First Book offers explicit titles to classrooms ranging from K through 12, some with nudity and extreme sexual reference.
Low-income schools across America may be supplied with reading material from First Book, a nonprofit organization whose partnerships include Disney and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The First Book Marketplace allows teachers to stock their classrooms with free and deeply discounted books, but some parents and educators have discovered that free isn’t always better. Some of the publications in the nonprofit’s catalog contain explicit sexual content and others have been flagged for promoting controversial gender ideology.
The AFT-supported content in children’s books sold by First Book might’ve seemed unthinkable even a decade ago, but it follows a trend toward having more open discussions about sexuality. The trouble with these discussions happening in the classroom is that a teacher’s values may not match up with a student’s family values. This was demonstrated when a Texas educator was fired after ordering a student to say, “minor attracted persons” instead of “pedophiles” when referring to people sexually attracted to children.
Whether it comes from First Book titles or the media, exposing ever-younger children to blatant sexual content is worrisome for victims of sexual abuse and people who feel that it’s a type of grooming. With the increase in sexual abuse charges against school employees, this fear of grooming is not unfounded. In a piece for the Energetics Institute, psychotherapist Richard Boyd states that exposing children to graphic sexuality before they’re mature enough to understand it is mentally harmful.
“Psychiatrists define sexualization of children as the imposition of adult models of sexuality on children and adolescents, and categorically state it creates psychological harm to children.” Boyd goes on to say that childhood itself is under threat, with suggestive content like First Book’s forcing kids to let go of innocence too soon. He also states that as a society, we aren’t teaching children how to be children; instead, we expect them to act like adults without showing them how to live and behave as healthy adults.
Controversial First Book titles include Fred Gets Dressed, a story about a little boy who loves being naked, but finally invites his whole family inside his mom’s closet to dress in feminine attire. The picture book marketed for kids aged four to six has 14 illustrations of Fred in the nude. Flamer, a graphic novel full of sexual topics and nude teen boy illustrations, was once on the First Book Marketplace but has since been removed.
The First Book Marketplace still includes Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World, a young adult book about two teenage boys who fall in love and explicitly details the sexual side of their relationship. It and its sequel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, warn that “Young Adult titles may contain mature content. Please review each title carefully before selecting it.”
Although the warning may provide some legal protection to First Book, the website’s brief summary excludes any information about controversial content. The only review is on the second book, submitted by a teacher advising other educators to always double-check content before buying. “I bought this book for my elementary library since it was a chapter book with a low reading level… well I should have double-checked the content because it is not suited for an elementary library. That is completely my fault. I am sure it is a wonderful book, but not for the audience I bought it for.”
Indeed, since each teacher personally chooses the books for their classroom, the responsibility for students’ exposure to sexually graphic literature falls squarely on the shoulders of the educator. However, parents can contact First Book, the ATF, and other partners to ask them to keep questionable titles off schools’ bookshelves. It is worth noting that even though many First Book offerings are problematic, the nonprofit also has thousands of non-sexualized books in stock including Disney-branded leveled readers.