'Cheaper by the Dozen' dropped from reading list as inappropriate 'Little Women' escapes same fate

August 23, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

That old classic, "Cheaper by the Dozen," got a thumbs-down from the Carroll County school system along with seven other books that were deemed inappropriate by the teachers who reviewed them.

Yet another, "Little Women," also got a no-go from a teacher-reviewer. But a deft maneuver by the school system's reading supervisor salvaged the Louisa May Alcott classic for the elective reading list.

Joanne Strohmer, the school system's supervisor of reading, said most of the teachers who objected to the books said they weren't personally offended by them but thought others might be.

"Cheaper by the Dozen," the autobiographical novel about the Gilbreth family of 12 children and their industrial-engineer parents in the 1920s, was proposed for reading by eighth-graders.

It was questioned by a teacher because it included such mild profanity as "hell" and "damn"; because the father expressed opinions against clergy; and because he and his dozen children sometimes acted in a bizarre fashion, Dr. Strohmer said.

Usually, Dr. Strohmer reads the books herself before sending them to a parents committee that votes on which ones to recommend to the school board for approval.

But because there were so many books this year, Dr. Strohmer didn't have time to read them all, she said. So she recruited teachers who volunteered -- without pay -- to read them and comment.

Some of the teachers already were familiar with the books and just filled out the comment cards. Dr. Strohmer said she tried to get two teachers to comment on each book.

While the objections to the books were not serious ones, Dr. Strohmer decided that because so many books were being added to the reading lists this year she would pull any that the teachers questioned.

"Little Women" was the exception.

The teacher-reviewer who objected to it felt that it portrayed women unfavorably as being taken care of by men.

But the book is one of Dr. Strohmer's favorites, so she had a third teacher break a deadlock between the two teachers who reviewed it. That kept it on the reading list.

During the 1800s, when the story takes place, most women were financially dependent on men, Dr. Strohmer said. Besides, she said, the book focuses on a mother and her four daughters taking care of each other while the father is away at war.

The teacher-reviewers approved another 200 books for use as supplementary reading in classrooms. Some 352 more are still in the review process.

None of these books would be required reading. They are part of an major effort this year by the reading department to provide children and teachers with more choices, Dr. Strohmer said.

These books -- novels, storybooks and non-fiction collections -- are elective reading, but have themes similar to the reading and social studies textbooks that students must read.

They were approved by the Curriculum Council, a group of parents and community residents who screen books before the school board votes on them. The council this year voted down only one book, "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon." They felt the book was not suitable for eighth-graders.

Because of the increased number of proposed books this year, the Board of Education wanted an additional review by teachers after the Curriculum Council saw them, Dr. Strohmer said.

The other books taken off the reading lists and the objections raised by teachers are:

* "Anastasia Krupnik" -- Grade 4 -- Has references to Hare Krishna, and a mother who is having a love affair.

* "Beat the Turtle Drum" -- Grade 5 -- The death of a sibling was too sensitive an issue for fifth-graders.

* "Fifth-Grade Magic" -- Grade 4 -- The mischievous main character in this fanciful book caused one teacher to feel that parents might object to the bad role model, even though the teacher didn't have a problem with it. The teacher also felt the references to magic might offend some people for religious reasons.

* "Freaky Friday" -- Grade 5 -- The story is negative toward authority figures.

* "Soup" -- Grade 3 -- The book describes teasing by a child who is being initiated into a club.

* "The Teeny-Tiny Woman" -- Grade 1 -- The old folk tale was judged by a teacher to have little plot and no theme.

* "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney" -- Grade 2 -- In the story, a boy has to come up with 10 good things to say about his cat, who has died, but can only come up with nine things at first.

A teacher felt that book could be disturbing to children who have pets, and that the 10th good thing -- a patch of flowers eventually grows above Barney's buried body -- dealt with a religiously "sensitive area in reference to eternity."

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