'Froggy' author gets to plead his case County schools banned the gangster folk tale after a parent's complaint

December 04, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

When Froggy staged a crime spree to finance his wooing of Miss Mousie, children's book author Kevin O'Malley had the court send him to prison for a long stretch.

But when O'Malley's fanciful "gangster" version of the old folk tale got the boot from Baltimore County elementary schools last spring after one parent complained, the author never had his day court -- neither a hearing nor notification of the ban. The rules don't require it.

Now, after appeals from O'Malley and from Clara Grizzard, a neighbor and art educator, school officials have decided to hold an unprecedented meeting to allow O'Malley to plead his case.

Any author whose work is to be banned should have that opportunity, the 35-year-old Rodgers Forge illustrator and author 14 children's books said yesterday.

"Froggy Went A-Courtin' " was his first -- and still favorite -- book, O'Malley said. Illustrated as a satire in the style of a 1940s Jimmy Cagney gangster movie, "it was a morality tale" -- Froggy went to jail for his crimes, he said.

It also was the first book banned in county schools in at least 27 years, according to library coordinator Della Curtis.

The dispute began when Israel Weitzman complained that the "highly satirical" version of the folk tale was inappropriate for students below high school level. Weitzman's daughter was a first-grader at Wellwood Elementary School at the time.

Curtis convened a committee of elementary school teachers and administrators, which voted unanimously to ban the book. The ban was "selection," not "censorship," Curtis said.

Richard E. Bavaria, executive director for curriculum and instruction, said yesterday that once publicity about the ban appeared in October, Curtis surveyed county elementary school libraries and turned up nine copies of the book, which have been removed from the shelves.

After the ban, O'Malley asked for a hearing to plead his case, as did Grizzard, a mother of four, ages 3 to 16. She filed a request for reconsideration of the ban.

"My family and I have read and reread this book; to date any corrosive moral subversion has yet to rear its ugly head," wrote Grizzard. "Meanwhile the complaint of one over-thinking taxpayer has cost Mr. O'Malley his reputation (locally) and jeopardized his livelihood (regionally). I urge a reconsideration of this matter and a broader survey of opinion."

The school system has no specific procedure for such an appeal because "this has never happened before," Bavaria said.

When a hearing date is set, O'Malley and Curtis, who convened the committee that voted to ban the book, will appear before Phyllis Bailey, associate superintendent for educational support services, who will decide whether to rescind the ban.

Weitzman, the parent whose complaint prompted the ban, said he had no objection to O'Malley having a hearing to defend his book but that he would like to attend to restate his position.

A decision by Bailey might not be the last word. State law gives school superintendents authority to deal with "controversies" and provides an appeal procedure that could lead to the county and state boards of education.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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