'Froggy' ban appeal heard ruling likely by Dec. 20

December 10, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Children's author Kevin O'Malley will know within 10 days whether his "gangster" version of the old folk tale, "Froggy Went A-Courtin' ," will be restored to Baltimore County elementary school libraries.

Phyllis Bailey, associate superintendent for educational support services, listened for more than an hour yesterday as Israel Weitzman of Pikesville explained his complaint that led to the book's being banned in the spring. O'Malley rebutted the arguments, and school officials explained the procedure they used to remove the book.

Bailey said she would deliver a written recommendation to Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione before the winter break begins Dec. 20. In the meantime, she said, she expects to have more questions for school system staff -- and possibly O'Malley and Weitzman.

Weitzman insisted that his complaint was not a crusade against O'Malley's "gangster" version of Froggy, but that when his first-grade daughter brought it home last spring he saw enough bad things, including robbery, smoking and incivility, to make him believe it is inappropriate for elementary students.

Richard E. Bavaria, executive director for curriculum and instruction, said Della Curtis, the library coordinator, followed procedures when she convened a committee to review the book after Weitzman's complaint.

Curtis, who acknowledged that she had not found any other complaints about O'Malley's book, said the committee voted unanimously to remove the book.

O'Malley, 35, of Rodgers Forge challenged that, saying, "Then your system is flawed, you've got to open it; you're hiding it" because the action came after one complaint and a review by a half-dozen educators. He was not notified of the complaint and only learned of the ban from a sympathetic teacher early in the current school year.

O'Malley, who said he has finished 17 books since Froggy, said it was his first, and favorite, and is a morality tale, with Froggy getting a prison term for his crimes. It is a satire of a Jimmy Cagney 1940s gangster movie, he said.

He said he found 150 versions of the Froggy tale, including one from the turn of the century with beer-swilling and Froggy leaving Miss Mousie to be devoured by a cat. He said Grimm Brothers fairy tales and the Pied Piper of Hamelin are much scarier stories for young children than his treatment of Froggy.

Despite Froggy's imprisonment, Weitzman insisted, impressionable children might think that they can get away with things.

"I'm not sure there's a moral in the book," Weitzman said. "The visual impact is more important than the words."

Clare Grizzard, an art educator who also appealed the ban, rejected Weitzman's argument. Grizzard, mother of four, said, "Froggy is incorrigible, he has no chance of forgiveness. That is very clear to kids."

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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