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Transmissions: Mothers against book reading

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

One Million Moms is outraged. This, of course, is what One Million Moms does. Outrage is its business.

The group, an offshoot of the American Family Association, seems to only exist to send angry releases about media it doesn't like and calling for largely ineffective boycotts. It covers the gamut of possible issues, but gay- and trans-themed media is a longtime favorite target of the group.

It's been angry at Macy's for letting the cast of the Broadway musical "Kinky Boots" perform at the Thanksgiving Day parade, for NBC hosting a show called "666: Park Avenue," and scads of boycotts against The Walt Disney Company. It is a culture warrior, and its actions bring in donations that help keep the lights on for both it and the AFA.

The most recent affront to the organization's mission comes via the Scholastic Corporation and its decision to publish the book "George" by Alex Gino. That Scholastic published the book in 2015 doesn't seem to matter to One Million Moms.

The book itself tells the story of a boy named George. Or, at least, that's what everyone thinks she is, but she knows better: she's really a girl named Melissa. When her homeroom teacher plans the class play, an adaptation of "Charlotte's Web," Melissa and her best friend, Kelly, hatch a plan: Melissa will play Charlotte, and everyone will finally know who she really is.

Gino, the author, is genderqueer, a fact I'm sure further rankles One Million Moms.

"George" is hardly alone when it comes to transgender-themed children's books. "I Am Jazz," which tells the story of transgender teen and reality TV star Jazz Jennings, may well be the best known of these, and is also a regular target of groups like One Million Moms - as is Jennings herself and the TV show. There is even a publishing house, Flamingo Rampant, focusing on books with trans and LGBTQ subject matter.

Contrary to One Million Moms, I think this is a great thing. I love the idea of there being books out there in which young trans kids can see some of themselves represented, and where non-transgender kids can learn a little bit about what life is like for their trans classmates.

When I was young, there was no Flamingo Rampant, no "I Am Jazz," and certainly no "George." Even books for adults on trans issues were few and far between. Scholastic existed, however.

I was a book nerd. I've always loved reading, from the first time I cracked open "Green Eggs and Ham" and "Hop On Pop" by Dr. Seuss. I've always been a voracious reader, and the Scholastic Corporation has been a part of that.

In my elementary school years, our teacher would send a flyer home with us on a monthly basis, from the Scholastic Book Club. One could return the flyer - with some money from home, of course - and get the books, magazines, and posters offered by Scholastic delivered to your school. This was just the sort of dark magic that I embraced and spent plenty of time poring over the flyer for titles that sounded interesting, pleading with my mother every month for any number of books.

I tore through them. I consumed "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," "The Witch Next Door," and scores of others. I once even got my hands on a copy of "The Road To Oz" by L. Frank Baum, which was most notable to me for its back cover. On it was a lovely silhouette of Princess Ozma and Dorothy Gale kissing. As Baum was the first author, alphabetically, on my shelf, that book's rear faced my bed, and was the last thing I'd see before going to bed every night.

It was later that I learned that Princess Ozma was first introduced in the Oz books as Tip, who had been turned into a boy at a young age by a bad witch. Glinda - the good witch we all know from the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz" - reversed this, allowing Ozma to be a beautiful princess once again.

This was not the Scholastic book that holds the biggest piece of my heart, however. That place is reserved for "Allumette," by Tomi Ungerer. Chances are you've never heard of it. It's a retelling of "The Little Match-Seller" by Hans Christian Andersen.

For those not familiar with the original, it tells the story of a little girl selling matches in the snow around Christmastime. The story ends with the girl expiring in the cold, after imagining bright and beautiful times with her family as she eked out a little warmth from her remaining matches.

In "Allumette," the match seller lives. Indeed, she gets all she ever wished for, and the horrible people she has dealt with get their comeuppance. At the end of the book, due to the generosity of all who have met Allumette, begins a foundation to help everyone in need worldwide.

My original copy is long gone, but a friend of mine found me a used copy just like it, from Scholastic's own Parents Magazine Press. It sits at my desk at all times. It's a story that made me who I am today, and is one I've pulled inspiration from over my lifetime.

From my own experiences, reading has helped make me a better person, a more empathic person, a more caring person. Perhaps One Million Moms members should consider popping down to their local bookstore instead of sending their next angry news release - and maybe we should let kids read what they need to read.

Gwen Smith thinks you don't have to take her word for it. You can find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.

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