'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, March 25, 2004

King & King

Lynn Kendall at Unnatural History has posted a Publisher's Weekly article about the controversy surrounding a socially progressive picture book:

King & King, a 2002 picture book in which a prince rejects a series of princesses and marries another handsome prince, has aroused an angry challenge in Wilmington, N.C., and brought a mixture of scorn and kudos upon the book's publisher, Tricycle Press.

After first-grader Olivia Hartsell brought the book home on March 1, her parents Michael and Tonya Hartsell complained to administrators at Rachel Freeman Elementary School. The Hartsells objected to the book's acknowledgement of homosexuality and also of divorce ("When I was your age, I'd been married twice already," the prince's mother tells him, in encouraging him to find a mate). The Hartsells have since threatened to enroll their daughter in a different school and refused to return the book to the Freeman school library, for fear some other child might check it out. The book's due date is March 30.

Further, the Hartsells contacted the national media and received coverage through AP, CNN and ABC. Tricycle Press publisher Nicole Geiger arrived at work yesterday to find a deluge of messages. "There's a lot of vitriol in this country right now, and hate mail is very much outnumbering the letters of support," Geiger says. "But I wouldn't say we've been directly threatened, and many wonderful organizations have come to our defense."

Tricycle has received support from the Lambda Literary Foundation, along with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "The book is there as information for kids who are curious about the subject," says ABFFE president Chris Finan. "It's First Amendment-protected, and they can't go pulling books out of the school library just because some parents are offended by the material."

Beverly Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, concurs, saying, "Libraries are there to serve the entire community. It's important that they have books that address the issues of the day. The very reason this book is getting so much interest is that it addresses an issue that's important right now. To me that argues as to why it belongs in the library--it's in the public debate, and kids are part of that wider world too."

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