Prosser book committee gives OK to argued novel 'A Child Called It'

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2013 

PROSSER -- A committee of administrators, teachers, parents and a student on Tuesday recommended a book challenged for its graphic depiction of child abuse remain available to seventh- and eighth-graders at Housel Middle School.

Currently, middle-school students must have parental permission to check out Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It. The book is freely available in the Prosser High School library.

Every member of the Prosser School District's nine-member Instructional Materials Committee noted the book's disturbing details and use of strong language. However, a majority said they wanted to keep the book on the shelves, as it depicts something older children need to learn about, can be inspirational and could motivate children to seek help if they need it.

"I would hold onto the hope that if one child could be helped by it, it's worth it," said committee member Gayle Wheeler, who also is a Prosser School Board member.

Superintendent Ray Tolcacher has 30 days to accept or reject the committee's recommendation. If he accepts it, that opens the door for Rich Korb, the Prosser High School teacher who formally challenged the book, to take the matter to the school board.

Korb said he was disappointed by the committee's recommendation and will wait to see what Tolcacher does before deciding his next step. In addition to questioning the committee's rationale for keeping the book in the libraries, he also questioned why the committee is composed entirely of women.

"If we're willing to sacrifice the many for the one, that's a problem," Korb said, referring to Wheeler's statement.

Korb also filed a complaint against Amy Ignatow's The Popularity Papers, which has a character with two fathers.

The committee will review The Popularity Papers at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the staff development room at 1500 Grant Ave. The meeting is open to the public, but only Korb and District Librarian Vivian Jennings will be allowed to testify.

Jennings said Pelzer's book, an autobiography, was brought into the libraries in the early 1990s. It supports current curriculum for middle school students, who learn about memoir and autobiography, and the book is popular at Housel.

"We currently have five copies (at Housel) and there's always a waiting list," Jennings said.

The book was restricted to seventh- and eighth-graders with parental permission in December after a few community members expressed concerns, Jennings said, and most people who had concerns were satisfied with those measures.

Committee members K.J. Gilbertson, a school librarian, and Peggy Valnes, an elementary school teacher, said they did want the book pulled from the middle school. Valnes is concerned about the ability of students to understand it, she said. Gilbertson said the book's language is sensationalistic and clearly is aimed at high school or college students, as it depicts authority figures in a poor light.

"It makes us seem like we're clueless and ineffective as educators," Gilbertson said.

Audra Distifeno, a sixth-grade teacher, said she's had students use the book in school projects because it moved and inspired them to appreciate their own lives.

Tanya Wagner said her two children read the book and took a positive message that someone could survive abuse and still prosper.

Shaelynn Voegele, a 17-year-old at Prosser High School, said she also read the book and noted that it's up to a student whether they want to read it.

"Kids can handle a lot more than adults give us credit for," Shaelynn said.

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