Who Should Decide What Kids Read?
Gary Kroeker, an English teacher at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, wrote a book called “The Magi at Christmas,” a modern-day tale of a young, unmarried pregnant woman who travels to Germany in search of the father of her unborn child. On her journey, she meets an older man who befriends her, helps deliver her baby and falls in love with her. The book contains profanity, a graphic birth scene and the suggestion of romance between the older man and the younger woman.
Upon hearing that the book had been donated to the school library, school principal Don White asked a 13-member parent advisory committee to read it and determine whether to allow it in the school’s collection. The panel decided that the book was not suitable reading material for students and unanimously voted to ban it from the library.
DEBORAH BELGUM discussed the controversy with the author and the school principal.
English teacher for 24 years at Los Altos High School, author of “The Magi at Christmas”
I was surprised at the principal’s reaction. I realize that the book has a few four- letter words, but the story is basically about a young pregnant girl who has lived a really tough life in foster homes.
Late in the book, there is a fairly graphic birth scene. The birth is kind of retelling of the Christmas story but the baby is not Christ.
My publisher knows I am a high school English teacher and donated five books to the library. The principal didn’t think it was a good idea.
He called me into his office and said, “I just don’t know how this can help you.” He thought it was not appropriate for the library. Frankly, I was so flabbergasted I didn’t know what to say.
I went home that night and wrote him this long letter saying how disappointed I was he didn’t see in the book what I saw. I think this is a book about redemption. The theme that weaves all the way through it is of Epiphany.
The publisher offered to send 13 copies of the book at no charge for an advisory committee to read. But rather than form a panel we both agreed on, the principal gave it to the parent advisory committee. I asked if I could go in and speak on behalf of the book, and he said no.
I don’t know if Don White is being prudish about the book. I think he is trying to cover himself in case a parent complains. He doesn’t have to deal with it if it is not there.
It bothers me this is happening to my book. It is a beautiful story. To have it besmirched is disturbing.
Principal, Los Altos High School
I thought there might be some things in this book that parents would be concerned about having their kids read. I was just looking out for the parents.
I don’t have any great zeal for banning books. I really took no position on the book before the parent advisory committee. I said “Here is something I would like you to review.”
Some of the parents from the advisory committee said they felt the students would feel uncomfortable being in this teacher’s class.
There are red flags in the book--one is that the girl in the story is unwed and pregnant. There is some language in there, that taken out context, some people might find offensive. I don’t think you can whittle down [the objections] to one issue.
The author believes he is retelling the Christmas story, but the people who read it didn’t read that into it. The parents from the advisory committee felt if they put it in the library, it was putting their endorsement on it. And they were not willing to endorse it.
If somebody wants to read this, there is the bookstore or other ways of getting it.
This whole issue is not something critical to the functioning of the school and making students more literate. We have enough to deal with to make sure the students are doing well on their test scores.
The author and the publisher said they would accept the vote of the advisory committee. I just say, let’s move on.