Charlotte-Mecklenburg school administrators had been planning to use Jacob’s New Dress, about a young boy who likes to wear dresses, in first-grade classes as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. On Friday, however, Superintendent Ann Clark told The New York Times that the 2014 book had been replaced “due to some concerns” about content. Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story, which follows a blue crayon misidentified with a red label, would be read instead.
Written by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, Jacob’s New Dress had been criticized by the N.C. Values Coalition, which supports “standards in higher education that do not violate religious freedom and free speech rights of students” and is opposed to same-sex marriage, according to its website.
“The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses,” an N.C. Values Coalition official wrote in a statement to The Charlotte Observer. Jacob’s New Dress, the official argued, was “not appropriate for any child whose parents support traditional family values.”
The Hoffmans, who reside in California, said the furor that Jacob’s New Dress had generated was “confusing,” telling The Charlotte Observer that their book’s message was one of “love and acceptance.” The couple based the book on their experiences raising their 14-year-old son, Sam, who favored pink and once asked to wear a dress to preschool.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, Ian Hoffman dismissed the N.C. Values Coalition’s claim that Jacob’s New Dress encouraged boys to wear dresses. “Our hope, when we wrote this book, was that someday it would be considered quaint,” he said. “We imagined future generations saying, ‘What was the fuss about?’ Clearly, there’s more work to do … our book is a small piece of a much larger effort to build a more empathetic, compassionate culture.”
In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, Sarah Hoffman echoed those sentiments, arguing against the implication that the book would somehow turn children gay or transgender. “If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said, “will they become black?”
The couple’s book has stirred controversy before. In 2015, some parents of kindergarten students in Pennsylvania’s Lampeter-Strasburg School District objected to Jacob’s New Dress being read to their children without prior notification.
An area pastor also spoke out against the book in an interview with Lancaster Online at the time, saying that a family associated with his church was troubled since they had a child in the class where the book had been read.
“I am not suggesting that any of the school officials are pushing the gay agenda, yet their actions give the appearance that they are,” Pastor Jamie Mitchell of Harvest Bible Chapel said. He called upon Lampeter-Strasburg school administrators to “apologize, take responsibility and then publicly promise never to introduce this kind of material with this kind of agenda to our children.”