Pubdate: Thu, 04 Mar 2010
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2010 Statesman Journal
Author: Mackenzie Ryan


Family Says Book 'Not Appropriate' For Elementary School

Laura Nevel grew concerned when her 10-year-old daughter asked her
about a white powdery drug.

Echeo, a fifth-grader at Auburn Elementary School, explained that they
were reading the book "The Dead Man in Indian Creek" out loud in class.

A passage in the book described a white powdery substance, and
"everyone yelled out: 'It's cocaine,'" Echeo said. Not knowing what it
was, she asked her mother about it.

After reading the book, the Nevel family says it is not appropriate
for elementary students because of the drugs and drug smuggling
activities in the book.

They want the Salem-Keizer School District to take the book out of
elementary schools, which could prompt a reconsideration of the book's
availability. It is now in elementary and middle schools throughout
the district.

"I don't believe a 10-year-old should be graphically discussing drug
trafficking and cocaine," Laura said. "As parents, we have a right to
question what they're telling our kids and have a say in what they're
teaching our children."

Questioning content Written by Mary Downing Hahn, "The Dean Man in
Indian Creek" is a mystery about two junior high boys who find a
murdered man.

They investigate on their own, eventually uncovering that one of the
boy's mothers and her boyfriend are part of a drug-packaging ring in
which cocaine is stuffed into the hollow heads of dolls.

After a series of events that put them face-to-face with a drug
ringleader, the boys successfully involve the police. The boy's mother
goes to jail.

The book was chosen for a language arts lesson in Echeo's fifth grade
class at Auburn. Her teacher read out loud 10-15 minutes, then had
students discuss things such as the main ideas of the book or
character development, said Don Hakala, assistant principal at Auburn.

"The kids didn't really talk a lot about the drug-use piece, that
didn't become a major theme of discussion," Hakala said. "It was
brought up that what was going on (in the book) was wrong and against
the law. Those people end up getting arrested in the book. There were

The book is rated by the district as level 5.9, or upper fifth grade,
said Steve Cox, a library media program specialist in

The district rates books based on readability and content; district
staffers look at readability measures and educational reviews, and
also try to read the books, which is not always possible because of
the quantity of books in school libraries.

Cox recently read "The Dead Man in Indian Creek" and said, in his
opinion, the content was appropriate for upper elementary and middle
school students.

It's not the first time the book has caused concern

In 1994 it was challenged in Salem-Keizer schools because of graphic
violence, examples of inappropriate parenting and because it was too
frightening for elementary students, according to a list of challenged
books from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

The district retained the book, however, and about 58 copies are in
elementary and middle schools libraries throughout the district, and
more are likely in classroom libraries, Cox said.

"The Dead Man In Indian Creek" has won awards from the International
Reading Association, the Children's Book Council and the American
Library Association.

Concern about context

Among the concerns the Nevel family has is that "The Dead Man in
Indian Creek" was presented to Auburn students without drug-prevention
curriculum, and apparently the book prompted students to talk amongst
themselves about drugs.

"All the kids started talking about the drug," Echeo said. "Once it's
talked about, it just becomes cool."

Then students started telling each other stories about drugs -
including one who said she found cocaine on the way to school. Some
stories seemed true, but others seemed made up, she said.

"It seemed to become a cool thing after it was read in the book,"
Echeo said.

Hakala said the school was not aware that students were talking about
drugs in that fashion.

"If I had heard that concern, that students were glorifying it or
sharing stories, we would have dealt with it right away," he said. "If
the teacher had heard anything like that, we would have dealt with it.
. That wasn't going on at school, or at least we were unaware of it."

Challenging the book

The Nevel family thinks there is a difference between the book's
reading level and content: That it's written for a fifth grader, but
deals with a subject more appropriate for older students.

Although they feel the book needs appropriate drug-prevention
curriculum when taught in schools, there is no guarantee that would
happen, said Aaron, Echeo's father.

The family submitted a complaint form to the school district, he said.
They want the book taken out of elementary schools.

"This is grade school," he said. "I feel it's not appropriate . For
six, seventh, eighth grade I can understand."

Because the book went through a review process in 1994 - a committee
reads and reviews it, then presents a report to the school board -
it's not clear whether the district would go through the review a
second time. Cox said that would probably be determined on a
case-by-case basis by a top administrator.

"There's a difference between banning a book in school and banning a
book that is (not appropriate for different) grades," Aaron said.
"We're not saying junior high, high school. It's not 'Catcher in the
Rye.' "

- -----------------------------------------------------------------


Challenged books in Salem-Keizer Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon keeps a list of books
challenged in the state. It is compiled from the American Library
Association and the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse from
1979 through June 2009.

Below is a list of about 30 books that have been challenged in
Salem-Keizer schools. It includes the title, author and reason why the
book was challenged, if provided.

Books retained

"Beast of Monsieur Racine" by Tomi Ungerer. Challenged in 1997 because
of concern about illustrations.

"Curses, Hexes and Spells," by Daniel Cohen. Challenged in 1991 for a
photograph of a witch performing a curse; having information on how to
cast a spell; having reference to Christian occultists; and the belief
that the book will result in gangs, crimes and sadistic groups who
sacrifice animals.

"The Dead Man in Indian Creek," by Mary Downing Hahn. Challenged in
1994 because of graphic violence; occurrences of inappropriate
parenting; and that it is too frightening for elementary readers.

"Halloween ABC" by Eve Merriam. Challenged in 1993 because of Satanic
references and violence.

"In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak. Challenged in 1992 because
of frontal nudity of a male child in a few pictures, and that it may
be confusing to children who have been taught that bodies are private.

"Killing Mr. Griffin" by Lois Duncan. Challenged in 2002 because of
inappropriate language and plot.

"A Light in the Attic" by Shel Silverstein. Challenged in 1990 because
of some poems may provoke children to act in opposition to their
family's preferred behavior and values.

"Magic Pot" by Patricia Coombs. Challenged in 1992 because it is about
a demon that does magic, implying that witchcraft is good, and that it
may encourage children to dabble in witchcraft.

"Last Mission," by Harry Mazer. Challenged in 1990 because of

"Lottery," by Shirley Jackson. Challenged, year unclear, because of
morbid and grotesque ideas.

"Oh How Silly!" by William Cole. Challenged in 2003 because it
portrays a man with a gun to his head.

"Outside Over There" by Maurice Sendak. Challenged in 1993 because
goblins kidnapping a baby may cause nightmares and arouse children's
fears for themselves.

"Ramona the Brave" by Beverly Cleary. Challenged in 1993 because of
the use of Jesus' name in vain.

"Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz. Challenged in
1990 because of Satanic illustrations, belief that it promotes evil
intent and preying upon the innocent, and because it is poorly written.

"Secret Spells and Curious Charms," by Monika Beisner. Challenged in
1992 for containing spells and selections taken from adult books of
black magic; it is a how-to book about spells; it states that black
magic is considered a form of religion; and it violates the separation
of church and state.

"Sex, Lies and the Truth," video with Robert O. Garner, Kirk Cameron
and Chelsea Noble. Challenged in 1998, reason unknown.

"Then Again, Maybe I Won't" by Judy Blume. Challenged in 1989 because
it is a "dismal tale of a young boy's inability to cope and his very
inappropriate responses to the changes taking place in his life;
detrimental attitude towards a child's natural development and raises
questions about sexual arousal that elementary school students are too
young to experience and would leave them with the wrong attitude about
the opposite sex."

"Thomas' Snowsuit," by Robert Munsch. Challenged in 2001 because the
material is contrary to the district's behavior policies.

"The View from the Cherry Tree" by Willo David Roberts. Challenged in
1990 because of objectionable language and because the murderer is a
drug dealer.

"Witches, Pumpkins and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols"
by Edna Barth. Challenged in 1992 because it references occult and
witchcraft; it suggests that children born on Halloween are able to see and
talk with ghosts; and that it may lead them to the practice of witchcraft.

Books restricted

"Golden Book of the Mysterious" by Jane Werner Watson, Sol Chaneles
and Alan Lee. Challenged in 1997 because of sections on the occult and
witchcraft do not promote a positive message for students. Restricted
to middle school and above.

"I Saw Esau" by Iona Opie. Challenged in 2001 because illustrations
are disgusting, inappropriate, and/or unnecessary. Restricted to teachers.

"Alice In Rapture, Sort of" by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Challenged in
1998 because it is too advanced for pre-teens. Restricted to middle
school or above.

"House of Dies Drear," video with Virginia Hamilton. Challenged in
1992 because the book projects fear by frequent references to evil and
Satan; presents a false perception of history; causes loss of child's
security in school. Restricted to seventh grade and above.

"Mystery Walk" by Robert R. McCammon. Challenged in 1992 because of
violence and profanity, and that the book is considered bizarre, with
no literary value. Retained but restricted to high school level.

Books removed

"Dream Boy" by Jim Grimsley. Challenged in 2001 because of
homosexuality, drinking and graphic language.

"El Agua," by Nicole Giron. Challenged in 1993 because it includes two
paintings that graphically depict a nude adult female and a nude male
child; that the book is not suitable for elementary children; it
exposes them to adult anatomy and contributes to a lack of personal
modesty. Removed and replaced with another Spanish language book about

"What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: The New Growing and Up Guide
for Parents and Sons" by Lynda Madaras and Area Madaras. Challenged in 1994
because of slang names for sexual organs and functions; it contains
information on homosexuality, but not HIV or AIDS. Replaced with new

Books Unknown outcome

"Let's Talk about Health" by Kenneth L. Packer and Jeannine Bower.
Challenged in 1996 because of the way the book handled issues such as
dating, premarital sex, homosexuality and masturbation. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D