This won’t surprise you if you read my last post about Conroe ISD and noticed the role Tomball ISD trustee candidate Jennifer Kratky played in the book-challenge blitz that effectively railroaded CISD’s board into adopting a more restrictive book ban policy, but Conroe ISD’s book-banning frenzy has spread to nearby Tomball ISD.
Here’s a quick recap of my last post: new Christian Nationalist group Mama Bears Rising (I still feel silly every time I type that) manufactured outrage over “obscene” books in school libraries in order to achieve a specific political objective in Conroe ISD. They disseminated a list of 35 books — heavy on LGBTQ-themed novels, but also including classic literature and popular YA titles —made legal arguments but ignored legal definitions, attacked individual educators, and encouraged each other to challenge books they hadn’t read. One member even admitted to lying on the district’s official “request for reconsideration” form, affirming on the form that she had read a book “in its entirety” when in fact she had only “skimmed” it and found online excerpts.
Kratky, writing from neighboring Tomball ISD, gave advice and offered to help set up a work session to help the Conroe activists organize their challenges. “You need help with this in Tomball ISD also, correct?” asked Mama Bears Rising founder Cassandra Crowe.
When I started writing my last post, Kratky’s project had not yet taken shape. I filed a request in early August for all books challenged in 2022 in both Conroe ISD and Tomball. At that point, only one book had been formally challenged in TISD: Jacob’s New Dress by Ian and Sarah Hoffman. And TISD board meetings over the summer were relatively free of the book-related dramatics that characterized meetings in Conroe, Keller, or Granbury. But it was clear something involving books was coming in Tomball and that it would be led by Kratky.
That shoe has now dropped. And guess what: the specific political objective behind the effort is Kratky’s election to the board in November.
In September, Tomball Family Values PAC released a list of books they called obscene (again: none fit the legal definition of obscenity), and credited Kratky with identifying the books on the list. In October, Kratky — along with fellow board candidates Stephanie Lopez and Billy Moore — mailed a letter to voters accusing the district of harboring “50 obscene books in our kids’ school libraries,” and complaining that 8 district librarians attended the Texas Librarian Association’s annual conference (a normal thing for librarians to do) because the conference included a panel with drag queens and its keynote speaker was Ibram X. Kendi.
As in Conroe, the list and the charges of obscenity garnered attention. On October 11, the board discussed the letter during their workshop meeting. The following night, two trustees got emotional as they addressed its charges at the board’s regular meeting. Board president Lee McLeod called the charges in the letter “utter nonsense.” Michael Pratt read a letter from one of the librarians singled out by Krakty, Lopez, and Moore. “Of course you don’t know my story or the stories of any of the librarians in Tomball ISD, because you decided not to ask. Instead you wrote a letter that contained false information about some of us.”
The librarian went on, “I love my students, and I would never intentionally provide anything harmful or obscene to any of them.”
“Obscene books drive Tomball school board race,” ran the headline at the Texas Scorecard. “We must hold the Tomball school board incumbents accountable for grooming Tomball children with these obscene books,” Tomball Family Values posted on its Facebook page.
Tomball’s book-banning frenzy echoes Conroe’s in many ways. As in Conroe, Tomball’s book list includes literary classics and award winning contemporary texts (The Bluest Eye, Slaughterhouse Five, The Glass Castle, The Kite Runner). Removing those titles from the district would make it harder to teach advanced levels of English: The Kite Runner has appeared on the AP Literature exam five times in the past 15 years, The Bluest Eye first appeared on the exam in 1995, and Slaughterhouse Five first appeared in 1991. And, as in Conroe ISD, the list includes popular YA titles like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking for Alaska, the types of books that attract students to a lifetime of reading.
What’s more, the Tomball list includes books that have no sexual or even remotely suggestive content at all, but that express points of view that might lead to increased acceptance of LGBTQ or gender-nonconforming students. Those books include Jacob’s New Dress and Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin. Again, this echoes Conroe ISD, where Mama Bears Rising objected to Raina Telgemeier’s Drama for the mere presence of LGBTQ characters.
But the most important similarity is this: as in Conroe ISD, the book blitz in Tomball is not about the individual books in question. It’s unlikely that Kratky — or anyone involved in compiling or disseminating her list — has read all or even most of the books she’s objecting to. Kratky, Tomball Family Values, and Mama Bears Rising don’t care about the books or the students who might benefit from them. The objective instead is to win a political victory and thereby gain control over what ideas students can and cannot explore in Tomball schools. The educators they smear, the students they marginalize, and the books they lock away are, to them, acceptable collateral damage.