Olivia Hartsell loves having her parents read to her. The Wilmington, North Carolina, first-grader has begun taking advantage of the school library, bringing home books she chooses.
One book Olivia chose in March, though, set off a firestorm of debate when her parents, Michael and Tonya Hartsell, demanded the book be taken off the shelves at Freeman Elementary School library. The book: "King & King," a tale of how a prince searches through a troupe of eligible potential princesses before he finds his true love – another prince, whom he ultimately "marries."
The book, by Dutch writers Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland, was translated and published in America in 2002 by Tricycle Press, the children's division of Ten Speed Press of Berkeley, California. And, according to the publisher, the book is for children six and older.
"I was flabbergasted," Hartsell said in a report by Associated Press. "My child is not old enough to understand something like that, especially when it is not in our beliefs."
Flabbergasted or not, King & King is only one of many examples of books written for children that aim to indoctrinate them with views and social agendas with which Christian parents might disagree.
Addressing the Issue
Homosexuality, bestiality, horror and suicide are topics cropping up in works targeted at children. It's enough that one parent, who works for a major national bookstore chain, has launched a website to educate parents about certain books that, while they may seem innocent and are intended for children, really deserve a stern review from parents first.
The website, ParentsAware.net, is in its beginning stages. It has several sections, including pages of young and teen reader books that are recommended and those to be avoided.
"It was the book "Boy Meets Boy" by David Levithan that pushed me over the edge and into the website world," the site creator writes on the introduction page of ParentsAware.net. "Here was a book aimed at kids 12 years old and up that was openly gay. ... When I started to look at teen books a little closer, I found that 'Boy Meets Boy' was exactly that, the first 'openly' gay teen book."
The name of the site creator (from here on referred to as "SC" for site creator) is not being published here to protect his or her identity. SC launched the website late last year after reading one particularly bad children's book.
"I take home the children's books to read so I can recommend them to people [who come in and ask about them]," SC said. "The first book I read was 'Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged,' which had bestiality in it. When I read that I just got so completely disgusted I decided I couldn't stay quiet; I had to do something about it."
'Jake Riley,' written by Rebecca Fjelland Davis for readers 12 and older, tells of a boy who, at different points in the story, tries to grope and seduce Lainey, the main female character; uses his pocket knife to saw off the leg of an injured squirrel; and is later caught by Lainey in the calf pen in the barn. His pants are down and he is "groaning with pleasure," according to SC.
It's not the worst book SC has seen on the job and reviewed.
"33 Snowfish," by Adam Rupp, is about three teenagers, according to SC. Of the teens, Boobie has killed his parents and kidnapped his infant sibling to sell on the street. Custis, another teen, is being "kept" by a pornographer making pedophilic movies. And Curl is a teenage prostitute.
"All the reviews I could find of this book recommended it for kids over 15," SC writes on the website. "I can't imagine they would do that without a really, really good reason."
According to SC, who told AFA Journal that more than 10 pages of notes were made during the review of "33 Snowfish," the "s-word" is used approximately 163 times in the 179-page book. Also, the "n-word" is used approximately 55 times.
Another book, "Swear to Howdy," is troubling in its own right. The book, written for children 8-12, goes into great detail on how to load and shoot a rifle, and the characters in the book kill the family cat. Also, at one point, one of the book's characters, Rusty, finds Joey sitting on his bed with the muzzle of his rifle in his mouth, his finger on the trigger, saying, "There ain't no other way out."
Not a New Trend
Using children's books to push decidedly adult themes or agendas isn't a new phenomenon. "Heather Has Two Mommies" caused a stir a few years ago as it presented homosexuality to children as normal and natural.
Tricycle Press, a decidedly liberal publisher, also translated and published the follow-up to "King & King." "King & King & Family" has the two "married" kings adopting a child.
Despite the obvious overtones of these stories, "King" series co-author Stern Nijland said she never intended the books to be endorsements of homosexuality.
"It's a happy story -- it's just two princes, that's it," Nijland told WECT Television in Wilmington. "We thought it was funny – too bizarre for words actually. Here this kind of thing is normal. It is sad this discussion is apparently still necessary."
American Family Association (AFA) president Tim Wildmon disagrees with Nijland's stance. "How can a 'happy' book about a man who marries another man, and then adopts a child, not be an endorsement of homosexuality?" Wildmon asked. "I realize the authors live in the Netherlands and homosexuality – rather, sin – is accepted in that culture, but to say such a book isn't an endorsement of that lifestyle is ludicrous."
It is not the goal of SC – or AFA, for that matter – to get such books banned. Freedom of speech in the United States allows for such fare, no matter how tasteless or disgusting, to exist. It is, however, SC's goal for parents to be more educated about what books are out there for children, and to know that not all books in the children's section of the library or bookstore should be considered safe.
"My opinion is bridled at work," SC said, "but I still wanted to get the message out. I wanted parents to know about the silent assault against their children."
Parents, like the Hartsells, who have come across children's books with themes or material they feel are inappropriate for children, are welcomed to alert ParentsAware.net. To contact the site, go to the website and click on the link "contact the website book reviewer."
Jason Collum is a staff writer for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared in the May 2004 issue.
© 2004 AgapePress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.