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Super Diaper Baby Survives

A Riverside schools committee rejects a request to ban the toilet-humor tome.

June 13, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

First, Super Diaper Baby triumphed over the evil Deputy Doo Doo. On Thursday, the storybook character defeated critics who wanted the infant banned from the Riverside Unified School District.

In a 5-2 vote, a seven-member committee of teachers, parents and administrators rejected a parental guardian's request to remove Dav Pilkey's "The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby" from its libraries and classrooms.

Pam Santi of Riverside filed the complaint because of the book's "inappropriate" scatological story line. She described the committee's decision as "unwise" Thursday evening and said she was considering appealing.

"A lot of parents and teachers have no clue what's in this book," said Santi, who complained to the district after she spotted her second-grade grandson drawing Deputy Doo Doo, a villainous piece of excrement.

He read the book at his school, John F. Kennedy Elementary.

Written and illustrated in comic-book style, the story follows Super Diaper Baby's accidental swig of super-power juice and the flying infant's battle with Deputy Doo Doo.

The 125-page book brims with toilet talk, and, many of its critics say, an overall disregard for authority.

It is part of Pilkey's best-selling series "Captain Underpants."

Because the book is not mandatory reading, the committee's decision is not subject to school board approval.

However, if Santi appeals, the case would move to the Riverside County Office of Education and, if still unsettled, the state Department of Education.

No other parents have complained about the book, officials said. One parent attended Thursday's meeting to support it.

"This is a First Amendment issue," said Greg Taber, whose son is a Pilkey fan.

He said if Santi finds the book offensive, she should suggest other books to her grandson. "But don't take the right away from other children to read the book," Taber said.

None of the committee members praised the book's literary merits, although some commended it for attracting reluctant readers between the ages of 7 and 10, Pilkey's targeted audience.

"My gut reaction is that I don't like this book," said Betsy Schmechel, a secondary education specialist in English and language arts. " ... The issue to me is the freedom to read."

Arlington High School teacher Cynthia Marr said parents of elementary school pupils have the opportunity -- and responsibility -- to monitor what their children read.

"But I would never advocate censorship," Marr said.

Linda Wallis, a second-grade teacher at Madison Elementary, said school officials have an obligation to monitor children.

"There is not one teacher I know who wants ["Super Diaper Baby"] out there," said Wallis, who voted to ban the book. " ... This is not the type of humor we promote at school. It's putting down kids to say this is what they like to read."

Like other committee members, Sue Tavaglione struggled with the vote, ultimately deciding that she wanted the book removed from the district.

"Super Diaper Baby" should be available in a public library, she said, where parents usually accompany their children.

"But it should not be in a school library," said Tavaglione, whose children and grandchildren have attended schools in the district.

District Librarian Christine Allen emphasized that "Super Diaper Baby" books were acquired free through book drives.

"Not all books need to be morally uplifting," she said, noting that libraries provide readers of all ages publications of all styles, including serious and sad, fun and frivolous.

Earlier this school year,Riverside Unified discussed and denied two parental attempts to expunge Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and Sandra Benitez's "A Place Where the Sea Remembers."

The district receives complaints each year regarding books with dark themes, foul language and sexual content, said Allen, who headed the committee.

Since 1989, when Allen began tracking complaints, the only request granted occurred seven years ago when officials removed Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War" from middle school libraries because of profanity and a masturbation scene.

Last year, the Chicago-based American Library Assn. tracked 515 challenges to remove or restrict publications. Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" books landed on the group's list as the sixth most frequently challenged book. The Harry Potter series ranked first.

In a prepared statement, the book's publisher, Scholastic Inc., defended the series, noting that it has won several awards and receives hundreds of letters each week from parents and teachers praising the books "for transforming [children] into eager readers."

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