Two Oregon School districts have determined that they will not allow 3rd – 5th graders to participate in Oregon’s Battle of the Books this year, due to the inclusion of Alex Gino’s frequently contested book about a trans child, George. Oregon’s Battle of the Books is an entirely elective program designed to encourage children’s literacy, and no participating child is required to read all the books on the list.
The two districts in question, Cascade and Hermiston, have both stated they will instead create their own reading competitions for those grades, with lists that they approve. Hermiston will still allow older students to participate in Oregon’s Battle of the Books, where the students form teams and compete in a game-show format through local, district and regional levels.
Hermiston spokesperson Maria Duron told The Oregonian that “[School Officials] carefully examined the content” before determining that “there were specific things that the character was exploring” that they felt were inappropriate for students in those grades.
Cascade School District Superintendent Darin Drill was less evasive with his statement on the decision to prohibit participation in the event. “What they said was it’s not so much about the transgender issue, there are a couple scenes in the book that they felt aren’t appropriate for third graders.” The Oregonian reported that
One of the scenes Drill described involved a child in a bathroom looking at a magazine and an older sibling saying something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell our parents what you are doing.”
Drill said it would be difficult to explain this to a third-grader.
“We live in a fairly conservative community down here,” he added.
The author Alex Gino, spoke with New York Daily News and disagreed with the districts who chose to pull out of the competition over the book.
“The OBOB selection committee vetted my book and found it a strong match for their criteria,” Gino told The Daily News. “This overreaction is preventing a group of third through fifth graders who are excited about reading from participating in a statewide competition that they and their school have been part of for years because they might hear a question about a book with a transgender main character.
“My book will not make anyone transgender, but it can help make people trans aware, and bring connection to those who already are trans, and I believe that those are good things. I don’t believe that there’s any age before which it is appropriate to learn compassion.”
As for the Oregon Battle of the Books, it will continue as planned, minus the offended districts. Linda Fukasawa, OBOB admin chair, released a statement informing those that emailed or messaged the group on Facebook, that “respectful discourse is always appreciated.” George will remain as planned on the list of potential books 3rd-5th graders may read leading up to the competition. Fukasawa assured parents and competitors that “no content of a mature nature will be used in the writing of questions for this book. Those students who participate in OBOB competitions but do not read George will not be subjected to any content in questions that might reasonably be seen as objectionable for third-grade students.”