Banned Books Awareness: “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael Willhoite

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Since 1990 there have been more than 50,000 incidents in which a book’s right to an existence has been called into question.  Why?  For nothing more than the simple fact that they expressed ideas that made someone, somewhere, feel uncomfortable; and that discomfort was taken as a personal offense.

There is a list of book titles that has been tossed around the internet since 2008 that Sarah Palin tried to have banned, but it’s a fake.  However, it is established fact that the one-time vice-presidential candidate had indeed attempted to pull books off library shelves.  The McCain-Palin presidential campaign claimed Palin never advocated censorship, but participant and witness accounts say otherwise.

The New York Times reported in 2008 that while a member of the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska, she criticized a book called “Daddy’s Roommate“, written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite, to colleagues.  In 1995, Palin told colleagues that she had noticed the book on the shelves and that “it did not belong there”, according to Laura Chase, a member of Palin’s campaign. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive and suggested that Palin read it.

Sarah said she ‘didn’t need to read that stuff’,” Ms. Chase recalled. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library that she didn’t even read.”

Later, according to an ABCNews report, Palin, once she was mayor, asked the town’s librarian on three separate occasions whether she would agree to remove such controversial books from the shelves.  All three times, the librarian refused.  Palin eventually fired her, but bowed to public pressure and gave the woman her job back.

A favorite of censors, this children’s book about gay parents has been the subject of challenges in public libraries across the nation since it was published in 1991.  In a now all-too-familiar request, a parent complained about references to homosexuality in material for children and local debates started springing up around the country.

In this picture book (ages 2-5), Frank and Daddy are seen pursuing a familiar daily routine; and on weekends the entire family goes on various outings.  It’s a straightforward view of an alternative family.  Daddy’s Roommate was one of the first children’s books to portray gay life in a positive way; the gay couple does many of the same things heterosexual couples do: household chores, argues, shows affection, and spends time with their kid.

The book has become one of the most banned books in recent years.  The American Library Association listed it as number 2 in their list of the 100 most challenged books from 1990-2000, due to its subject matter and targeted audience.

In 2005 in Centerville, Indiana, the newly-elected Centerville School Board felt the need to “protect its students from exposure and access to controversial materials”. Therefore, the School Board proposed banning the following books from their system: Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite, Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, Understanding Sexual Identity by Janice Rench, and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

This policy included not just removing the books from school libraries, but prohibiting their use in the curriculum, and prohibiting students and teachers from even having the books on school property.

In May of 1998 The Wichita Falls Public Library in Texas received challenges from Rev. Ron Killingsworth to both books.  At least 15 people in Wichita Falls volunteered to buy the public library replacement copies of Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies in protest of Rev. Robert Jeffress’ refusal to return the copies brought to him by one of his parishioners.

“The people I’ve spoken with are very angry the books have been taken,” Library Administrator Linda Hughes told the Wichita Times Record.  “Everyone has to make their own decision as to what to do,” Jeffress remarked.  He has issued the library a check for $54 in replacement costs and fines.

A Lawrence, New Jersey resident, Keith Smith, wanted Daddy’s Roommate removed. He got what he wanted by complaining to the Mercer County Library commission and to the County Executive Rober Prunetti.  His complaints eventually prompted the library commission to move the book, along with Heather Has Two Mommies, out of the children’s section and into the parenting section.  Smith is treasurer of the Lawrence Republican Club, but Prunetti said politics was not involved.  ”A lot of people are affiliated with Democrats or Republicans,” he said.  “What difference does it make?”

The move angered librarians and many parents. A library system review committee had recommended that the books remain in the children’s section. That decision was reversed by the commission after Prunetti said he simply passed a note on to the county counsel, who later advised the commission to review Smith’s complaint.

As a result of the incident, the book remains in the parenting section of the library.

*to read the previous discussion thread visit my original posting of this article on Facebook*

Sources: American Library Association, Detroit Free Press, New York Times, ABCNews

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

One thought on “Banned Books Awareness: “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael Willhoite

  1. Pingback: 13 Banned and Challenged Books For Kids - No Time For Flash Cards

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