The Julian Curtiss Elementary School library in Greenwich has a copy of the book, The Big Bath House, by Kyo Maclear and Gracey Zhang, in its collection, according to the online card catalog system.
The book, which is on American Library Association's (ALA's) 2022 list of Notable/Best Books for Younger Readers (PK-2), is about a young girl who visits a traditional bath house with her grandmother, aunts and cousins during a trip to Japan.
From the "TitlePeek" review:
"Maclear draws from loving memories of her summers as a little girl at her grandmother's house in Japan: each year, along with her aunties, they would go to the neighborhood bath house and enjoy long soaks. Even though they did not all share a common language, the women would find community and bond, especially at the bath house. Bodies of all shapes, sizes, and ages are depicted and celebrated, and the Japanese cultural tradition of bath houses is shared lovingly and joyously. The gorgeous illustrations feature delicately colored earth tones inside beautiful, loosely drawn, dark outlines."
Here are examples of the illustrations:
If you were surprised at seeing full frontal nudity in a book meant for young children, then clearly you must be a "squeamish American" or some kind of Puritan according to the School Library Journal (SLJ), which boasts that the book will "raise eyebrows" thanks to numerous images of naked women and children bathing together.
In fact, the SLJ, which is specifically referenced in the Julian Curtiss online card catalog listing, seems to delight in watching "the prigs and the prudes and the Puritans" express disapproval of the nudity depicted in the book.
Of course, there are plenty of children's books that do a wonderful job of celebrating Japanese cultural traditions, and plenty of terrific books promoting body positivity.
But concerned parents wonder why, out of the wide array of books available for purchase, would the school pick a book that normalizes bath house culture and children bathing with adults?
Was this a mere oversight?
Or is the librarian signaling alignment with the ALA and SLJ by choosing the book? And agreeing that parents should be mocked if they feel uncomfortable with a book telling young children to shed their clothes in front of strangers?
Library advocate Dan Kleinman, founder of the World Library Association (WLA), said, "the book by itself seems to be a respectful depiction of a cultural event in a foreign country where nudity in a communal bath setting is normal."
"That being said," he continued, "in America, full frontal nudity is not appropriate in an elementary school setting; it violates common sense and community standards. The real icing on the cake is that American Library Association has recommended this book for preschool through second grade. ALA means it a regular practice to sexualize children."
Kleinman said this is typically done by putting inappropriate, explicit books on "recommended reading" lists, writing glowing reviews, and then giving awards to the inappropriate books. Librarians are trained to look for these accolades when selecting books.
He offered an example of when ALA recommended the book Deal With It, by Esther Drill, as one of the best of the year for "reluctant young readers".
The book describes masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, orgasms, depicts graphic nudity, alternate sexualities, and more. It's rated "not for minors" by Book Looks.
But upon seeing ALA's recommendation, the New York City school system bought the book for all of its schools, literally hundreds of schools. New York City has one of the least prudish populations in the nation. Yet even in New York City, parents deemed the ALA's recommendation to be inappropriate, and demanded the book be pulled—and it was—from all schools.
Kleinman also wonders how the SLJ can justify using ridicule to bully and browbeat librarians into voluntarily setting aside common sense and community standards, and instead insert the "anything-goes standards" of the ALA that often focus on “inclusion".
"It appears to me the Julian Curtiss Elementary School library answers to ALA in Chicago, not to local citizens, and all common sense has been tossed aside," said Kleinman who feels that libraries should stop blindly following ALA recommendations, and instead reflect local community values.
Reflecting community values certainly sounds like good advice, doesn't it?