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Children's book removed

Based on objections from a third-grader's mother, School Board members pull Freaky Friday from schools until they can read it.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Freaky Friday, a rarely challenged children's book published nearly 30 years ago, has been pulled from the library shelves of Hernando County's schools based on a parent's complaint about its content.

The School Board agreed Tuesday night to consider Joan Anderson's appeal of a decision by a district book review committee, which voted unanimously to keep the book on the shelves.

Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers and first published in 1972, is about 13-year-old Annabel Andrews, who wakes up one day in her mother's body. Her experiences help her see her mother in a different light. It was made into a 1977 Disney movie starring Jodie Foster as Annabel and a 1995 movie starring Shelley Long as Annabel's mother.

Anderson, whose daughter is a third-grader at J.D. Floyd Elementary in Spring Hill, submitted two pages of objections to the book. Mostly, they concern references to drinking and smoking or characters who take God's name in vain.

But Anderson said she and her daughter, both active in church, were most concerned by a sentence that she says advocates violence. It was set in the context of how Annabel, in her mother's body, describes her principal as he pulled out "the long nails and fangs" during a parent conference, where he detailed Annabel's shortcomings.

It read, "The hands were clasped together with index fingers tapping (this is the church, and this is the steeple, open the doors and kill all the people.)"

Anderson said the passage teaches children to kill. "What do we have in schools now? We have a problem with guns, a problem with weapons," she said.

Anderson said the book uses words and describes behavior that would get kids in trouble if they mimicked it at school. "You can't smoke. You can't drink. You can't do drugs. You can't have sex. You can't kill people. You can't use bad words," Anderson said. "It's contradicting what we are teaching them."

A committee composed of a teacher, a parent, a principal, a high school student and a resident reviewed the book. Some had reservations about that passage, said Elaine Wooten, a curriculum specialist who brought the group together.

But the group thought the book was not objectionable enough to be pulled, Wooten said.

Suncoast Elementary principal Tizzy Schoelles, also on the committee, found nothing harmful in the book. The steeple passage describes violence, she said. It does not incite violence.

"By teaching the Holocaust we don't incite people to repeat what was done," Schoelles said. "No child's morality would be challenged by anything in that book."

Schoelles considers this an issue of censorship.

"I think the parent did the right thing for her kid. But I think the parent has no right to intercede for other parents," Schoelles said. "We have thousands of parents who have chosen not to challenge the book. Nobody is speaking for them."

Freaky Friday has not previously been challenged in Hernando County. Nor, to the best of anyone's memory, has it been challenged in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus or Pasco counties.

Books such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird are on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s. Freaky Friday is not.

Freaky Friday was pulled from the shelf at J.D. Floyd since Anderson first complained in November. First-year media specialist Sara Cohen and principal Janet Yungmann-Barkalow had concerns about the passages Anderson highlighted.

"The parent wasn't comfortable with the book being available," Cohen said. "We solved the problem here."

Freaky Friday had been available to students at Chocachatti, Pine Grove, Westside andDeltona elementaries and at Powell Middle School. Brooksville Elementary kept a copy on a shelf for teachers.

School Board members decided Tuesday to pull the book from all schools until they can read it and decide whether it should remain available. They are scheduled to decide at a Feb. 6 meeting.

Board member Robert Wiggins said Tuesday night that based on the excerpts Anderson quoted, the book seems "inappropriate" for elementary schools.

Chairman Jim Malcolm suggested Wiggins read the book before making up his mind. In an interview Wednesday, Malcolm said: "I will never vote to take a book off the shelf of a school library."

This isn't Anderson's first brush with controversy.

At J.D. Floyd, she was the leading opponent of the school's push for school uniforms. She also objected to recent changes in the traffic flow around the school.

Before the Hernando County Commission, she argued that more parking be made available for big-rig truckers. The St. Petersburg Times has published numerous guest columns and letters to the editor from Anderson. In her writing she opposed excessive homework for students, an early start to the school year and money for sprucing up highway medians. She also capped off a letter praising volunteers for keeping up a neighborhood park by taking a jab at county commissioners for failing to attend a picnic celebrating the park's first anniversary.

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