Kansas library board decides to keep ‘Fred Gets Dressed’ despite mother’s complaint

By: - May 26, 2022 2:46 pm
"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)

“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 — The Oakley Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to keep a children’s book over objections from a woman who asked for its removal.

Janna Leitner tried to ban “Fred Gets Dressed,” by Peter Brown, from the public library after her two children, ages 9 and 11, discovered the book and brought it to their mother’s attention. Library staff told Kansas Reflector that the woman, who was identified in meeting minutes, was troubled by what she viewed as LGBTQ content.

The book is about a boy who loves to “romp through the house naked and wild and free” and tries on his mother’s clothes. Brown, a bestselling author of children’s books, is a straight, cisgender man who wrote the book about an experience he had as a little boy.

The library board heard Leitner’s concerns during an April 27 meeting. The minutes from that meeting reference a discussion about whether the book is appropriate for children. The board decided “to table the censorship issue” until the May 25 board meeting, the minutes said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, library director Victoria Halbleib asked to provide a statement for the record, according to unofficial minutes obtained by Kansas Reflector.

“To ban a book is fundamentally wrong,” Halbleib said. “I am sorry that Mrs. Leitner and her children were disturbed by the content of this book, however, the content of any book has no power over us unless we open it and continue to look or read it. This is not about defending or condoning the content of this book or other material in this library. This is a censorship issue; it is about the right of every patron who comes through the door to have the freedom to decide for themselves what they will read. Please do not censor and remove this book from our collection.”

The board voted 6-0 not to remove the book, according to the minutes. The board also voted to order a plain hard copy of the book — the existing copy is a “wonderbook,” which includes audio — and place it on the regular bookshelf, rather than put it on display.

Brown previously said this was the first known attempt to ban his book.

“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.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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