If there’s one thing I’ve been consistent with over my years as a parent, it is showing up to every single baby shower I am invited to with a copy of Everywhere Babies, a brilliantly inclusive picture book celebrating the ordinary and miraculous ways that families love their babies. A lesbian couple? Gay dads? An interracial couple? Single parents? Grandparents? A trans-racial adoption? This book offers every new family the gift of being seen, just going about their everyday lives as regular people.
Written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee, the book, which was first published in 2001, depicts a delightful multitude of colorfully dressed babies being cared for and doted on by almost every permutation of family that you could imagine. The writing is magical, the pictures always hold something new, and the emotions and humor are right on point. And everyone can find themselves in Everywhere Babies.
Everyone except, apparently, the small-minded people who sit on the school board in Walton County, Florida, where — for the first time ever — the book was just banned.
In response to the obvious question — why ban this and the other 57 titles on the list? — School Superintendent A. Russel Hughes told a local news program, “What is necessary varies. I don’t know if I define the word ‘necessary’ as necessary to those who are opposing, necessary to those who didn’t want to, it was necessary in this moment for me to make that decision and I did it for just a welfare of all involved, including our constituents, our teachers, and our students. I’ll continue to do those things and perhaps add some.”
It’s a pretty safe bet that the ban took place not only because of the diversity of skin tones depicted in the book, but also the unapologetically queer appearance of some of the parents depicted in its pages that earned it the distinction of being banned in a state where you can no longer ‘say gay.’
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Meyers and Frazee spoke with The Washington Post after learning that their beloved tome was being removed from Walton County school libraries.
“I remember feeling like this text was so universal — it had a classic kind of feeling about it,” illustrator Frazee told The Washington Post.
Initially conceiving of the idea as setting the book in a New York City park, she explained, “I realized that I was narrowing it too much, that there are so many more kinds of families, and I wanted to show as many kinds of families and kids as I could. I think my basic feeling has always been that I want a child who is reading a book of mine to feel at home there, and to relate to it, and feel like it belongs to them. That’s my role as an illustrator.”
While not particularly surprised to learn it had been banned, Meyers said she believes the book’s critics lack justification, even by their own twisted standards.
“I think there’s one illustration they don’t like, where it’s two men. But how do they see this, that any time a man puts his arm on another man’s shoulder, it means they’re gay? It doesn’t seem obvious to me.”
Frazee explains that she designed the illustrations to enable children to see themselves and their families reflected. “I don’t think adults read pictures all that expertly, but I think kids do. I trust a child’s perception way more,” she said.
While it can be tempting to joke about bans such as this one, and think that it can’t happen in more progressive states or communities, Frazee says this is call for everyone to speak out — whether we come from a family that looks a little different, or whether we just believe that all families should be represented in kids’ books.
“We can’t leave it to marginalized groups to speak out,” she said. “We all have to speak out.”
Walton County banned 57 other books, most having to do with sex, queerness, race, and religion. Some of the other selections included Outlander, Normal People, The Hate U Give, and Beloved.