate the word from the idea of sex," said Mary Cash, Holiday House's executive editor. "It's a problem we've seen over and over with books for children, especially when it comes to getting them on the shelves of public and school libraries."

The 47-year-old author/mother felt if she agreed to take out the characters it would mean compromising her right as a writer to freedom of speech but including them would impact her income.

"Part of me is tempted to put in even more gay characters, because these are my stories and I really don't like being censored," she said. "But I write books at home to earn money and send my three kids to school. My future earnings could be hurt if I keep these two gay characters in the plot. So what should I do?

"I don't write books as a public service," Freeman said with irritation, "and it's stupid for me to produce things that won't be read because kids can't get at them. I didn't get into this [writing] to become a spokesperson for any point of view.

"But on the other hand, I should be able to write what I want, without fear of censorship. That's my version of America, for me and other writers."

Some disagree with librarian censorship. "When you take books off the shelf for these reasons, that's censorship," said Beverly Becker, associate director of the American Library Assn.'s Office of Intellectual Freedom. "It has a damaging impact on the community at large, which includes a lot of different voices, and it also has a chilling effect on an author."

The American Library Assn.'s Office of Intellectual Freedom reports between 1990 and 2000 there have been 515 similar cases where critics have pursued to remove books from shelves due to the homosexual content within the books. There are other cases that have not been reported.

For Penny Kastanis, executive director of the California School Library Assn., she believes the censorship is not necessarily from the librarians alone but are influenced from parents and local organizations.

"There are well-organized community groups, not to mention parents, who simply don't want these kind of books available to kids," said "You have parents who will say, 'Never mind what our kids are seeing on television at night or at the movies.' They're going to make sure their children never read a book at school that they don't like."

Futhermore, economical issues may have influenced the librarians decision to not carry a specific title.

"No librarian wants to be a censor," Kastanis said. "But these pressures make it easier for them to say, 'Why should I buy this book? Who needs the trouble?' And that's how some deal with these tough issues, under the cover of a larger concern over funding."

Although Freeman still has to make the call for the third installment of the title, she refuses to blame librarians for her troubles, saying they are on the front line of a tough battle and deserve more public support for their efforts on behalf of freedom of speech.