Jacob's Dress

Banned Book: ‘Jacob’s New Dress’

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Jacob’s New Dress, by Ian and Sarah Hoffman, is suddenly at the very center of a whirlwind of controversy and debate, as the very latest banned book. It was slated to be distributed to all first graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), but that plan was brought to an abrupt end after complaints erupted from parents, teachers and the North Carolina Values Coalition, which called it a threat to “traditional family values.” The book selection was also brought before the House Republican Caucus, and lawmakers “weren’t happy about it “. In other words, the debate appeared to have quickly become “nuclear.”

The intention was, of course, much more innocuous. This children’s book is about a little boy, Jacob, who likes to play dress up. He fights with his friend, Emily, about who can be the princess, and other kids make fun of him for wearing dresses. Their teacher explains that he wears what he’s comfortable with. So, the book is also intended to be a sort of primer for what to do if someone is being bullied. So, it’s part of the anti-bullying reading plan for Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Why Is It A Banned Book?

It didn’t turn out quite the way the school boards intended. After receiving complaints, Superintendent Ann Clark said, “The initial first-grade book selection, which focuses on valuing uniqueness and difference, has been replaced due to some concerns about the book,” effectively making Jacob’s New Dress a banned book.

Critics claimed that the purpose of school is to learn “reading, writing and arithmetic,” not to “encourage boys to wear dresses.” Their wide swathe of criticism also included My Princess Boy and other transgender curriculum. The school district incorporates 170 schools and some 147,000 students, so the message of tolerance would have reached a wide range of students.

 

What Do The Authors Say About Banned Book?

Ian and Sarah Hoffman found the debate of their now-infamous banned book ironic, given that the boo is about love and tolerance. They wrote the book when their son liked to wear long hair and dresses, while he also liked “boy” things like “knights, castles and dinosaurs.” They described him as “gender nonconforming.”

Sarah Hoffman said: “North Carolina seems like a very divided state. And I sense a lot of fear.” Of, she further said, “We like that this conversation is being had. It’s why we wrote the book. In this case, it’s a forced conversation.”

Her husband, Ian, also said, “What the North Carolina backlash tells us is that our book is needed.” He said, “Our hope, when we wrote this book, was that some day it would be considered quaint.” They even imagined that generations to come would ask, “What was the fuss about?”

Ultimately, Ian says, “there’s more work to do.”

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Esther is a full-time freelancer, who draws upon her background to deliver fun and compelling stories. To her, the story and the vehicle(s) of expression are important, but sometimes it's just as essential to explore those areas just outside one's comfort zone. She loves to jump head-first into that deep ravine, and discover where her parachute will take her.


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