ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A proposed statue that has stirred some controversy in Abilene is now recommended to the city council for approval of being placed in the storybook garden. The Visual Arts Jury held a second meeting regarding a statue of a unicorn and a kitten, which some residents say encourages transgender values.

Different arguments on this issue filled the room. In fact, more chairs had to be brought into the room to seat everyone who wanted to give their opinion, and more than 15 people gave comments. 

“Kitty-Corn is not taking anything from anyone, and there’s nothing about this sculpture that’s trying to take anything from anyone,” said Andrea Robison, one resident who spoke up. 

Another resident who spoke up against this sculpture, Tammy Fogle, said, “It’s not innocent. It’s not based on facts. So why would we want to be a part of something that promotes misleading our children to believe there is something wrong with the way God made them?” 

The controversy began when the jury began considering the statue to be placed in the storybook garden. The statue was inspired by the characters of a children’s book called ‘Kitty-Corn,’ in which a kitten desires to be a unicorn and even dresses like one. However, some argue that this might encourage children to question their gender identity.

“There are many things that, as a society, we deem to be too mature for children, and this is one of them,” said resident David Sprott. 

Others, on the other hand, say it is about friendship, and some added that it is dangerous to put limitations on art and literature. 

One resident in particular, Jim Aneff, brought up a situation that happened to a Grapevine, Texas, school district. According to him, a group of individuals took over the school board and started banning certain books from being taught to children. This led to more than 85 teachers leaving the district because they did not feel like they were able to teach freely. Aneff said putting limitations on books is a slippery slope.

“I’m concerned that it could happen all over Texas because this is a model they are wanting to show. Some of these conservative people that have ideas can take over a school board and completely change what the school is able to do and organizations within the community,” said Aneff. “To put this sculpture up, I think, would add a lot to our sculpture garden.” 

The illustrator, Leuyen Pham, wrote a letter addressing the issue, which was read at the meeting.

            “It has recently come to my attention that there have been protests surrounding the creation of a statue of one of my characters, Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn. My initial reaction has been one of confusion and befuddlement. How could anyone read the book that Shannon Hale and I had created together in any negative way? The story is about a little pink kitten that wishes she was a unicorn, only to meet a real unicorn who wishes he were a kitty, and hardly seems like something that could be a target for book banning. The idea of it seemed so preposterous to me that I was sure that any person who took three minutes to read this picture book would have to agree with me. Where is the harm in this sweet story? Why protest such a symbol of peace and kindness? 

            Shannon Hale and I wrote this book out of a genuine love for each other as a reflection of the power of friendship. We wrote it because we are mothers of children who adore cats and unicorns. We wrote it to make each other laugh. We wrote it because we want to make children laugh as well. We had no intentions, designs, or motivations beyond this.

            But as is often the case of art, the artist can create the art but not the response. How the audience chooses to interpret a story speaks much more of the mind of the audience themselves than the mind of the artist. In other words, people will always see what they want to see. Sometimes, this results in people seeing our books in the loveliest of ways, and I’m thrilled that the book helps some find strength in themselves. And yet, the opposite can be true as well. In this current climate, there are some people who are choosing to see the very worst, and no amount of persuading and reasoning can get them to see otherwise. 

            I have been creating books for a very long time and have produced well over a hundred books for children. Nearly all of my books contain similar themes – love, tolerance, kindness. These ideals are embodied in nearly all the characters that I have created, including sweet kittens and elegant unicorns. Kitty-Corn was created with the truest of intentions and represents the kindness and tolerance that I hope exists in all of us. I would be honored to see these symbols for good in the world be represented in your garden.   

            Lynn, thank you so much for taking the brunt in all this madness. It truly has become the burden of librarians, teachers, and gatekeepers to face the rage of unseen but small well-known forces that should have no place in deciding for the good of the majority. I know most Americans are against book banning, both the right and the left, and to allow the forces of a very, very small minority to dominate is simply unacceptable to me. And as the many letters you’ve shown me can attest to, it seems most people of your hamlet of Abilene would agree.” 

Even though Pham confirmed that this book is not about gender identity, others still expressed concern. 

“Some of you do not believe this book is covering this issue. I respectfully disagree,” said Sprot. 

However, the jury still unanimously decided to recommend the statue to the city council. 

Chairman of the jury, Lynn Barnett, said that sometimes, art will cause controversy, but “the beauty of it is you have a choice. If you like this sculpture, go see it. If you don’t like this sculpture, don’t go see it.” 

Despite the controversy, some residents spoke up to express their appreciation for the fact that this debate highlights the importance of art and literature.