‘Ludicrous, laughable’: Everywhere Babies author reveals her shock after picture book is targeted for ban in Florida

Susan Meyers was ‘shocked’ when she heard her beloved children’s book had fallen victim to the Sunshine State’s latest book ban, she tells Josh Marcus

Tuesday 26 April 2022 22:46 BST
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Susan Meyers, author of Everywhere Babies
Susan Meyers, author of Everywhere Babies (Stephanie Mohan)

It would be hard to find a book less objectionable to conservatives, at least of the faith and family variety, than Susan Meyers’s Everywhere Babies, which has become the latest target in Florida’s drive to purge allegedly inappropriate books from schools.

The book was published in 2001 and is meant for very young children, featuring images on each page of loving families and friends taking care of extremely cute babies, in scenes ranging from gentle homes to bustling city streets. The author was inspired to write it after the birth of her grandson around Christmas, as she thought about the baby Jesus and the nativity scene.

“I was shocked and it just seemed ludicrous, laughable. This is a book about babies. It’s a baby book. You read it to little one- or two-year-olds. They chew on the board book. It’s a beloved book,” she told The Independent from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Yet even such universal messages as the specialness of children are now controversial in the Sunshine State, where activists and politicians alike have targeted books with even the most passing or imagined reference to topics on race or identity.

Ms Meyers’s book was one of 58 flagged by a group called the Florida Citizens Alliance, which has pressured schools to remove the titles, arguing they contain inappropriate, pornographic, or “LGTBQ agenda” material. It joins titles on the list ranging from classics of US literature like Beloved by Toni Morrison, to pulpy romances like 50 Shades of Grey.

No such images appear in Everywhere Babies. The author’s best guest is that the FCA took issue with various illustrations from artist Marla Frazee that show two men or two women taking care of babies together, though it’s not noted in the story whether these pairs are friends, neighbours, or couples.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s all political, I think. It’s driven by people that have political agenda,” she said. “I don’t agree with any of it.”

In fact, in the FCA’s own review of the title, the reader doesn’t seem to agree either. They checked a box, according to an FCA report, that they would be happy to personally recommend the story to their grandkids, and that it doesn’t contain any explicit material.

The Independent has reached out to the group for comment.

The whole ordeal illustrates just how radioactive, and seemingly arbitrary, culture war politics have become in Florida.

Susan Meyers, author of Everywhere Babies
Susan Meyers, author of Everywhere Babies (Stephanie Mohan)

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education rejected a number of proposed math textbooks because they supposedly contained “critical race theory” (CRT), a university-level academic concept exploring the impact of racism on various institutions.

The agency, however, hasn’t shared any concrete examples of CRT in the texts, and reviews of some of the rejected texts by the New York Times suggest the closest they ever came to the concept were math problems involving social-emotional learning, a pedagogy method encouraging students to use their empathy and social skills when problem-solving.

This concept, too, has been deemed a pernicious influence by some on the right.

“The intention of SEL,” Chris Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told the Times in March, “is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.”

Some Florida leaders have said they resent the growing hostility towards parts of the curriculum.

“This group, this Florida Citizens Alliance, is engaging in conduct that is this divisive," Florida attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who is running to be the state’s attorney general, told USA Today. "It’s discriminatory. It’s contrary to the bedrock of our country.”

Ms Meyers spends a lot of time thinking about how young people experience the world, and she thinks the push to erase certain titles will have a number of negative impacts on children themselves, an ironic twist given the emphasis of the book ban list on protecting youth.

“It’s nice for children to be able to see people like themselves, family like themselves. That’s been one of the great things, now there’s been a huge push in children’s books to have a diverse group of children shown in the books. They can say, ‘That child looks like me. That family looks like my family,’” she said.

‘Everywhere Babies,” a book by author Susan Meyers, has been banned in a dozen schools in Walton County, Florida, despite receiving high praise from parenting groups and appearing on numerous Best Books lists
‘Everywhere Babies,” a book by author Susan Meyers, has been banned in a dozen schools in Walton County, Florida, despite receiving high praise from parenting groups and appearing on numerous Best Books lists (Susan Meyers)

It also takes away the chance for kids to think for themselves, Ms Meyers continued.

“Adults have been trying to indoctrinate children forever,” she said. “Children come into the world knowing nothing. They have to figure it all out. Parents that go overboard, either from the left or the right, they do their children a disservice. They have to grow up and figure things out themselves.”

It’s not just children’s books where this battle over identity and parenthood is playing out. On 28 March, Governor DeSantis signed what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.

LGTBQ advocates argue the policy is yet another attempt by the conservative state to erase them from public life. The bill has been challenged with a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit, and has prompted Disney, one of Florida’s major employers, to cease political donations in the state.

Florida-style bills targeting LGTBQ identities and attacking the spectre of critical race theory have proliferated across the country.

Susan Meyers wonders if book-banning policies could backfire, however. From what she knows about children, they love when things are fair, and they don’t like being told what to do.

“That’s why they should have lots of stuff available to them, not try to restrict their view of the world,” she said. “Sometimes when you try to restrict a child’s view of the world in whatever way you do, they grow up rebelling against it.”

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