CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A children’s book called “Jacob’s New Dress” was meant to teach children a lesson about bullying and acceptance, but its inclusion in curriculum inspired backlash from conservative powers. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) pulled the book from the first-grade curriculum after legislators got wind of it and objected.
Originally intended as an observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the book features a boy who likes to wear dresses. A classmate bullies him for it, but his teacher and parents are supportive.
The authors, Sarah and Ian Hoffman, were inspired to write the book when their son, Sam, was in preschool. Sam liked dresses and the color pink, but also liked “boy” things. The Hoffmans wrote that Sam was “gender nonconforming; we liked to call him a pink boy — the male equivalent of a tomboy.”
“I read the book online,” Tami Fitzgerald of the NC Values Coalition said. “It’s clearly geared to young children. The book is meant as a tool of indoctrination to normalize transgender behavior. I think a lot of parents would object to that.”
“[The idea] that a book can turn someone gay, or transgender, or anything else is bizarre,” Ian Hoffman told The New York Times. “If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King, is that kid going to become black?”
Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s rhetoric reached the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA), and some lawmakers objected to the book. Charles Jeter, a former Republican legislator and current CMS government liaison, said that some legislators “weren’t happy.”
“I got a call that it was brought up in the House Republican caucus Monday night, which is never a good thing,” Jeter told The Washington Post. “With everything going on in North Carolina right now, poking the bear is not a pathway that I think is beneficial to students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”
The legislative bear may not be entirely happy with the book chosen to replace Jacob’s New Dress either. The new book, “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” features a blue crayon with a red label. The crayon struggles to be something it’s not, before finally embracing its unique nature.
“I’m not sure they’re real thrilled with that book, either,” Jeter said. “That book is now going to be getting more scrutiny in the General Assembly because of this issue.”
The Hoffmans are not discouraged by the reaction to their book. They told The New York Times that the overall reaction to the book has been positive, but that a lesson can be learned from the objections.
“What the North Carolina backlash tells us is that our book is needed,” Hoffman wrote. “Our hope, when we wrote this book, was that someday it would be considered quaint. We imagined future generations saying, ‘What was the fuss about?’ Clearly, there’s more work to do.”