POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The approximately three dozen members chosen to sit on two book review committees in Polk County will be given their first books to review at a meeting Tuesday evening.
The books were ordered to be removed from school library shelves by Superintendent Frederick Heid in January.
“It’s a very complicated and delicate issue with concerns on both sides,” the superintendent said in a meeting last month.
The group “County Citizens Defending Freedom USA” (CCDF-USA) warned the superintendent that a collection of 16 books could violate state laws on harmful and obscene material.
To protect staff from criminal liability, Heid said, the books would be taken out of circulation pending review.
The books are:
- “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
- “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
- “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
- “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
- “Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart
- “George” by Alex Gino
- “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
- “Drama” by Raina Telgmeier
- “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult
- “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
- “The Bluest Eyes” by Toni Morrison
- “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins
- “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher
CCDF-USA claimed the books contained sexually explicit and violent material.
The committee members will be split into two groups and each committee will read and review eight books. They will vote by signature ballot on whether the books should be removed from all libraries, transferred to another age group or go back on the shelves.
CCDF, a tax-exempt non-profit organization, was formed last year, according to state records. Its primary address is listed as Highland Precision Ag and Highland Ag Solutions, a business in Mulberry.
CCDF’s president is Steve Maxwell, the chairman of Highland Precision Ag’s board. Other leadership positions include Vice President John Durham, Treasurer David Bendett and Secretary Jimmy Nelson, according to state records.
8 On Your Side attempted to interview Maxwell or anyone from CCDF Tuesday but were told nobody was available.
Videos on CCDF’s website show Hannah Petersen serving as Polk executive director. She is known for gathering support against mask mandates at schools.
“Our voices are being silenced,” she told 8 On Your Side in an interview last April.
Petersen has not responded to News Channel 8’s requests for an interview about CCDF.
CCDF’s website states it “empowers and equips American citizens to defend their freedoms and liberties at the local level.” Its partners include national conservative-leaving groups “Turning Point USA,” “America’s Future” and “The Liberty Counsel.” The website shows affiliate groups either established or in the works in other areas of Florida, Texas and Georgia.
According to the American Library Association, there has been an uptick nationwide in challenges to books involving racial and LGBTQ+ issues.
“Book banning is really an authoritarian and autocratic impulse that denies individual liberty. Denies our freedoms,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom. “All of them are books published by mainstream publishers. They will not meet the legal test for what is inappropriate for minors or harmful for minors.”