Prosser School District committee votes to keep book in library

PROSSER — A review committee has recommended a book challenged for its portrayal of a family with two fathers remain on the shelves of libraries in two elementary schools.

The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow only is available to fifth graders in those two schools. The committee said it wants to keep that restriction in place.

The committee — comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and a student — also recommended the district notify parents that they are free to read books in the library themselves and limit their children’s access to titles they don’t want them to read.

“We need to allow parents to make that decision,” said committee member K.J. Gilbertson, who also is a librarian in the district.

Rich Korb, the Prosser High School social studies teacher who filed the complaint against the book, told the committee the book should be removed because it isn’t age appropriate, promotes a political issue and is a blow against the community’s morals.

“We have clouded our academic purpose for political agendas,” he told committee members.

The Popularity Papers is about two girls who want to unlock the secrets to being popular in middle school. One of the girls has two fathers, the other has only a mother. The book actually is part of a whole series about the girls’ adventures, presented in a diary format.

District Librarian Vivian Jennings said the book is highly regarded by third- through fifth-graders around the state. It has been short-listed for the Washington Library Media Association’s Sasquatch Award.

Jennings contacted school librarians in the Kennewick School District, with four schools indicating it was made available to third- through fifth-graders, she said.

She said the book’s style and format are highly desired, as they invite repeated reading by children.

“The challenges and problems these girls face are ones children face every day,” Jennings said.

Korb, who earlier this week challenged another book, framed his opposition to The Popularity Papers by saying that it is up to parents, not schools, to teach values to children. He hung signs on the front of his table with the phrases “This is the schoolhouse, not your house” and “Leave your personal issues in the hallway.”

At the same time, in an apparent contradiction, Korb bemoaned the increasing removal of morals from the classroom. He cited the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the anti-establishment movement of the 1980s and the rash of school shootings beginning in the 1990s.

“We are experiencing a moral shift in America and the line between right and wrong has become very cloudy,” Korb said.

A few committee members said they personally didn’t agree with the idea of two gay men or women raising a child, but did not think the book should be removed.

“For us to pass judgment on this book is to pass judgment on those families,” said Deanna Flores, principal at Housel Middle School.

Some committee members said they didn’t detect a political agenda behind the book. Most said the book was humorous and a good way to help girls, specifically those in the fifth and sixth grades, contend with the challenges of growing up.

“It hits the nail on the head for the tween years,” said Peggy Valnes, an elementary school teacher.

Parents can restrict the books their children check out from the library, though Jennings acknowledged that kids have found ways around that system.

Overall, the committee said it’s a parent’s responsibility to know what their children are exposed to and talk with them about it.