NORTH SMITHFIELD – Several parents are questioning the presence of certain books available in the libraries of North Smithfield public schools, saying some are “pornographic,” and that many are inappropriate for the age groups that currently have access to the literature.
“I don’t know how these books have made it into our libraries, onto our shelves, for our children to access, but it’s alarming to say the least,” Arianna Ramos, parent of a high school junior, told members of the school board last week. “I would like to know how this happened, and see what kind of actions are going to be taken to address this.”
The concerns have led School Committee Chairman James Lombardi to request a review of all library books at North Smithfield schools, with a report of the findings.
Parent Deborah Gianfrancesco presented a list of books currently on the shelves of school libraries that she found age inappropriate, which included Beloved; Two Boys Kissing; This One Summer; 13 Reasons Why; The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian; More Happy Than Not; Drama; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Tricks; Fly on the Wall; Sloppy Firsts; and The Truth About Alice.
Gianfrancesco read passages from some of the novels, warning that parents with young children might want to have them leave the room.
“He spreads her legs. Her palm pressed gently,” she read from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. “To me, this would be more of a porn book than anything else.”
From The Kite Runner, she read, “I knew your mother. Did you know that? I knew her real good. I took her from behind by the creek over there.”
“It’s very graphic,” she said. “This is also about homosexual rape. A child does get raped in this book.”
“Drama is about homosexuality,” Gianfrancesco said, noting that there’s one copy of the book at the high school, two in the middle school and four in the elementary school. “One of them is checked out at the elementary school which means a child, under 10, has a book about homosexuality.”
“I don’t know how other parents feel. I find it to be completely inappropriate,” she said.
Published in 2012, Drama is a graphic novel that depicts homosexual crushes, and was the seventh-most banned book between 2010 and 2019, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that aims to help parents and kids navigate media and technology, rated it appropriate for ages 10 and up.
The website rates The Kite Runner for ages 15 plus and Extremely Loud as appropriate for ages 14 and up.
“I don’t know who’s in charge of the book choices but I would not want my son to have access to any of these books,” Gianfrancesco said.
Ramos pointed in particular to books she said glorify teen suicide, including By the Time You Read This I’ll be Dead.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24,” Ramos said. “This was a book child psychologists have warned as have triggering content that includes details about how a person can commit suicide.”
Anne Marie Omweg, a 20 year resident of North Smithfield who noted she has extensive background in education, said the books concerning suicide are “dark and bleak,” while others are depicting, “deviant sexuality.”
“Political agendas are supported and even promoted in our schools,” Omweg said. “How low does the bar have to go before someone says ‘stop?'”
Parent Greg Galano asked those in the audience if they understood the severity of what had been read.
“Are we going to do something about this or is this going to continue to grow?” Galano asked.
Lombardi told NRI NOW this week that he’s submitted a request for a review of library books to Supt. Michael St. Jean, although he is not yet sure how long it will take to get the report.
“My position is that the administration needs to review the books, and make a determination on what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Lombardi said, adding that, regardless of the outcome, “anything pertaining to sexual acts at the elementary level is unacceptable to me.”
“There’s certain lines I will draw, but I will listen to arguments from both sides,” Lombardi said. “I can’t rationalize having a book that refers to specific sexual activity in any type of elementary school.”
“If a parent wants to buy books, that is their personal opinion for how they want to raise their child,” he added, noting that he’s unsure who picks the books that make it to school library shelves.
But before any decisions are made, Lombardi said, “I want to see the report.”
Asked if he was inclined toward banning or removing any books from public school libraries, Committee member Paul Jones said, “I didn’t interpret the parents at the last meeting asking us to ban any books. I took it more as them asking us to look at which books are in which school libraries and if some might be better understood by older students as opposed to elementary students, which is fair.”
“If there are any people out there who think we should be banning books in North Smithfield, then let me say simply: no,” Jones added.
School Committee member William Connell said he also wants to see what the superintendent has to say on the issue.
“I really have given it a lot of thought,” Connell said. “I want to keep an open mind and listen to what is presented.”