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Education Reporter

Wizards, Witchcraft, Gloom & Doom
The world of childrens fiction lacks heroes, morals

The GIVER HOLT, MI -- When grandmother Caroline Stiefel heard a teacher reading The Giver, by Lois Lowry, to 5th-grade students at her grandchildrens Christian school in western Michigan several years ago, she was horrified to discover that the books main theme was death. Characters in the book are "released" (killed) if they are criminals, infants, the elderly, or if they request "release" (assisted suicide). Last spring, a friend urged Mrs. Stiefel to put her research on The Giver in writing, which she did.

The Givers pages are filled with death -- the death of a young soldier in battle, graphically described; death due to overpopulation, starvation, and war; death of an elephant; and death of those who dont fit in. One passage describes infanticide performed on a "less than adequate" baby: "He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty. . . . As he continued to watch, the newchild [sic], no longer crying, moved his arms and legs in a jerking motion. Then he went limp. He [sic] head fell to the side, his eyes half open. Then he was still." (pp. 149150)

One concerned father voiced his fears about the effect that passage and others in the book could have on his daughter, who has a limb deficiency. He told Focus on the Family: "Theres no way I want my daughter, or any child who is struggling with self-confidence, to think that might happen to them."

The Givers families are permitted only two children, one boy and one girl. Motherhood is disparaged. "Theres very little honor in that Assignment," a mother tells her daughter (p. 21).

"This book immerses young readers in doom, gloom, distrust, anxiety and despair," explains Caroline Stiefel. "The story line doesnt make sense -- theres no reason or rationale to it. The effect is emotional in a negative way, without taking any moral view."

She asks: "When considering books for children, isnt it wise to discern between those with some flawed details versus books with fundamentally flawed visions? "Does adding a moral component to a basically amoral book automatically negate the potentially harmful effects of that book?"

Also controversial is the bestselling "Harry Potter" series of childrens books, which focuses on sorcery and witchcraft. Some parents want these books removed from the classroom because they glorify the occult.

In South Carolina, parents are urging the state and local school boards to get rid of Harry Potter. In California, news accounts claimed that two California parents transferred their son to another elementary school after learning that his teacher was reading one of the books in class. "We werent trying to transfer him," the mother explained to Education Reporter. "Our son was ostracized by his teacher after we objected to the book. What it boils down to is that he was kicked out of the school."

The Sept. 20 issue of Time Magazine featured a story on Harry Potter, where author J.K. Rowling was quoted as saying that her four remaining books "will turn darker" than the first three. "There will be deaths," she predicted.

Also under fire is so-called "chil-drens" book We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier, which contains a graphic description of an attempted gang rape, and has ben read or assigned to students as young as 11.

Parents wonder whether children need to be exposed to all this evil and darkness. "These books are used to get children to address ethical issues," observes Mrs. Stiefel, "to which they are already overexposed in our society. We risk desensitizing them and diluting the positive, godly messages many parents are striving to impart, thereby sending a mixed or contrary message.

"When horrific images are shockingly described by an author," she adds, "they will be firmly implanted in the minds of children."

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