The Sumner County Schools board voted not to ban a book during Tuesday night’s meeting. The challenged book — the graphic memoir “Hey, Kiddo” — depicts the author’s childhood living with his grandparents, a missing father and a mother suffering from addiction.
A parent at Ellis Middle School had challenged the book, saying it contains “inappropriate language” and “premarital sex.” However, a local review committee found that there were no actual depictions of sex in the book, but rather a couple of illustrations of teen pregnancy. Committee members noted that teen pregnancy is a reality, and that even some students at the middle school where the book challenge was filed had experienced it.
The review committee acknowledged in its report that the book contains “rough language.” But it ultimately found that the book’s message outweighed concerns about curse words.
“Persevering in the face of adversity is a powerful lesson to all students, regardless of their backgrounds,” the committee wrote in its report.
Several members of the public, including current and former educators, spoke in favor of keeping the graphic novel on shelves. One woman used her public comment to share a video message from the book’s author, Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
“I wish I had a book like ‘Hey, Kiddo’ when I was growing up,” Krosoczka said. “Because I always felt so alone. I always felt like I was the only person in the world that had a mother that was dealing with addictions, that was absent from my life, that was incarcerated.”
The author said he later realized he was far from alone.
“I can only imagine how my mental health would have flourished as a young person if I had known there were other stories out there,” he said.
Amy Bratcher, the librarian for Ellis Middle School, also spoke during public comment.
“One of my responsibilities as a librarian is to provide a collection that is inclusive of the entire school community,” Bratcher said.
Dissent over profane language
Board member Andy Lacy said he spoke with the parent who challenged the book prior to the meeting. He read a statement from the parent, which criticized the book’s use of offensive language and imagery of drug use. For his own part, Lacy took issue with profanity that invoked religion.
“I am offended that it’s got ‘Jesus Christ’ and then a few words later it’s got ‘GD’.”
Lacy also addressed a portion of the author’s video. Krosoczka said, “There are difficult truths in these books because of the real, lived experiences. So when you brand a book as being ‘inappropriate,’ you are telling that student with that lived experience that they are inappropriate.”
Lacy refuted that, saying, “I don’t think he’s inappropriate. I think the way he wrote the book is inappropriate.”
“If I wrote a book about my life, I would have wrote [sic] the clean version,” Lacy said.
According to documents from the school, the book had already been restricted to eighth graders only. But a sixth grader was allowed to check it out after a software failure early this school year.
After the board’s vote, the book will stay in the district’s middle school libraries. It will remain restricted to students in eighth grade and above. The review committee recommended that eighth grade restricted books stay behind the library circulation desk, and that only the librarian be allowed to check them out.