Schools' curriculum panel pulls 17 books for vote Popular children's tale may be too gory for kindergartners

May 17, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Next year's kindergartners may not get to read about the old lady who swallowed a fly.

You know the one: She swallowed a spider to catch the fly, and so on until she swallowed a horse (and died, of course).

The popular children's book was one of 17 pulled for a special vote later this month by the Curriculum Council, a group of about 90 parents, students, teachers and community representatives who screen books before the school board approves them.

A few parents on a book-screening committee felt the illustrations were too gory in "I Know an Old Lady . . ."

About 60 members of the council, most of them mothers, met for almost three hours Thursday morning to go over the more than 500 books up for approval this year for all grades and subject areas.

Objections ranged from not having enough female authors in a book of historical essays to the depiction in another book of an old Chinese man smoking a pipe.

"I know my daughter is going to read that and say he shouldn't be smoking," one mother said.

"I really think we're getting very nit-picky," said Sigrid Rodgers of New Windsor, mother of two and a substitute teacher.

"I don't like filthy language, I don't like to take the Lord's name in vain and I don't like explicit sex," she said. "[But] we cannot sanitize our children's life, as much as we would like to."

Every book had at least one defender at the meeting. In particular, three high school students on the council spent a lot of their time reminding parents that children are not as naive as they might think.

"Do you let your child watch TV?" said Patti Duffy, a junior at South Carroll High School, when one parent questioned the appropriateness of a book on child abuse.

"Everyone wants to teach the real good things in life," Duffy said. "Children are abused. This book might help them deal with that. I have a real hard time with people underestimating the way these children think."

At the council's last meeting in March, a father (not a council member) objected to references to breast feeding, menstruation and physical attraction in "Jacob Have I Loved."

None of the members agreed with the man's objections, and at least half a dozen parents said they and their teen children loved the book.

But parent Monica Scharp of Sykesville had two other objections. She said the main character resents her mother for giving up her career to stay home with children, though others interpreted the girl's feelings as frustration with the small island her mother chose to stay on.

Scharp and another parent also felt the book stereotyped Christians as narrow-minded through the grandmother who eventually becomes senile and assails her daughter-in-law with Biblical quotes about prostitution.

Members will mail their ballots by the end of May. The recommendations go to the Board of Education at its June 10 meeting.

The council is supposed to judge whether language and illustrations in books meet community standards, whether books provide accurate recognition of minorities and ethnic groups, and whether books avoid stereotypes.

But some were accused of stretching the definition of a stereotype.

One woman felt "When the New Baby Comes" stereotyped older siblings as jealous of younger ones. Defenders of the book said it showed children it was normal to be a little jealous.

Anther woman objected to the title of "I Hate Mathematics," a book designed to make math easier for some students, even though she loved the content and presentation. She said the title was a stereotype, although she didn't ask for a vote on it.

"You can't judge a book by its cover," Duffy replied.

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