Last week, CBLDF co-sponsored a letter initiated by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) in support of the book One of a Kind, Like Me/Único como yo written by Laurin Mayeno, with art by Robert Liu-Trujillo. The letter was sent to the Board of Education for Columbus County Schools in North Carolina in response to their statements about the book, which conflict with their policies.
On March 31, during a video event hosted by UNCW’s Storyteller Program, One of a Kind was read to a group of Columbus County students. The children’s book tells the story of Danny, who decides to dress as a princess for the school costume parade. We follow Danny as he designs and assembles the materials he needs for his costume. At the costume parade, Danny’s classmates arrive dressed as an octopus, a butterfly, and a pineapple. Each student is different and celebrated for their differences and individuality.
Hearing of a boy wearing a dress was too much for some parents, and there were several complaints to school board members. The book was accused of being “inappropriate” for the students and labeled as “gender identity politics” entering the classroom. One board member apologized for the reading, and the superintendent, Deanne Meadows, said the school “missed the mark” by not reviewing the book in advance.
The letter asks the board to correct their statements. According to their policies, “Principals shall establish rules concerning what materials may be brought in by teachers without review.” The board needs to make it clear there is no vetting of supplemental material. There also seems to be a vague ban on the book as it has been called “age-inappropriate.” Books can only be removed when a formal challenge is filed, and then they will undergo an appropriate review.
The case of One of a Kind, Like Me is similar to several identity censorship bans we have seen in the past with books like Drama and Prince & Knight. As Mayeno points out, this is ‘discrimination under the guise of concern.’ In a piece Mayeno wrote for Huffington Post, she states,
My heart ached when I saw parents and school board members using terms like “gender identity politics” and “gay agenda” to disparage the book and the student who performed it. These terms feed into fear of difference and dehumanize the people involved.
These parent and board reactions highlight a persistent problem; merely existing is seen as a statement or having an agenda. Many of the parents who have an issue with the book seem to be making inferential leaps influenced by their personal opinions. All students deserve to see themselves represented in literature. The artist of the book in question, Liu-Trujillo, spoke on the benefits to students of reading material like this,
A child doesn’t have to know and/or understand all that is on a book’s cover or within its pages to enjoy it. When a child sees a reflection of themselves, they can feel seen in what sometimes feels like a world of invisibility. And for a child who has never met someone like the main character in “One of a Kind, Like Me,” it’s a safe way for them to get to know them and understand that there are kids like Danny, and not only is that ok, it is awesome.
Alex Gino, author of the often challenged book George, added in a letter to Mayeno,
It’s painful to think that our lives are so scary that children need to be shielded from us. And it ends up both with transgender and gender-nonconforming kids blocked from seeing representation of themselves, and with cisgender kids who miss out on incorporating us into their understanding of the world.
Attempts to block identity are still alive and well in 2021. The board’s decision to denounce the book as inappropriate and propose to vet books contrary to their existing policies is unacceptable and needs to be clarified.
You can read the full letter to the board below.