A lone parent filed a complaint to a Florida school district that a book in the Arthur series—yes, the same Arthur from the beloved PBS animated show—contained references to Spin the Bottle, and now it’s possibly on the district’s chopping block.
A member of the Clay County School District community, based in Green Cove Springs, filed the challenge on July 12 to Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Birthday, a children’s book geared towards students in kindergarten to sixth grade. District spokesperson Terri Dennis told The Daily Beast that it was among 45 challenged titles now “pending oversight committee review.”
On Wednesday, the district provided The Daily Beast with the stack of challenge forms the school district had received for July. At least eight book challenges filed that month were submitted by a local conservative activist named Bruce Friedman.
Arthur’s Birthday details the title character’s upcoming birthday and how it falls on the same day as another party for a classmate, who happens to be a girl. Arthur wants all of his friends to show up, and figures out a plan to combine the parties together. At the end, Arthur receives a “Spin the Bottle” present from one of the girls.
On his form, Friedman wrote, “PROTECT CHILDREN!! IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE TO DISCUSS ‘SPIN THE BOTTLE’ WITH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN. THIS BOOK IS FOUND IN ALL/ALMOST ALL [DISTRICT SCHOOLS]!”
Friedman continued to scribble across the form how “SPIN THE BOTTLE” is “NOT OKAY FOR K-5 KIDS!” and how the content could potentially “DAMAGE SOULS.” He also included images from the book that he felt were not suitable for its intended audience.
“The entire book is about being inclusive of all friends and not only inviting boys or girls (based on your gender) to your birthday party,” literary watchdog Florida Freedom to Read Project wrote on Twitter.
Reagan Miller, a member of Florida Freedom to Read Project, said she believes book banners are just trying to create “chaos in the education system” and make a boogeyman out of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I think it’s more to keep feeding a narrative,” she told The Daily Beast, suggesting that even Barney & Friends could be the next target.
Friedman wrote disapproving notes on other book challenge forms. However, he also included disparaging comments about librarians, suggested that district administrators needed to be fired, and consistently berated some authors for being “repeat offenders.”
Dennis told The Daily Beast that “95 [percent] of the book challenges in Clay County come from one individual in the community.” She didn’t specify who that individual was, but Friedman is responsible for nearly all book challenges in the county, according to independent newsletter Popular Information.
Friedman is the president of Florida’s chapter of No Left Turn in Education, a group known for fear-mongering the teachings of Critical Race Theory. According to the group’s website, its goal is to “use all forms of media to expose the radical indoctrination in K-12 education.”
At a Florida Department of Education meeting in December, Friedman bragged about creating a list of over 3,600 books that he felt contained “concerning content,” Popular Information reported. In June 2022, Friedman’s mic was cut off when he attempted to read a rape scene aloud during a school board meeting.
Friedman declined an interview request with The Daily Beast on Thursday. “No thank you,” he wrote in an email.
Clay County School District’s Library Media Services Manual states that “challenged materials should be presented to the District Curriculum Council.”
“Materials under question will be held until a decision has been made,” the manual reads. “A decision to remove materials from the library media center is based on the recommendation of the District Curriculum Council and the final decision of the Superintendent or designee.”
If a book is resubmitted as part of a complaint, the oversight committee—media and academic administrators within the district—can choose to completely chuck the book from schools’ libraries or dismiss the challenge. If the person who filed the complaint wants to appeal the group’s decision, then the school board schedules a hearing and they make the final call.
According to district records, as of Thursday, Arthur’s Birthday is still “Pending Oversight Committee Review.”