Down a dangerous road with 'Froggy' Baltimore County: Book does not meet standard for removal from school library.

November 04, 1996

SCHOOL SYSTEMS set themselves up for controversy whenever they make rulings involving what values should be imparted to children, or what materials are appropriate for them, simply because these are subjective matters.

Hence, the furor over local author Kevin O'Malley's "Frog Went A' Courtin.' " The book was done in the style of a 1940s gangster saga with a trampy-vampy Miss Mousie and a Froggy who smokes, hangs out with seedy characters, robs banks and ends up in the slammer. Mr. O'Malley is a talented illustrator, but artistic value has never been the overriding concern among those who evaluate the appropriateness of children's literature. If it were, "Catcher in the Rye" would not be the most hotly disputed book for young people in America.

For many parents, the test of appropriateness is whether a book includes ideas that conflict with their values and beliefs. That test usually does not work for libraries because they serve communities whose members' values and beliefs differ. For libraries, the standard for removing books must be higher. Absent overwhelming community consensus, that a book is either age-inappropriate or unfit for children of any age, materials should remain available unless they include subject matter so damaging or upsetting to children that they should not see them at all.

In the case of "Froggy," there is no community agreement over this book. It does not feature gratuitous sex, violence or heretical ideas. Its "moral" is conservative. The satire goes over most children's heads. Like many picture books, "Froggy" is designed as much to engage the parents who end up reading such stories to their children.

A committee of educators nixed this book based on an illustration showing Froggy's revolver prominently displayed on the front seat of his car. They reasoned that a system that has taken a stand against student violence would look hypocritical carrying a book that might even tacitly suggest that handguns are hip.

School officials should reconsider. Will they be willing to pull stories about teen-age rebellion or sexual awakening from high schools, lest someone construe that the schools encourage these things? If that happens, there would not be much point in having school libraries.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.