Recently, we learned through a biased TV news report that Gilbert Hernandez’s acclaimed Hearthbreak Soup collection, Palomar, had been called “child porn” by a parent in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Today, CBLDF rose to the book’s defense by developing a letter with the Kids’ Right to Read Project to defend the graphic novel.
When Catreena Lopez found objectionable material in Palomar after her 14-year-old son checked it out of the Rio Rancho High School library, she didn’t simply file a challenge with the school — she took her objections to the local media. A quick Google search would have turned up the accolades for the book and its literary value, but local news outlet KOAT didn’t comes close to a fair an accurate report, declaring that “we can’t show you any of the images because they’re too sexual and very graphic” and quoting Lopez’s claims that she found “child pornography pictures and child abuse pictures.” Of further concern were indications in the KOAT report that unnamed individuals in the school administration support Lopez’s claims that the book is “clearly inappropriate.”
CBLDF took immediate action to help defend the book. Today, CBLDF joined KRRP in sending a letter to Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland to protest the allegations, writing in part:
According to press reports, a parent of a high school student has objected to the graphic novel on the grounds that it constitutes “child pornography.” Such an allegation is baseless, and entirely divorced from the book’s well-established literary pedigree. Palomar is a part of the Love and Rockets series, created by brothers Jaime, Gilbert, and Mario Hernandez. It is a generational family drama that examines the lives of characters in the titular, fictional South American town.
Your own Library Bill of Rights indicates that one of the aims of the library materials is “to provide materials representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to our American heritage.” Palomar would appear to fulfill that criterion. Critics have praised its unflinching, lyrical exploration of culture, identity, sexuality, and memory. Indeed, the Times of London called it “the graphic equivalent to the fabulism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate,” while Publishers Weekly referred to Hernandez’s work as “a superb introduction to the work of an extraordinary, eccentric and very literary cartoonist.” It was also included in Time Magazine‘s Best Comics of 2003 list.
KRRP and CBLDF’s letter defends Palomar from the accusation of child pornography, citing the legal definition of child pornography and reiterating that any sexual images in the book do not actually depict underage characters. Further, the book could not be classified as obscene under the tenants of the Miller Test.
Finally, the letter defends the professional judgement of librarians in the system and reiterates that a single parent should never be allowed to make decisions for the entire community.
The task of selecting school library materials properly belongs to professional librarians and educators. Palomar has gone unchallenged since it entered the school library’s circulation system in 2006, when it was presumably chosen by a librarian who possesses the adequate knowledge, training, and expertise to make decisions about what books belong on shelves. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children; but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions for others. That responsibility belongs, first and foremost, to professional librarians.
You can read the entirety of the letter defending Palomar below. It is our hope that the Rio Rancho school system refuses to bow to pressure from biased media reports and adheres to their collection policies and to the tenants of the First Amendment in keeping the book on library shelves.