Panelists vote to keep 'The Vincent Boys' and 'George' in Polk school libraries

The two books reviewed this week by Polk County Public Schools committees were "The Vincent Boys" by Abii Glines and "George" by Alex Gino.
The two books reviewed this week by Polk County Public Schools committees were "The Vincent Boys" by Abii Glines and "George" by Alex Gino.

LAKELAND — Two book-review committees voted overwhelmingly this week to keep “George” by Alex Gino and “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines in Polk County Schools' media centers.

Most wanted “George” to be available at all grade levels, with no one voting to remove it from all libraries, and “The Vincent Boys” reserved for high schools students only, with three wanting it removed from schools entirely.

They are the third and fourth books of 16 to be reviewed by two committees made up of residents, educators, parents and students.

The issue in Polk schools began late last year when Concerned Citizens Defending Freedom found that 16 books they say are objectionable were available in PCPS media centers. CCDF declared the books as ones that are “harmful to children” or meet the definition of pornographic under Florida State Statutes 847.001 and 847.012. Distributing pornography to minors is illegal and a third-degree felony.

16 books were put in 'quarantine'

PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid placed the books in “quarantine” at the end of January until they could be reviewed and determined whether they were pornographic, harmful or age-appropriate.

None of the complaint forms on the 16 books were filled out by a Polk County resident. Instead, CCDF gave Heid 133 pages of material compiled by Florida Citizens Alliance, which describes itself as a "nonprofit that champions K-12 education reform in Florida." According to its leaders, the group has about 110,000 members in organizations statewide and has been working on removing books from libraries for at least the past five years.

FLCA said that “despite the severity of these offenses, this issue is blatantly ignored in most Florida counties.” FLCA and CCDF say “all of the novels in question contain indecent and offensive material.”

Some of the books they say are indecent and contain offensive material are books that are about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer people.

“While some of the LGBTQ-focused novels are being utilized in elementary schools, a majority of them are targeted for pre-kindergarten children, and children ranging from ages twelve months to eight years, promote gender self-identification and same sex-marriage; this endorsement violates Florida’s Constitution, and infringes upon the rights of its citizens,” the group says.

Committee Two members, left to right, Haines City High School IB student Ellen Jones, Florida Southern College  Professor Erica Bernheim, and Lake Region High School Library/Media Specialist Danielle Doyle. The group met Tuesday at the Jim Miles Professional Development Center in south Lakeland.
Committee Two members, left to right, Haines City High School IB student Ellen Jones, Florida Southern College Professor Erica Bernheim, and Lake Region High School Library/Media Specialist Danielle Doyle. The group met Tuesday at the Jim Miles Professional Development Center in south Lakeland.

The group has ignored a court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal in Florida, which some book review committee members have mentioned during meetings.

PCPS spokesman Kyle Kennedy said the district’s Pre-K students do not have access to any of the books on the list in any of their media centers – and even if these 4- and 5-year-olds could access them, they most likely would not be able to read them.

“George” and “I Am Jazz” are both about transgender children and written for younger readers. “George” is a chapter book with a fifth-grade reading level and a middle interest level (grades 4-8). “I Am Jazz” is at a third-grade reading level and a lower grade interest level (grades K-3).

“Pre-K students, if they visit the media center, visit for story time and choose from a set of books the teacher and/or media specialist has specifically set aside for them,” Kennedy explained. “They would select from our lowest books by grade and interest level. Most Pre-K students do not read, and please remember neither of these titles are ‘taught.’”

Two committees were formed to read and review eight books each. The committees consist of 17 adults each. In addition, more than a dozen students are rotating participation for each review.



"George" by Alex Gino, a book for middle grades about a girl struggle with her gender.
"George" by Alex Gino, a book for middle grades about a girl struggle with her gender.

“George” is a 2015 novel, published by Scholastic, about a transgender fourth-grader who was born a male but secretly wants to be a female. She eventually declares to her mother, brother and best friend that she is a girl. It also wrestles with a deep friendship, bullies, divorced parents, and the dynamics of being in a school play — E.B. White’s “Charlotte's Webb.” Themes from that classic — transformation, loyalty, and sacrifice — are woven into the story.

When asked by Lambda Literary, an advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer books and authors, why they wrote the book, Gino said that books had been an invaluable resource when they were in college and trying to figure out who they were.

“I think about who I would be now if I had experienced positive representations of transness in the world as a kid,” Gino said. “Like a lot of marginalized writers, I wrote the book I wish I had read ... I’ve always loved children’s literature.”

Gino’s debut novel, aimed at “middle grades,” earned the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the E.B. White Honor.

The Florida Citizens Alliance complaint, written by someone with the last name Hall who lives in Putnam County, states that it includes material that:

  • Is age inappropriate and hyper-sexualizes children, violating numerous Florida Statutes.

  • Contains bias or indoctrination – "the target audience is subjecting all readers to LGBTQ agenda.”

  • Explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct that is harmful to minors.

“The power of suggestion can make what is inappropriate, appropriate, especially in a child’s mind,” the reviewer wrote. “Children are very impressionable. Children look up to adults; especially teachers. These are true facts. So if we want a society that honors truth we should start with the very basics. Are we born male or female? Truth is for all to see; our body determines this. Then that truth should be nourished, encouraged, and fulfilled. Discouraging the truth causes stress and chaos, ultimately causing disfunction (sic). These are real concerns; and the reason for so many studies. Why deny truth for fantasy for anyone (children especially). Why let 2% totally influence 98% of our society? By all means we should help the 2% mature into what nature intended.”

The review concludes that “this material is so flawed or objectionable that it is not recommended for use in public school.”

As the review committee on Tuesday night discussed "George,” one of the questions they considered was the purpose of the book. Many said it was “entertainment,” but some said it offered support for transgender students, who might not see themselves in any other literary work available for students.

“It is a piece of fiction, but I also included support because it gives the reader the opportunity to view life through the lens of a transgender girl that the world still sees as boy,” said Nicole Iatarola, a library media specialist at George Jenkins High School. “It also kind of supports trans students, their parents, allies and people that might not quite understand the concept of transgender.”

Jill Dorsett is a member of Concerned Citizens of Polk, a nonprofit organization that facilitates meetings between government agencies and community-based organizations, and handles citizen complaints about government services or customer service issues.

Dorsett also agreed the book provided support to the LGBTQ community.

By the end of the book, "the main character is able to fearlessly and confidently live their life out loud,” Dorsett said.

Dorsett added that when filling out the form, she said the book would be appropriate only for middle and high school grades because of a recent bill passed by the Florida Legislature.

The Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, also called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, says “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“Based on the quote-unquote ‘Don't Say Gay’ bill is the only reason why I did not include it for elementary grades, so I would prefer six to 12,” Dorsett said.

Kathy Bucklew is a member of CCDF, which brought the complaint against “George” and 15 other books in PCPS libraries. She said it is inappropriate for elementary aged children.

“It's not that I don't want material for transgender children – I do – and this book may be appropriate with a parent and the counselor or provider that works with a child who's having gender dysphoria,” Bucklew said. “If we leave it in their grade school, grade school children, the majority of which don't have transgender thoughts or gender dysphoria of any kind, it's going to put such a negative light on young boys that it could cause more gender confusion for a normal child.”

Bucklew said she was appalled that the book stereotypes boys as “athletic, enthralled with gross things, and have poor hygiene.

“Young boys are interested in music, they like to cook, they may be interested in women’s fashions and becoming a fashion designer,” Bucklew said. “And I think the language, using the pronouns for she and talking about him as a boy with the two different views, I thought it was a very clever way to help us feel the confusion, but I think it’s too complex for grade school.”

According to a June 2016 report from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, 1.4 million people in the United States identify as transgender. That’s 0.42% of the U.S. population of 330 million people. Florida has the sixth highest percentage of transgender adults in the country, at 0.66%.

Holly Barnett, the parent of students at Lakeland High School and Winston Academy, questioned how you tell a story about a transgender girl, who faces bullying for being “a freak” (as she is called by one of the bullies in the book), without saying she is transgender.

“I was, like, 20 years old when I came out to my mother and I was terrified,” Barnett said. “I can’t imagine having something in front of me that said, ‘Well, ok, you could say this,’” Barnett said.

She added that she thought about a transgender girl in her son’s elementary school who returned for the sixth grade, announced she was a girl, and asked that people call her by her new name.

“To think that there are not children in our school system who are experiencing this and that particular child, I know she experienced so much inner turmoil, there was family issues, there were suicidal things,” Barnett said, noting that it is important for children like this “to be able to pick up a book, her, herself to pick up a book and see herself in it.”

Chels Davis, a Boone Middle School counselor and nonbinary woman, said she loved the characterizations in the book. According to, nonbinary is a term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of the two categories of male or female, or is a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman.

“Each of the characters felt like a full person, as much as you could get in an elementary school chapter book,” Davis said. “We feel her heartbreak and we feel her joy. I felt this was presented from the eyes of a fourth grader and it hits that mark.”

Colton Rankey, an English teacher at Davenport High School, said he thinks all types of children should read this book.

"I think if I had read this book, I would’ve come out a little nicer – not that I was a mean kid,” he said. “I think I would’ve thought more positively about others.”

"George" was available at: Citrus Ridge Academy, Pinewood Elementary, Jewett School of the Arts, Lake Alfred Polytech, and Mulberry Middle. Records with PCPS show it was checked out seven times at all but Pinewood.

Votes on “George”

  • Zero to remove the book from all libraries.

  • Fourteen to keep the book at all school libraries.

  • Three to keep the book at middle and high school levels.

  • One to keep the book at high school level only.

'The Vincent Boys'

"The Vincent Boys" by Abbi Glines.
"The Vincent Boys" by Abbi Glines.

“The Vincent Boys” is a teen romance novel that involves a love triangle between a “preacher’s daughter” and two cousins. One boy is portrayed as the town “bad boy,” while the other is “perfect.” The book is told from the viewpoints of all three main characters in different chapters. About a third of the book leads up to the girl's first act of love-making and all that entails in terms of flirting, kissing, touching and arousal. The sex act itself is described, although not explicitly.

The FLCA reviewer’s last name was Rooksberry and lives in Collier County. Rooksberry listed 20 examples from the text that they felt were:

“Harmful to minors ” any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever kind or form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it:

  • Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;

  • Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and

  • Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

The reviewer also found it to be:

  • Pornographic.

  • Not suitable material or conduct for minors per existing statutes, involves nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement.

  • Contains explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct and that is harmful to minors.

Polk County reviewers were asked if the work had literary merit.

“The whole time I was reading this, (I thought) it's a soap opera, right?” said Lindsey Persohn, who serves on the education committee of the Lakeland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It's very soapy to me. The whole thing – its cheesy dialogue, one of those tangled plotlines, some kind of predictable events. So that definitely influenced my thinking about whether or not it had literary merit. But soap operas have been around for almost 100 years, so in that way it made me think maybe it does, you know.”

Ellen Jones, a junior at Haines City High School’s International Baccalaureate program, compared it to one of the plot lines in “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy’s sweeping epic about the French invasion of Russia and a literary masterpiece.

"I was comparing it to other works that I had read, I watched on television, but one thing that I sort of made the connection with it was part of ‘War and Peace,’ the story, sort of the love triangle of it and that their relationships with the people around them reminded me of the characters of Tasha, Andre and Anatole,” Jones said. “So they have a similar sort of situation where the person that someone is with is away and well, that happens. She gets into a relationship with someone else.”

But Erica Bernheim, a creative writing professor at Florida Southern College, summed up what most of the second panel seemed to feel about the book. Many laughed or nodded their heads in agreement as she spoke.

“While the prose and the plot are clearly not Nobel Laureate-level writing or even always grammatically correct, I would say that a novel like ‘The Vincent Boys’ serves an important role in showing students the differences in writing styles, introducing concepts like high art and low art and, without a basis for comparison, students might not realize the differences between good and bad writing, cliched language, plotting, characterization and other elements,” Bernheim said. “It does present different perspectives, which for me, in terms of literary merit, does show an important level of attention to craft and detail. So I did want to advocate, surprisingly, for literary merit on that basis.”

Matti Friedt, who recently retired as the Polk County school district's Pre-K director and is a member of CCDF, did not feel the book had literary merit.

“After talking with my teenage grandchildren, I think this is a very stereotypic way to define children,” Friedt said. “And I wasn't sold. They didn't seem to have that same kind of viewpoint. Of course, they were talking to their elderly grandmother that would probably have a heart attack, so maybe they weren't as clean with their opinion as you were. I didn't feel like these characters were well defined at all. I felt like these characters were very underdeveloped and shallow, shallow storyline, so maybe that's why I don't think it has any literary merit.”

PCPS records show only George Jenkins High School had a copy of the book, and it has not been checked out in the past two years.

Votes on 'The Vincent Boys'

  • Three to remove the book.

  • Zero to keep the book at ALL school libraries.

  • Two to keep the book at middle and high school levels.

  • Thirteen to keep the book at high school level only.

Returning them to shelves

The 16 books in question have all been removed from media centers and placed in “quarantine” until they are reviewed and the School Board can vote on them.

Dr. Michael Sherry, a USF English professor and a panelist on Committee One, asked when the books would be returned to media center shelves.

"I wonder, once the books are voted on, if they can be returned to schools as the committee kind of moves through or if you'll have to wait until the end of this?” Sherry asked.

Ann Everett, PCPS senior director of K-12 curriculum and instruction, clarified the process.

"As board meetings come, then books that have been reviewed at that point will be presented to the board,” Everett said. “And then as they're approved, if they're approved, then they will be returned.”

The committees will meet again on March 29. The School Board will vote on these and other books reviewed at its next meeting on April 26.

Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Polk review committees: 'The Vincent Boys' and 'George' get a nod