Children's book by Quebec author on gender, identity targeted by complaints in U.S. town

A library in the U.S. is dealing with complaints about a children's book from a Quebec author that deals with sexual and gender diversity. Parents have asked that the book be removed from the library shelves.

Parents want book off shelves, with 1 claiming it promotes 'lies and false genders,' librarian says

There is a book in the library.
A library in Dayton, Wash., is evaluating complaints about a children's book about gender stereotypes by Quebec author Élise Gravel. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Parents in a U.S. town have asked their local library to take a Quebec author's children's book about sexual and gender diversity off the shelves, and that author says she's worried that a climate of intolerance is contributing to the censorship and marginalization of LGBTQ realities.

"It makes me very sad and scared," said author and illustrator Élise Gravel, whose book Pink, Blue and You! was published last year.

"The goal of the book is to deconstruct gender stereotypes that affect kids and everyone, really, in society. It's very absurd that those things would be controversial."

Todd Vandenbark, the library director for the Columbia County rural library district in Dayton, Wash., says the facility made certain books available last July ahead of Pride Month.

A woman smiles at camera, in the background there are bookshelves
Élise Gravel says she's worried about what she describes as a growing lack of tolerance toward LGBTQ people. (Allen McInnis/The Canadian Press)

After receiving complaints, he says things got ugly on the library's social media page, with some people issuing threats.

"A flurry of Facebook activity ensued, [with messages] calling my staff and I pedophiles and groomers," Vandenbark said.

He says that after people were encouraged to file formal complaints, about 90 showed up at the library board meeting, which is open to the public. He says about half of them demanded certain books related to BIPOC and LGTBQ communities — including Pink, Blue and You! — be removed. 

"To give you some perspective, this is a county of 4,000," he said. "Normally one to two people come to these board meetings."

Vandenbark said one parent asked staff to get rid of Gravel's book to protect children from "lies and false genders." Others have asked that Pink, Blue and You! and other books be moved to the adult section.

After weighing the merits of the complaints, Vandenbark says the board decided to move some books about consent, race and gender to a "parent-read-with-child" section. That section was then relocated "a very short distance away" from the children's book area.

Gravel's book is still in the children's non-fiction area.

Some community members have appealed the library board's decision. A new decision will be announced later this month.

A person is sitting
Todd Vandenbark, the library director for the Columbia County rural library district in Dayton, Wash., says staff want to foster an inclusive environment by providing books that cater to different people. (CBC)

'It's a new level'

Gravel says she's received social media messages from librarians and teachers in the U.S. who say they would love to use her book but aren't allowed.

Gravel says she doesn't know where those people are located, or how or why the book was supposedly banned.

Last April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through Grade 3. Critics refer to it as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

In 2021, library staff across the U.S. "faced an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books," according to the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA has partnered with several organizations to fight this trend.

Gravel believes the push to get books about LGBTQ communities out of public view amounts to a "complete ban on people."

"We can't talk about the fact that some people exist and that is very scary. It's a new level," said the author.

"It's sending a message that if they are different in any way, if their parents are different in any way, then they don't exist. We don't want to talk about it, we don't want to see you."

In Dayton, Wash., Vandenbark says most community members have been supportive of him and staff members. He also appears to be keeping an open mind about the complaints that have come their way. 

"I stand with them in their right to choose for their children the titles and materials that they want them to have," he said. 

"And it's my responsibility to provide materials for our entire community, not just simply one particular religious or personal set of beliefs."


Antoni Nerestant is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from Rowan Kennedy