Carroll parents challenge books in school libraries

January 10, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

One book talks about roasting, toasting, stewing and chewing slugs.

And an irreverent parody by the late Roald Dahl has an uncharming prince call Cinderella a "dirty slut," after he has lopped off the heads of her two stepsisters.

Each book has been challenged by a Carroll County parent as inappropriate for elementary school libraries, although both books have been in use for about 10 years in the county, since they were published.

The Roald Dahl book has been pulled from the half-dozen Carroll school libraries that carried it, and "Slugs" could follow it if the school board agrees with the parent, who will make his case at a meeting Wednesday.

Neither book is a stranger to controversy. Each has been challenged in other parts of the country at least once, said Anne Penway of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. The association is based in Chicago and ,, tracks book challenges nationwide.

In the case of "Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes," a Carroll school administrator decided to remove the book from elementary libraries last month, concurring with a Mount Airy Elementary parent who complained that the language was inappropriate and the book too graphically violent for that age group.

But the same administrator, Gary Dunkleberger, decided not to remove "Slugs," a whimsical rhyming book by David Greenberg. A parent from Spring Garden Elementary School is appealing Dr. Dunkleberger's decision to the school board Wednesday, hoping have "Slugs" removed from elementary libraries.

That meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at Board of Education headquarters, 55 N. Court St., Westminster, in Room 271.

"When you look at a picture and a person has a slug up each nostril, a slug out of each ear and a slug under each armpit, what value does that have?" said Roger Bolles of Finksburg, who is appealing to the school board to remove the book from elementary libraries.

Mr. Bolles said that while he laughed at the book on first reading, he then thought about how frightening it could be to a child, such as his 6-year-old daughter, who brought it home one day from the Spring Garden library.

"If I had read it to my daughter, she'd have nightmares forever," he said, referring particularly to the end of the book, where the author warns that slugs could take out their revenge for mistreatment:

They'll chop you into pancakes

And turn you inside out

So your liver's on the outside

And your brain is sauerkraut.

But Ms. Penway of the library association said children often are most motivated to read the kinds of books adults find gross and challenge, supposedly on the behalf of children.

"Adults seem to be acutely uncomfortable with a lot of the subjects or situations that kids seem to love," she said. She said "Slugs" has been challenged in at least two cities in California and Washington, about 10 years ago, for the same reasons as those given by Mr. Bolles.

Dr. Dunkleberger declined to comment on "Slugs" before the school board hearing.

"I don't think that's fair to the board, who's not heard it," Dr. Dunkleberger said.

But Dr. Dunkleberger bristled at the word "ban" referring either to his decision on the Dahl book or the potential school board decision on "Slugs."

"The message I got was this is not, in either case, about banning books or censorship," Dr. Dunkleberger said. "It is instead about the selection and use of appropriate materials.

"We, as a school system, have an obligation to ensure that books and materials used in schools are appropriate for the age level of the youngsters and reflect community values," he said. "We do not use every book that exists."

But because no one has appealed his decision on "Revolting Rhymes," he would say he decided to remove it because of the language, particularly the use of the words "slut" and "hell."

"The book was graphically violent," he said. "For instance, in the tale of Cinderella, when [the prince] comes to the ugly sister, he chops off her head with a sword and there's a picture that shows that.

"I think the situation here is we could make a better choice. There are other materials we could use that would not have those problems," he said.

Ms. Penway said "Revolting Rhymes" was challenged in a high school in Iowa in 1990 and banned in a Massachusetts elementary school in 1992. She said she is unsure of the final outcomes, because such decisions are sometimes overturned.

Censorship vs. selection

She said the distinction between censorship and selection of materials is the difference between exclusion and inclusion.

"Censorship sets out to label ideas offensive and get them out," Ms. Penway said. When libraries select materials, they should do so in a way to cater to a broad range of the people who use it, she said.

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