Well-known book under scrutiny

Friday, January 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

BLUE SPRINGS — A group of parents has asked the Blue Springs school board to remove the award-winning book, “The Giver,” from student reading lists, saying it contains “negative” themes.

The district has included the book, written by Lois Lowry, on its suggested reading lists for eighth-graders for almost eight years without incident.

But school board members are reading the book again and could decide later this winter whether it will remain in the curriculum.

The book has won a dozen awards, including the prestigious Newbury Medal for children’s literature in 1994. But it also is one of the top 25 most challenged books, according to the American Library Association.

Sharon Keitel, a media specialist and ninth-grade English teacher at Oakland Junior High School, said that she does not think the book is appropriate for very young children who might not be able to understand its themes. “I think when third- and fourth-graders pick up that book and they’re able to read it, they might find those ideas disturbing,” she said.

Keitel includes the book in a group of novels for a ninth-grade English class that has an assignment on challenged or banned books. With their parents’ permission, students choose one of the books and research the context and history of its suppression, and the themes or scenes that people found objectionable.

Published in 1993, the book follows Jonas, a 12-year-old boy, who lives in a utopian society that has intentionally forgotten its past. People have no memories and make no decisions. One person, called The Giver, is entrusted with the society’s memories and when Jonas becomes The Giver, he learns that people who are judged to be weak, such as the elderly, are murdered or otherwise removed from society.

Faced with the truth about his society, Jonas decides to leave.

Keitel, who has read “The Giver,” said it is a thought-provoking novel that she recommends to her students.

“I would not consider it inappropriate for most eighth-graders, by any means,” she said.

Educators have praised the book as a way to spark critical thinking and literary skills, as well as begin discussions on free will and defending your beliefs.

“It is a powerful book,” said Dawn Vaughn, president of the American Association of School Librarians.

“It is important for young adults who are at a point in their lives when they will have to make choices about drugs, alcohol and sex to have a discussion about breaking away from the crowd and standing up for what you believe in. I can’t think of a better book for an eighth-grade class to read.”

But some parents don’t agree, saying the book is violent, sexually explicit and includes euthanasia and infanticide.

“This book is negative,” said Cerise Ivey, one of five parents who have fought the book’s inclusion on student reading lists since the fall of 2003. “I read it. I don’t see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.”

Missourian reporter Amanda Buck contributed to this report.

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