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Authors Of 'Jacob's New Dress' Weigh In On CMS Decision To Pull Book

Last week almost to the day of the one year anniversary of House Bill 2, a children’s book made some news. “Jacob’s New Dress" was initially picked to be a part of first graders' reading selection in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  But it was pulled after a teacher reportedly complained. Superintendent Ann Clark issued a vague statement citing “concerns” about the book.

What those concerns are exactly, depends on who you ask. The book’s main character is Jacob, a young boy who likes to wear dresses. The book explores how he navigates being picked on in school for doing so. Sarah and Ian Hoffman are the coauthors of the book; they live in California. WFAE’s Sarah Delia spoke to them about the decision to remove the book.

For married couple Sarah and Ian Hoffman, writing about a gender non-conforming child wasn’t hard. When their 14-year-old son Sam was little, he wanted to play dress up with traditionally feminine things: pink sneakers or a princess outfit. In talking to other parents with gender non-conforming kids, the Hoffmans felt like there needed to be more resources for families.

"We envisioned Jacob’s New Dress as a way to support families like ours and boys like Sam," Sarah said. "Because for a kid that is different, it’s really powerful to see yourself in print."

The Hoffmans—not their real names by the way, everyone in the family has a pseudonym for safety and privacy reasons—were somewhat caught off guard that the book was pulled.

"Surprised by the timing of it," Ian said. "This book has been out for a few years and so suddenly we are in the news which we wouldn’t have expected. Surprised that a school district pulled it? Not particularly."

The couple said a similar situation happened years ago in Lancaster, PA. It wasn’t pulled; it was read in a kindergarten classroom.  Parents were mad they didn’t have a notice and it became a controversy.

"The idea that a book can turn a child gay or transgender or anything else is confusing to us. If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King Jr., is that kid going to become black? This book is about a boy who wears a dress and we think it will resonate with other little boys and girls who are different," Sarah Hoffman said.

Ian added: "We understand this is a new thing for a lot of the world."

For the record, the couple doesn't have any negative feelings towards North Carolina. 

"You know we’re not part of your community so we don’t understand what the pressures are," Ian said. "We understand there’s a lot of division going on, but we can’t comment on that since we don’t live there."

Sarah added that many in North Carolina have reached out to the couple in the last week with words of encouragement and support. 

The publicity generated by the controversy last week has helped sales. Typically they sell 20-30 copies on Amazon in a week. They sold 218 copies last week on Amazon.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.