Woman wants Kansas library to get rid of children’s book about boy who dresses in mom’s clothes

Complaint with ‘Fred Gets Dressed’ focuses on drawings of naked boy, perceived LGBTQ content

By: - May 10, 2022 8:00 am
"Fred Gets Dressed," by Peter Brown, depicts a young boy who likes to romp naked through the house and gets dressed in his mother's clothes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“Fred Gets Dressed,” by Peter Brown, depicts a young boy who likes to romp naked through the house and gets dressed in his mother’s clothes. Brown based on the book on an experience from his own life. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — An Oakley woman wants to ban a children’s book from the public library because it contains drawings of a naked boy who gets dressed in his mother’s clothes.

The Oakley Public Library Board of Trustees could decide later this month whether to get rid of “Fred Gets Dressed,” by New York Times bestselling author Peter Brown, after the woman filed a formal complaint regarding the book’s content.

Brown, responding to questions for this story, questioned the woman’s sense of humor, called her un-American and rejected her concern that his book contains LGBTQ content.

“This crap really fires me up,” Brown said.

The book, which is intended for children ages 3 to 6 years old, is about a boy who loves to “romp through the house naked and wild and free.” The boy wanders into his mother’s closet and tries on her blouse, scarf, shoes, jewelry and makeup. When he is discovered by his parents, “the whole family” — including the father and dog — “joins the fun.”

The book ends with an image of a bare-bottomed Fred running through the house in his mom’s attire.

A series of drawings in "Fred Gets Dressed," by Peter Brown, show Fred romping naked through the house. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
A series of drawings in “Fred Gets Dressed,” by Peter Brown, show Fred romping naked through the house. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Patricia Keyes, assistant director of the Oakley Public Library, declined to identify the woman who objected to the book or provide a copy of her complaint. Keyes said the woman’s two children, ages 9 and 11, discovered the book and brought it to their mother’s attention. The mother was troubled by what she viewed as LGBTQ content, Keyes said.

“Her concerns were the boy runs around naked and then gets dressed in his mother’s clothes,” Keyes said. “Her children brought it to her attention. And then it went from there. Her children looked at the book in the children’s room and then brought it out to her, and showed her, and she did not like the content.”

Oakley is a community of about 2,000 people along Interstate 70 in the northwest corner of Kansas. Keyes said library staff was unaware of any other challenge to a book in the past 25 years.

Keyes said she ordered the book because she “started seeing this book everywhere,” and the library had encountered problems with securing copies of popular children’s books in the past. The library’s copy of “Fred Gets Dressed” sat on the shelf for two months before the woman filed her complaint April 12, Keyes said.

Before that, Keyes said, the book had caught the attention of a 4-year-old whose mother also thought the book was inappropriate.

“They just passed on the book and left it on the shelf,” Keyes said. “They didn’t pick it out because they did not want to read this book. But they didn’t complain about it. Censorship is nobody else can read this because I don’t like the content. And that’s exactly what’s happening: ‘I don’t like the content of this book, so nobody can read it.’ And that’s what we’re trying to get across. It doesn’t really matter what the content of the book is — we don’t condone it or say, ‘Hey, we like this content.’ But everybody should be allowed, if they want, to read it.”

(Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
In “Fred Gets Dressed,” the whole family gets in on the fun after discovering Fred has dressed like his mom. Peter Brown, the book’s author, said the book is about a young boy who “is so loved and accepted by his parents that he feels free to play and explore in any way that comes naturally to him.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The library board considered the woman’s complaint during a meeting April 27, and plans to make a decision on May 25. In the meantime, Keyes said, the book “still sits on the shelf.”

Brown said this was the first he had heard of an attempt to ban “Fred Gets Dressed” anywhere.

“But given the political climate of America these days, I figured it was only a matter of time,” Brown said.

Brown said “Fred Gets Dressed” is about a boy who knows he is so loved by his parents that “he feels free to play and explore in any way that comes naturally to him.”

“The woman trying to ban ‘Fred Gets Dressed’ has the right to keep her children from reading the book, but controlling what other people can read? That’s downright un-American,” Brown said. “I think everyone needs to lighten up, and let children be whoever they’re going to be, and let them read what they want to read. Everything is going to be fine.

“Oh, and if a pair of naked buns doesn’t make this woman laugh, or at least smile, then she clearly has no sense of humor, and I have to seriously question her qualifications for judging children’s books.”

"Fred Gets Dressed" ends with this image of the boy running bare-bottomed in his mother's blouse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
“Fred Gets Dressed” ends with this image of the boy running bare-bottomed in his mother’s blouse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Brown is a straight, cisgender man who wrote the book about an experience he had as a little boy. But there are many children who, at a young age, “already feel a little different from their peers,” Brown said.

“Those children deserve to see their own life experiences reflected in books and culture,” Brown said. “Not only that, but all the non-LGBTQ kids need to learn to accept and appreciate their LGBTQ peers so we can all get along, in real life. Books are a great way to communicate those messages. But by removing that kind of content from libraries we are sending a clear message to children that certain ways of being are unacceptable. We’re telling LGBTQ children that if they want to survive they need to cover up who they really are. That sickens me. Call me old-fashioned, but I think we should accept people as they are.”

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said if the mother who objected to the book doesn’t want her kids to look at something she doesn’t approve of, she shouldn’t let her kids wander unsupervised.

“Taking a book away from everybody else because they’re afraid their kids might learn something is ridiculous,” Witt said.

George W. Seamon Jr., director of the Northwest Kansas Library System, said libraries oppose censorship because it is up to every individual to determine what they read and view, censorship denies parents the opportunity to parent, censorship harms those who are unable to access the information they want or need, censorship stifles expression and development, and censorship will not stop once it starts.

“The freedom to read and learn are fundamental foundations for all individuals and the democratic societies in which they live,” Seamon said. “An important part of reading and learning is experiencing different ideas, beliefs, cultures and alternative perspectives in life, which enrich our development and grow our society.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.