Artists painted faces and created balloon animals. A food truck sold tacos. Kids ambled past bookshelves until something piqued their interest, then stopped to read. Families lined up for live performances.

Everyone who attended the Huntington Beach Central Library’s Summer Reading Carnival kickoff event last Saturday morning seemed as happy as SpongeBob SquarePants.

Everyone except me. I was searching for dirty books.

The previous Tuesday, the Huntington Beach City Council had asked the city manager to draft an ordinance that would keep “obscene” books away from children and teenagers.

Surf City faces many problems, but Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark thinks lascivious literature is enough of an existential threat that she spent 15 minutes going through an unintentionally hilarious PowerPoint presentation consisting of passages from books she deems pornographic.

Among the offenders? A list of slang words for sexual organs. Anodyne descriptions of wet dreams and inserting a tampon. The words “vagina,” “hymen,” “orgasms” and “masturbating,” which were blurred out in one slide.

It was like a sex ed class run by Helen Lovejoy.

Van Der Mark falsely claimed that illustrations from a sex guide for high schoolers and college students depicting a couple having sex underneath blankets and a girl examining her private parts were labeled as children’s literature. The library actually keeps that manual in the adult section. But facts don’t matter to the conservative majority on the council, which this year has already stripped invocation duties from a liberal interfaith group and banned the flying of the Pride flag on city property.

Mayor Tony Strickland said he was “shocked” at what Van Der Mark uncovered and wondered if Huntington Beach could create a ratings system like Hollywood has for movies. Councilmember Casey McKeon claimed the books were being “showcased” for kids and amounted to the “sexualization of children without parental consent.” Councilmember Pat Burns, who wore a tie with an American flag pattern, said he wanted to “protect kids from ... mind poison” and asked, “Are we going to start OKing writing books about how to become a gentle pedophile?”

“Our city library should not be engaged in infecting our children with obscenity or pornography,” Van Der Mark thundered from the dais, later adding, “I guarantee you this was not in our libraries [back] then.”

Like hell it wasn’t.

When I haunted the Anaheim Central Library in the late 1980s and early 1990s, far more problematic books were everywhere. Like National Geographic back issues featuring pictures of bare-breasted women. Too many tawdry Stephen King novels to remember.

As a 12-year-old, I grabbed the infamous Tinseltown expose “Hollywood Babylon,” thinking it was going to be about movie stars. Instead, I quizzically stared at a nude photo of Jean Harlow and the grisly crime scene of the dismembered body of Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

I found those books in the Anaheim library’s adult section, where I guess I wasn’t supposed to be. But decades later, the most scarring stories I remember were the ones I read in the supposed safety of the children’s section.

“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” celebrating a brat who killed a turtle by swallowing it. A trio of books — “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Sounder” and “Old Yeller” — that end with loyal dogs dying tragic deaths. The Greek myths alone — the Minotaur, who was the child of an unholy union between a woman and a bull. The many times Zeus abducted and ravaged nymphs and women.

I found all of those tales at the Huntington Beach Central Library except “Old Yeller,” which was checked out. There was other questionable material to make up for it, though. The World Book Encyclopedia no longer showed nudity in anatomical charts like when I was in junior high, but there were entries on “erectile dysfunction,” “prostitution” and “sexually transmitted disease.” Other books glorified the Alamo, Andrew Jackson’s Native American expulsion policies, the conquistador Francisco Coronado and — gasp! — Rush Limbaugh.

For decades, American moral crusaders have tried to keep material away from the young in the name of protecting them. True to our Puritan roots, violence always seems to get a pass, while sex is shameful and not to be discussed. What’s telling about Van Der Mark and her fellow travelers is that their ire is coming in an era when children’s and young adult literature is more ethnically diverse and more accepting of sexual and gender identities than ever.

One of the books Van Der Mark displayed while she ranted was “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, a young adult novel about a Mexican American and Black teen couple in 1930s Texas praised for its unflinching depiction of racism and criticized for scenes of consensual and nonconsensual sex.

The council member’s PowerPoint presentation included the cover of “Grandad’s Pride” by Harry Woodgate, an illustrated picture book about a grandfather taking his grandchild to a Pride parade. She directed most of her ire at “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, which was moved from the Central Library’s young adult section to the adult section after a parent complained.

The parent? Van Der Mark.

Her push to cleanse Huntington Beach’s libraries is so petty that she also wants the city to end its relationship with the American Library Assn. — which has loudly fought back against the likes of her — even though Councilmember Natalie Moser pointed out that no such relationship exists.

The conservative war on books is never really about the books themselves, or even the children whom advocates purport to be saving. It’s always about control, and about kneecapping the power of librarians, whom Van Der Mark and her conservative colleagues constantly ridiculed during the June 20 council meeting.

I count many librarians as friends. They remind me of the librarians who helped me as a child. When they found me in areas of the Anaheim library where I shouldn’t have been, they directed me to other parts. That’s how I got into sports trivia and Donald Duck comic strips. That’s how I got into age-appropriate biographies of unappreciated Americans such as the reporter Nellie Bly and Chief Joseph.

The world is an ugly place, but few places are safer for children to process life than a library. A librarian’s job is to help people find knowledge and channel their interests. A politician’s job is to limit both.

What’s particularly ridiculous about Van Der Mark’s crusade is that many things are wildly inappropriate for children, if you look hard enough. When I walked into the Huntington Beach library, a woman was singing “Hotel California,” the Eagles ballad about drugs, debauchery and the devil. When I left, she was hitting the high notes of “White Rabbit,” the Jefferson Airplane song celebrating hallucinogenics.

Every child at the Summer Reading Carnival survived.