Banned Books Week: “My Mom’s Having a Baby”

I thought I’d kick off my Banned Books Week posts with the only title on the 2011 list I hadn’t already read!

Yeah, I can already tell this is going to be downright salacious

Title: My Mom’s Having a Baby
Author: Dori Hillestad Butler
Illustrator: Carol Thompson
Challenged In: Carrollton, Texas and Hillsborough County, Florida
For: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

I feel like one of the most important points of this case which the author attempted to bring up when she was dramatically confronted on Fox and Friends is that this book is shelved in the children’s non-fiction section, J618.2. Even though it looks like a picture book, it’s not stuck in with Good Night Moon and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s with the explanatory books about childbirth, diseases, how blood works, and World War II. And if you let your kid wander around on their own in the non-fiction section, cool, but it’s not like the library makes a secret of what that section is for. Non-fiction books are meant to explain the world in ways a child can understand, and that’s what this book does. Here’s a sample page:

This fetus is clearly rocking out to some music inappropriate for his age group

It goes through month by month of the pregnancy, explaining prenatal development and what an ultrasound is, eventually culminating in birth (with all the blood and grossness tactfully edited out). The only difference between this and the countless other books designed to help parents explain what’s happening to mom is that it goes into more detail about how the baby got in there. Which, come on, they are totally going to want to know:

Oh sorry, I should have warned you I was going to post some cartoon anatomical drawings. Avert your eyes, Hillsborough

I feel like reading this book would have prevented my childhood fear of pregnancy. It kicks off the discussion of sperm and eggs with:

Mom says it takes two people to make a baby. A man and a woman. Children can’t make babies

I was four when my mom was pregnant with my brother, and I don’t know what book they read me, but it must have been more detailed than some because I definitely knew the word “uterus” and would disdainfully correct women at the grocery store when they started talking about “the baby in mommy’s tummy”. But somehow the above piece of information did not really register and I spent the next ten years terrified of immaculate conception. Because pregnancy looked like the worst thing ever. Where were you when I was four, Dori Hillestad Butler? Why couldn’t you have explained to me that–barring divine intervention–my fears were impossible? This personal experience is one of the reasons I firmly believe that if someone is old enough to ask a question, they’re old enough to receive an answer.

I legit can’t tell if the above page is the one everyone was freaking out about, or if it’s the next one, so I’ll post them both and you can decide:

Bow-chicka-wow-wow!

Sorry if you were expecting the promised “sexually explicit” content. Like I’ve said before, challenged book lists are actually TERRIBLE sources if you’re looking for porn/erotica despite their claims. Here’s the most sexually explicit part I could find:

The man puts his penis between the woman’s legs and inside her vagina. After a while, a white liquid shoots out of the man’s penis and into the woman’s vagina.

My guess is that’s probably the most objectionable part to most people (though not to me; see the end), the part that is going to convince all our children to go out and have sex right now. I mean, how could they not? The book makes it sound so awesome, right?

Anyway, I can see why this book might not be the one some parents would choose to read to their kid about childbirth. Luckily, the library has plenty of other options with less information! They try to have something for everyone, be you interested in accuracy or euphemism. I can also see how this book might not be the one you want your kid to read having just “picked it up off the shelf”, which is why it’s super important to be involved in your child’s reading choices!

Also, rock on Dori Hillestad Butler:

To those people I want to say this: I appreciate your attempt to support me, but it’s not “the librarian’s fault,” either. Librarians have a responsibility to serve ALL members of the community. That doesn’t mean everything in a library (or even in the children’s section of a library) is right for everyone.

A library is not a day care center. It’s not the librarian’s responsibility to supervise the children who come in. It’s not the librarian’s responsibility make sure every child only picks up books that are “appropriate” for them. How could it be? What’s appropriate for one child is not appropriate for another child.

I really admire the grace with which she met this situation. The above article and this more recent one both talk about all the hate mail she’s received from people who saw the short segments on the challenge on Fox and Friends and other local news sources, both of which tried to paint the issue as way more dramatic and shocking than it actually is. “Is there anyone that actually READS these things before they put them in the li-bary?” I think the sound I just heard from my closet was my master’s degree crumpling itself into a little ball (yeah, it’s still in the closet, frames are expensive, you guys).

Finally, here are some things I didn’t like about this book:
1. It uses the word “baby” throughout, even during the first month when it is clearly just a fetal blob.
2. One picture shows food traveling through the umbilical cord into the baby, including a sunny-side up egg, which is clearly on the Do Not Eat list of foods for pregnant women.
3. Nowhere is there a picture of the mom continually vomiting.
4. The birth pictures are way less scary than an actual birth.

Obviously this book paints an inaccurate picture of pregnancy!! Will it convince our children that it’s no big deal and they should go ahead and try it, all while eating under-cooked eggs??? Should I try to get this book removed from the library because of these things I don’t like, thus saving the rest of my community from having to deal with these blatant falsehoods??

No. Stop being silly.

Next: The Notebook Girls
Previously: Banned Books Week Intro

9 responses to “Banned Books Week: “My Mom’s Having a Baby””

  1. Thanks for the post. Re: the use of the word “baby” throughout…that was something I gave a lot of thought to while writing this book. I realized I was going to have to come down on one side or the other of the abortion debate and I didn’t really want to go there. That wasn’t what this book was about. In the end I chose the word “baby” over “fetus” for two reasons. One, this is a book about a family’s joy and anticipation about the birth of a baby…Elizabeth is thinking this is a “baby” right from the start. And two, I knew there would be people who would have a problem with this book (I didn’t anticipate the whole Fox News thing, but I knew there would be people who would find the book “inappropriate”); I thought using the word “baby” might actually appease some of these same people. (That was probably naive.)

    • pladd says:

      Thanks for explaining your decision about this word choice! I agree with your reasoning; in this context the word “baby” was the best choice. I thought it was probably something like that, since you used other technical terms like “uterus”. My list of things I didn’t like isn’t altogether serious, just an illustration of how one person’s beliefs shouldn’t be given control over a community’s reading choices. :-)

      Thank you for reading my post! Watching different news clips about your book really frustrated me when researching this, and I’m so impressed with your ability to stay calm and express your points eloquently–I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the same. My parents tried to be as open as possible about these issues, and I wish there had been more books like yours around when I was little to clear up all my misconceptions!

  2. mom Ladd says:

    I so wish the Dori Butler book had been around when I was pregnant with Thomas. I remember like it was yesterday, you being in the bathroom with me as I vomited into the toilet, and when I told you that you didn’t need to stay and watch, that I was o.k., you insisted that you stay, just in case the baby came out while I was getting sick. That is when I searched for good sources and we learned the difference between the stomach and the uterus. Sure wish I knew you had the fear of getting pregnant Trish, so sorry you worried.

  3. TheJamesFox says:

    I will never understand the mentality of people who ban these things

    How hard is to take responsibility for what your child’s reads

    If someone wants their kid to believe everyone is air dropped by a stork or some equally disgusting avian that’s fine

    But just because they suck at maintaining a Truman Show level false reality to raise your child in doesn’t mean everyone else has to pitch in

  4. October Baby says:

    It should be noted, of course, that the most frequently challenged books are unlikely to be the most objectionable. After all, many libraries won’t shelve the most vile material available, and even if they did it might well be too obscure for parents to know about and challenge. Rather, we should expect the most frequently challenged books to be ones near the line of acceptability; popular enough to be shelved and well-known enough to be challenged.

    In short, don’t be surprised when you’re not offended by any of the most challenged books.

    • pladd says:

      Good point! It’s very important to remember that libraries are curated collections and every book, even the ones you might find objectionable, have been chosen with a purpose. Because of that, it’s not really surprising that I don’t find any material “vile”, since, even if it doesn’t appeal to me or I personally find it morally troubling–I’m looking at you, Twilight Saga–the reason it was chosen is almost always very clear. Just because the library is there for me doesn’t mean EVERY book in the library is there for me.

      Sorry it took me so long to respond; I was out of town!

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