Board votes to keep challenged book in libraries

January 13, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Bookworms who want to read "Slugs" at Carroll County elementary school libraries may still do so. The school board voted 3-2 yesterday not to pull the book off the shelves.

Parent Roger Bolles of Finksburg challenged the book, saying it was inappropriate for elementary school libraries because it is frightening to elementary-age children, has no educational value and promotes bad behavior.

The book, by David Greenberg, is a rhyming picture book about gross and silly things one can do with slugs. It starts out:

"Swallow a slug

By it's tail or its snout

Feel it slide down

Feel it climb out"

Other suggestions are to fry them, stew them, chew them, carve them like pumpkins and put them in the blender or "stick them on your sister Sue."

The end of the book, however, warns that slugs could take out their revenge by doing similar things to children who mistreat them.

"I don't feel this book would teach a child anything they need to learn or even what they want to learn," Mr. Bolles said.

He saw the book in September when his first-grader brought it home from the school library. He chose not to read it to her and challenged it, first at the school and eventually before the school board.

Three board members agreed with decisions by a school administrator and a committee that the book may be "dumb and stupid," but there's no reason to ban it from libraries.

"I agree with part of the [Library Journal] review that called it 'a tasteless collection of awkward rhymes,' " said board member C. Scott Stone. But he said he saw no reason to remove it from the schools.

"I don't think you have to pull every book that's dumb and stupid," said board member Ann M. Ballard.

She and others who defended the book said that "dumb and stupid" is just what children sometimes want and need to encourage them to read.

"I think we're reading a lot more into it than children would," she said.

"If that would encourage a young person to read and to do further reading in the school library, I guess I would feel that would be an important goal," said member John D. Myers.

He said any child who would emulate the things in the book probably would do so even without reading it.

Board members Joseph D. Mish and Carolyn L. Scott voted to remove the book, based on the bad behavior it depicts in the cartoon-like drawings.

"I'm opposed to censorship," Mrs. Scott said. "But I see this as selection. I read this to a couple of nieces and nephews, and my nephew said, 'Now I know what I'm going to do to my sister next.'

"Kids find things funny that are tasteless and dumb. Well, what's our job here? We're here to educate and civilize children."

Mr. Mish said he might be willing to have "Slugs" placed in a section where children could check it out with parental review.

"I admit it's being taken on an absurd level, but it does cause concern that a child could check this out without [knowledge] of a parent," Mr. Mish said.

Before coming before the school board, Mr. Bolles took his opposition to a reconsideration committee that decided to reclassify the book as poetry rather than leave it in the picture book section where mostly kindergarten and first-grade students look for books.

"There's nobody that stops them from taking any book out of that library," he said of the younger children.

Donnadine Bell, the schools' media supervisor who chaired the committee, said the book's value is in its rhyme, alliteration and appeal to children.

"It also illustrates nonsense and the absurd," she said.

The committee voted to keep the book, so Mr. Bolles appealed to Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum. Dr. Dunkleberger said yesterday he researched the book and concurred with the committee.

"I did not find this book to be offensive," Dr. Dunkleberger said.

The book has been in school libraries for about 10 years with no previous complaints from parents.

The book was challenged in Washington and California schools about 10 years ago, according to the American Library Association.

In Carroll County, "Slugs" is only the second book in six years to be appealed as far as the school board, Ms. Bell said.

About two or three books a year are appealed to her committee. In the other cases, either the complaining parents did not appeal the decisions, or the committee decided to remove the books.

Dr. Dunkleberger last month agreed to remove "Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes" from elementary libraries after a parent complained about language and violence in the irreverent parody of classic fairy tales.

In 1991, the board voted 3-2 to retain the epic poem, "Gilgamesh," in high school world literature classes.

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