“You can’t tell by looking at my mom, but there’s a baby growing inside her.”
Thus begins a children’s book that’s causing quite a stir. So big a stir, in fact, that it earned “My Mom’s Having a Baby” by Dori Hillestad Butler the Number Four spot on the American Library Association’s “Most Frequently Challenged” list for 2011. That’s the list featured during Banned Book Week, coming up September 30 through October 6.
“My Mom’s Having a Baby” is narrated by a little girl named Elizabeth, who in the cartoon illustrations looks to be six or seven years old. The story opens in September, with Elizabeth and her parents celebrating the news that she’s going to be a big sister. As the next eight months go by, Elizabeth updates the reader on how the baby is growing and developing inside her mother. We see him floating around in amniotic fluid, sucking his thumb and turning somersaults and looking adorable.
As you might guess, these pictures aren’t what makes the book controversial.
It’s what’s on pages 10-13 that has lots of folks up in arms. “I wonder how our baby got inside my mom,” Elizabeth tells us. “One day, she and I have a nice talk about that.” Do they ever! During that talk, Mom explains to Elizabeth in simple but frank terms how babies are made. The accompanying anatomically correct illustrations pull no punches.
Which is wonderful as far as some reviewers are concerned.
Booklist gave “My Mom’s Having a Baby” the Editor’s Choice Award. “An excellent choice for those readers who are ready to ask and be told some of life’s basic facts,” said School Library Journal. Plenty of others agree.
“A superb introduction to the facts of life,” wrote one fan. “It celebrates a joyous occasion in the life of an expanding family” said another. “It explains the miracle of babies in a clear, truthful, and loving way.”
Not surprisingly, not everyone is a fan.
“This book borders on pornography,” one reviewer wrote. “It’s a sign of just how sick and liberal our society has become.” “It should be banned everywhere,” said another. “Books like this are why kids get in trouble.”
Interestingly enough, “My Mom’s Having a Baby” was published in 2005 with little fanfare. It languished in relative obscurity until February of last year, when a nine-year-old girl checked it out of the library in Carrollton, Texas. When her babysitter noticed that the girl was looking with discomfort “at something she wasn’t supposed to” and discovered what it was, she seized the proverbial bull by the horns and called Fox News.
I am not making this up.
Fox News jumped on it. They broadcast simultaneous interviews with the author and the babysitter, Rose Schifferdecker. Who contended that she shouldn’t have had to monitor what her charge checked out from what should have been a G-rated children’s library. She believed the child was right on track when she said the book “disgustified” her.
Dori Hillestad Butler, when she was able to get a word in edgewise, argued that the book is an appropriate springboard for curious children and their parents to talk openly and honestly about where babies come from. “Not every book in a library is right for everyone,” Butler said. “It’s the responsibility of parents to guide their children’s reading.”
If you’d like to decide for yourself whether “My Mom’s Having a Baby” is wonderful or disgustifying, you might be out of luck. The staff at the Putnam County Library, after a long search, found a copy to purchase only last week. It hasn’t yet arrived. Amazon is sold out. And the local Books-a-Million doesn’t have it in stock.
Which all goes to show that there’s nothing like controversy when it comes to selling books.
(September 16, 2012)