Complaints prompt Howard Co. schools to evaluate 2 books

October 23, 1990|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

The Howard County school system, which earlier this month took a book on the occult out of elementary school libraries, is now evaluating complaints about C. S. Lewis' classic fantasy "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and a book on teen-age pregnancy.

A review committee, including parents, teachers and students, is scheduled to meet privately Nov. 5 to review the books and make recommendations to Associate Superintendent Joan Palmer on whether they should be removed from schools.

The school system refused to identify the parents who filed the complaints. "We want to create a comfort level for people so they can make request with some anonymity," said Patti Vierkant, a spokeswoman.

The parent complaining about C. S. Lewis' fantasy story about good vs. evil, the first in a series known as the "Chronicles of Narnia," wants the book removed from elementary schools and expressed "shock" that fifth-graders were reading it in class.

"The book is filled with graphic violence, mysticism and gore," the parent wrote. "I can't believe such a book would be given to schoolchildren, especially elementary. If elementary school children are exposed to this, think of the effect it will have."

A second parent wants county middle school libraries to remove the book "Kids Having Kids: The Unwed Teenage Parent," by Janet Bode, which uses case histories to discuss decisions made by pregnant teen-agers, including adoption and abortion.

"It is not fit for a young girl or boy to be reading this book," the parent said.

Earlier this month, Dr. Palmer agreed with a review committee recommendation to remove copies of "Curses, Hexes, & Spells" from elementary school libraries. She said author Daniel Cohen's tongue-in-cheek approach to occult practices "was subtle and might be misunderstood by younger children."

At the same time, the committee and Dr. Palmer agreed not to remove a book called "The Devil Did It" by Susan Jeschke, which a parent complained promoted friendship with the devil.

Attempts by parents or groups to remove books from school libraries are on the rise, said Anne E. Levinson, assistant director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association in Chicago.

"I am certain that C. S. Lewis' book has been challenged before because the concern with mysticism, Satanism and occult has become the No. 1 reason people are challenging books in public and school libraries," she said. "Even if the book just has witch or magic in the title, some people feel it will draw others into occult practices."

Ms. Levinson said the American Library Association believes "everybody has a right to make their opinions about materials known, but we are concerned with a single parent or small group's objections restricting everyone's right to read."

She noted that last year a high school in Boron, Calif., removed J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and a high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., removed John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

Ms. Vierkant, the school system's spokeswoman, said, "Two to three books are reviewed each year, and until recently, when 'Curses, Hexes, & Spells' was removed from elementary libraries, it had been 10 years since a book was removed. That was a collection of children's stories that contained language interpreted as a racial slur."

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