"Curses, Hexes, & Spells," a book that one parent complained promotes the occult, will be removed from elementary school libraries in Howard County but kept in middle and high school collections, an associate superintendent said yesterday.
Joan M. Palmer, associate superintendent for curriculum supervision, supported the decision made Friday by an advisory committee, saying she did not think the book is appropriate for young children.
"We are not into censorship, but we are into age-appropriateness," Dr. Palmer said. "Our first criterion is whether it is age-appropriate, and developmentally and educationally appropriate."
She said the book, written by Daniel Cohen and published in 1974, was reviewed by various journals and considered appropriate for older students, although the Children's Catalog said it thought the book would be suitable for fifth-graders.
Dr. Palmer said that in outlining the history of occult practices, the author of "Curses, Hexes, & Spells takes a "tongue-in-cheek" approach that is "subtle and might be misunderstood by younger children."
Mr. Cohen criticized the decision.
"It was a way of avoiding discomfort," he said. "This kind of weaseling adds to the general feeling that if you don't like a book, you can get it taken off the shelves. It will tend to embolden people who like to censor books."
Karen Trotsky, the parent who complained about the book, was supported by C. Anthony Yount, principal at Thunder Hill Elementary in Columbia, who said he was "infuriated" that the book was in an elementary school library.
Ms. Trotsky complained to Mr. Yount after she found her 10-year-old son following the book's directions on how to cast a spell that purportedly would rid a person of the unwanted attentions of another.
Mr. Cohen said he was inclined to ask if the spell had worked. "If so, it was the first time in history," said the author, who argued that his book "explains a primitive way of thinking" and debunks it.
Ms. Trotsky said yesterday that she likely will be back next year to complain about the book "because my son will be in middle school next year." She said she also will ask the school system to revamp the evaluation process it uses to decide which books should be in the library.
Before Dr. Palmer's ruling, four elementary school libraries carried "Curses, Hexes, & Spells."
Dr. Palmer also agreed with the advisory committee in keeping "The Devil Did It," a book by Susan Jeschke, in elementary school libraries. Only Clemens Crossing Elementary has a copy, and a parent there complained that it suggested "one should make friends with the devil."
Dr. Palmer, however, said she agreed with the committee that the book "depicted the classic theme of the triumph of good over evil. I felt it was a universally felt message that once we get to know our personal demons, we do not fear them."
Dr. Palmer said she did not believe that challenges to the two books will lead to more parents demanding that books be removed from school libraries. "Most of our parents are well-versed in what is sound for children, and I do not think we will have challenges of good literature for children," she said.