Florida Keys News
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Parents: Book too racy for youngsters

A novel available in Monroe County school libraries that describes preteen sex has alarmed some parents at Sugarloaf School, but the district has declined to remove the book from its shelves, at least for now.

The school will form a committee to review the content of Judy Blume's 1975 novel "Forever" and determine whether it should be made available only to older students, not K-8 students, said Mike Henriquez, the district's chief academic officer.

The committee, which will meet in the next couple of weeks, will consist of Sugarloaf Principal Theresa Axford, the school librarian, a district administrator, a teacher and a community member who will review the book's contents and determine whether to limit access.

In the meantime, the book stays where it is, not only at Sugarloaf but other middle schools, Burke said.

"We don't remove material until the committee has a made a final decision," Henriquez said. "Our district media policy says that no questionable material can be removed pending the decision of the committee."

One particular part of the book that concerns parents describes a sexual encounter between a young boy who is trying to get a young girl to achieve an orgasm.

"Committee members read the book and review the book's literary merit," Axford said, listing the questions they'll ask themselves. "What is the purpose or message of the material? How well does the author accomplish this purpose? Is it suitable for children and young adults? What age group would you recommend (it for)?"

Blume, who was gardening Friday to prepare her Flagler Avenue home for an evening house tour, said she dedicated the novel to her then-14-year-old daughter.

"I envision it for children 14 to 16 years old," Blume said. "What I've found out with 'Forever' is that if kids (read) it before it is age appropriate for them, they say, 'Ewww, I don't want to read this book.' Kids are awfully good at knowing what they want to read."

Blume, who also writes G-rated books for small children, said an adult should be ready to answer questions kids might have as they read about the sex acts and descriptions in the book.

"One mother wrote me that her 10-year-old daughter wanted to read the book. After the child was finished reading it, the parent had asked the child if she had any questions," Blume said. The child's response was, " 'Mom, what is fondue?' " Blume laughed, explaining the book contains a scene about such a meal.

Tami Fletcher and Heather Fowler were at Fletcher's home Friday discussing how they'll persuade school officials to limit access to the book, they said. Both have 13-year-olds attending Sugarloaf. Both kids have either read parts of the book or heard the book read aloud on the school bus, Fowler said.

"This book was discussed with other children who had no choice but to hear it," Fletcher said.

"How about this," Fowler said as she read an excerpt from 'Forever.' " 'When we woke up, Ralph was hard again ... I grabbed his backside with both hands and tried to push him deeper and deeper into me ...'

"I'm very open-minded and I don't think any book should be banned or anything," Fowler said, "but I don't think this is appropriate at an elementary school level."

Districts must strike a balance between addressing parents' concerns and avoiding censorship, Burke said.

"I just know the degree of anxiety that the parent had about (the book) was huge," he said. "I have sympathy for her concern. But it's a serious question, whether to remove books or to limit access."

jguerra@keysnews.com

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