Kansas City mom Casey Thomas had always thought of her neighborhood’s free “little library” book exchange as a blessing – until Sunday, when she was startled to find books containing sexually graphic illustrations and content.
“I often let my 7-year-old come here unattended to pick up some books,” she said in a video posted to her Facebook group, Conservative KC Moms. “Please check in, look at the books in there before you’re like me and trust that your neighborhood’s a safe one where your kids can go look at these materials.”
Thomas said the books were placed in the little library by Matt Sameck, who nearly won a seat as a Liberty School District board candidate in April. The Liberty Parents for Public Schools organization endorsed Sameck before the election.
Thomas noted the following titles placed in the neighborhood library: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson; Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kulin; and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
“This is an act of trying to steal innocence and pushing pornography,” she said. “Someone has gone outside of their neighborhood and is pushing pornographic materials for children, about children, in my neighborhood. And somebody’s got to do something about it.”
All these books appear on a public GoFundMe fundraiser, “Help Get Banned Books in Little Free Libraries,” which Thomas says began with Sameck and his wife.
Sameck did not respond to requests for comment on the GoFundMe fundraiser, which lists about 60 books that organizers planned to purchase and distribute at neighborhood little libraries.
In her Facebook group video, Thomas read aloud an excerpt from All Boys Aren’t Blue, which describes two underage male cousins engaging in sexual intercourse [Warning: the following passage is explicit]:
You told me to take off my pajama pants, which I did. You then took off your shorts. There you stood in front of me, fully erect, and said, “Taste it. Come on, Matt, taste it.” That is what boys like us do when we like each other. The whole time I knew it was wrong not because I was having sexual intercourse with a guy, but because you were my family. That’s when you began oral sex on me as well.
All three titles that Thomas cites had appeared on the list of top 10 most challenged books for 2021 and 2014, according to the American Library Association.
Thomas said distributing this type of content in a free neighborhood book exchange allows children of any age to find them without any school librarian or adult to monitor or supervise.
“To me, this is the same as had these pornographic materials been left on a park bench in the playground,” she said, adding that her neighborhood’s little library shares a parking lot with a nearby playground. “There is no monitoring, there is no librarian. This is in our neighborhoods.”
‘Front and center’
Thomas was able to witness the moment when two strangers began distributing materials into the little library, as she said her house is across the street from it.
“We were pulling in the driveway, and I saw a couple there with two large plastic tubs, with books in them,” she said.
At first Thomas thought they were taking books out of the little public library. Her family watched them from the window, and she said her husband recognized the man as Sameck.
Thomas said she took pictures of them on her phone because she did not feel comfortable taking her children outside with her to confront them. After they left, Thomas walked over to the little library to see what had happened.
“I don’t know whether they took books out of the library to put those in there, but their books were front and center,” she said. “They were very obvious because they were all next to each other and they were, like, the only brand-new books in the little library.”
Thomas said the added book titles matched the ones listed on the GoFundMe fundraiser. She was already familiar with the All Boys Aren’t Blue book, but she found nothing there to alert children or parents about its pornographic descriptions.
“There’s no explicit content warning on here,” she said of all the books added to the little library. Of the All Boys Aren’t Blue book, she said it didn’t have the word “sex” in the title or anything on its cover to indicate that it was meant for readers 14 years and older.
“The cover is of a young man, it’s art, it uses the word boys, it’s targeted to children,” she said. “And that’s what’s really concerning about it, too. If I wasn’t an informed citizen and already knew to be on the watch about this, my child could have brought this home and I could have been none the wiser.”
Thomas said that, just like many parents wouldn’t feel comfortable having their young children watch an R-rated movie, they should also consider boundaries on books describing sexual intercourse.
Thomas shared her discovery with other area moms, who then checked their own neighborhood libraries and reported they had found the same materials from the GoFundMe fundraiser.
“The little library’s architecturally designed for access by children, for children, which is what makes this so concerning,” she said, adding that over 80% of her little library’s items are children’s books.
Little libraries are frequently in suburban neighborhoods, Thomas noted, and people began to use them more while homebound during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But closeness and convenience also play a part in their use. “We utilize ours a lot just because of proximity and because I have young children at home,” she says.
School districts sometime argue in favor of having controversial books such as All Boys Aren’t Blue in their libraries because they’re considered appropriate for children at the high school level and parents can choose to opt out at any time.
But adult oversight can disappear entirely when such materials are in a neighborhood book exchange, Thomas argues.
“The little library’s a free-for-all,” she said. “You take away any sort of monitoring when you throw this in a little library less than three feet off the ground.”
Increasing community concern
These events take place against a national backdrop of heightened parental and community concern about questionable materials and content used in public schools and increasingly available to children:
- A school librarian in Springfield, Illinois, made her TikTok account private after promoting the sexually graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which raised an outcry from a local parenting group.
- The town of Edwardsville, Kansas, recently struck down obscenity protections for school and library officials found presenting obscene materials to minors. “It was pretty shocking to see that anyone would have an exemption,” said mayor Carolyn Caiharr, “when it comes to showing obscene materials to children in our community.”
- A school board meeting in Michigan was suspended after parents protested the fate of sexually explicit books that had been removed from the school library, but may be reinstated under a new review process.
- In Oklahoma, a high school teacher resigned after she was found encouraging her students to access books, some of which contained pornographic material, through a QR code.
Proponents of these materials often argue that people disagreeing with their stance are book banners advocating for mass censorship. Yet, that misses the historical context and definition of censorship, according to a Heritage Foundation op-ed by Jay Greene.
“If we adopt the expansive view of book banning as not having a work physically present in a school library, then we are all book banners,” Greene wrote.
Greene points to other nations that legally ban or prohibit hundreds of books, including literary and philosophical classics. Under these regimes, anyone publishing, distributing, or owning such items faces the danger of arrests and imprisonment.
“No one involved in the debate over which books should be required in school curriculums or available in school libraries is advocating banning books, since no one is suggesting that the producers, distributors, or owners of books be arrested or punished,” he writes.
Thomas urges parents to monitor their neighborhood’s little libraries and speak up if they find materials that contain sexually explicit content.
“We always want to encourage these little libraries,” she said. “They’re a great asset to our community. Donate to them. But we apparently have to be vigilant.”