Feb 28, 2022 - News

Sexually explicit books offend NWA parents

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

While any book ever published is just a few clicks away, some still see library access to certain titles as a threat.

Driving the news: Some Northwest Arkansas parents are enraged by literature with sexually explicit depictions or graphics being on library shelves, documents obtained by Axios NWA show.

  • We filed open records requests at 10 school districts and five public libraries, and analyzed communication from January 2021 to February 2022 between parents and educators; patrons and librarians.

The big picture: Book bans are surging as a product of a culture war that has made schools across the nation ground zero, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

What we found: While there have been a lot of complaints, parents or patrons have only made a handful of formal requests to remove books.

  • Librarians have addressed most of the complaints and removal requests through existing opt-out rules that allow parents to block their children from borrowing certain titles.
  • Only one book — "Beyond Magenta" — has been removed from circulation by Siloam Springs High School.

State of play: While the national conversation vacillates between books about racism and LGBTQ+ issues, the vast majority of complaints in NWA were tied to sexually explicit descriptions and illustrations.

  • Parents and patrons objected to books they called lewd, pornographic or pedophiliac. Many of those titles also deal with LGBTQ+ issues.
  • Another frequent complaint was about foul language.

Following one request to reclassify a book, the Bentonville Public Library moved an illustrated title, "The Hips on the Drag Queen go Swish, Swish, Swish," to the adult section from the children's section.

What they're saying: Jason Maxwell of Bentonville has spoken at the school board meeting against certain titles.

  • "The current opt-out policy requires parents to know what is in over 450,000 books that are in Bentonville's system libraries, and then notify the school what books the parent doesn't want their child to have access to, which is an unreasonable demand on already busy parents," Maxwell wrote in an email to Axios.

Four books Maxwell objected to were found "not harmful to minors" by legal counsel to Bentonville schools.

  • Paul Heck of Fayetteville has spoken out at Fayetteville school board meetings but hasn't filed a formal complaint. He filed a crime tip with the Fayetteville Police Department, citing three titles as being pornographic — FPD declined to pursue the complaint.

Two NWA chapters of Moms for Liberty, a national group driving the book ban conversation, did not respond to multiple requests from Axios for comment.

Between the lines: In a conversation on background, one school administrator said they believed the current upswell around books is largely political.

  • Of note: Maxwell is running for state representative for District 12.

Zoom out: Districts in at least 31 states are embroiled in book debates, Education Week reports, and the groups that have been most active — like Moms for Liberty — could rally voters around the issue in the 2022 midterms.

The other side: A nationwide group of suburban women called Red, Wine & Blue launched a Book Ban Busters website to map challenged books across the country and organize opposition.

The following books have been targeted for graphic descriptions or illustrations in some NWA school districts and public libraries.

  1. "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson
  2. "Beyond Magenta" by Susan Kuklin
  3. "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison
  4. "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sara J. Maas
  5. "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe
  6. "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy
  7. "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini
  8. "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison
  9. "Slay" by Brittney Morris
  10. "The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish" by Lil Miss Hot Mess

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that one of the targeted books is "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison, not "Lawn Boy" by Gary Paulsen.

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