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Book battle heats up again in Hernando

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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001

Get out your marshmallows, hot dogs and book bags, boys and girls, it's time for the great Hernando book-burning festival -- again.

In a continuing effort to become more positive, I have now added to the list of things I am thankful for every morning that I am not a Hernando County educator or librarian trying to encourage children to have some interest in literature other than the mind-numbing pap that will be all that is allowed if some parents have their way.

Currently under attack is Freaky Friday, a 28-year-old novel about a young girl who gets to live a day of her mother's life in her mother's body and learns a lot in the process.

Hernando County seems for some reason to be at the center of some kind of censorship vortex with parents there getting overexcited about things they find objectionable in literature on a very regular basis.

Oh, sure, Citrus folks were ready to go after Pumsy the cartoon dragon a few years ago because he was the symbol of a dastardly plot to help children with test anxiety learn now to calm down by taking deep breaths.

And, a friend points out, what about Tampa's obsession with lap-dancing or the case against a Milwaukee mother who bought her son condoms.

But those aren't matters of literature and they didn't originate in a county where battles have been fought over a total of (now) 29 forms of expression including:

National Medal of Arts winner Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Bloods, an African-American oral history of the Vietnam War.

A high school yearbook that made reference to cards as a fortune-telling device.

People magazine.

Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.

A whole chapter (they actually made a teacher staple the pages together) of George Orwell's 1984.

And, my all-time favorite, Reebok sneakers.

Bloods had strong language. The yearbook, who knows? People had a naked person, I think. I think, James and the Giant Peach had references to magic, tobacco, alcohol, supposedly anti-Hispanic references, although it turned out that the mention of tobacco was negative and the complainant was mistaken on the anti-Hispanic reference.

Magic still scares some people.

Orwell's book contained a mild description of a lover's assignation and the sneakers had British flags on them, which a teacher thought were the same as rebel flags and, believe me, that's another column.

Freaky Friday -- so offensive that Disney made a movie out of it -- according to the complaining parent, takes the Lord's name in vain (actually a religious, not a legal prohibition) and teaches children to kill, smoke, drink and have sex.

I read the book twice last night, and found two references to killing, both in a mild and humorous context. The references to smoking were all negative. The references to purchasing liquor at a liquor store refer only to adults doing so, and the other mention, of a drinking housekeeper being fired, paint her as unpleasant and bigoted. In fact, her firing is one of many positive lessons in the book. If anyone had sex anywhere in the novel, I missed it.

There might have been some extenuating circumstances for concern about Bloods because of the language, and, for small children, to the more graphic portions of the Angelou work. The only thing milder than Freaky Friday, however, is the list of contents on a cereal box -- unless you are unnaturally excited by riboflavin.

Stay tuned, folks. Next week we're going after Shakespeare, Hemingway, Ovid, Virgil, Homer, Joyce, Elliot, Houseman, Steinbeck, Lewis Carrol and Jonathan Swift (Wow! Drugs and cannibalism) and some of the racier, more violent portions of the Bible.

We'll have to wait and see what the fire service says about a bonfire that big.

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