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Parent challenges children's library book

Spring Hill Elementary has asked a county-level committee to review Judy Blume's Deenie for appropriateness.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2003

SPRING HILL - A 30-year-old novel by popular children's author Judy Blume could be stripped from Hernando County school libraries later this month.

Officials at Spring Hill Elementary School already have removed Deenie from circulation after a parent complained about passages that talk frankly about masturbation. The book chronicles the life of a seventh-grade girl dealing with curvature of the spine.

"What she read isn't bad," said mom Jerri Trammell, who complained to Spring Hill principal John DiRienzo. "I just don't want her to learn about it from Judy Blume."

Trammell said her daughter brought the book home as part of the school's Accelerated Reader program, which includes tests. Her daughter read the passages aloud, stunning Trammell.

"It gave a very detailed description of it, as well as a discussion," Trammell said. "I feel that subject is not appropriate in any form in an elementary school."

Margaret Cushing, the school's media specialist, said she recently reordered the book, which is rated a "best book" by the American Library Association.

"I would not have let anyone under fourth grade check it out," Cushing said. "I would not have censored the book, but I would have led their attention somewhere else."

When she read passages aloud to the school's media advisory committee, though, Cushing could tell "the pulse of that committee was that book should not have been on the shelf."

Unable to resolve the issue at the school, Spring Hill Elementary administrators sent the question of whether Deenie should remain to a county-level committee comprised of a curriculum specialist, an administrator, two teachers, a parent, a student, a community member and a staff member from the public library system.

That committee will meet the last week of October, elementary curriculum specialist Elaine Wooten said. It will recommend action to the superintendent, who in turn will advise the School Board, which has the final say under a policy adopted in 1998.

Board chairman John Druzbick said he was pleased the district policy, created after a challenge to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was being followed.

"That's the right thing to do," Druzbick said.

Blume, the author of 25 books, said she was surprised and upset after learning of the challenge from a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

"It's been a while since I heard anything (negative) about Deenie," she said. "I've had so many wonderful letters about Deenie recently. We're probably going to make a movie about Deenie. It just really got to me this time."

A board member of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Blume expressed dismay with people who would rather take away materials than discuss tough issues with their children.

"You take a book away from a child it's, well, why? You need to explain why," she said. "It isn't a book about masturbation. It's a book about parental expectations. . . . When, when, when are we ever going to be done with this? Never, I guess."

Over the years, Blume has been one of the most challenged authors in the country, along with Stephen King and, more recently, J.K. Rowling, said Beverley Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom.

An elementary school in Charlotte, N.C., challenged Deenie in 1996. The Gwinnett County, Ga., school district, banned the novel from its elementary schools in 1985. On her Web site, Blume noted the book has been banned more than any of her other works.

"She talks frankly about issues around sex, aimed at young people," Becker said. "Sex is the most frequent reason for challenging any book. The second-most is offensive language."

Another common thread among challenged books is that they are widely read, Becker said.

She said the best thing a local agency can do when dealing with a challenged book is to follow its own procedures and to keep the book available to students while considering its merits.

"The crux of the issue is, who is going to decide who has access to materials," Becker said. "We don't want books to be restricted because one family doesn't want their child to read them."

Blume echoed that sentiment and said she would like to see her book remain accessible to Hernando County schoolchildren.

"I hope for the kids that reason prevails," she said, "and books are not pulled out of schools because certain adults are frightened."

Trammell, meanwhile, said she has read five more Blume books after completing Deenie and is considering asking for the removal of two others.

The Hernando district last dealt with a book challenge in the 2000-01 school year, when a parent demanded the removal of Freaky Friday. The School Board decided to retain the book.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 352 754-6115 or solochek@sptimes.com


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