FEBRUARY 13, 1997
"Goosebumps," a popular children's book series, sets off a controversy over removing books from public school libraries. Fred De Sam Lazaro of public station KTCA-St. Paul-Minneapolis has the story.
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, a popular children's book series sets off an adult controversy. Fred De Sam Lazaro of public station KTCA-St. Paul-Minneapolis has the story.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the business of children's books, there's never been anything like "Goosebumps." Some 4 million of these shock thrillers are sold each month.
SPOKESMAN: Chill out with more creepy stories from the best-selling "Goosebumps" series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their creepy characters and scary scenes appeal to the pre-adolescent curiosity of children age nine to twelve.
SHIRLEY EMMERT, Librarian: How many of you have read at least one "Goosebumps" book? Raise your hand up high, if you have read--
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Librarian Shirley Emmert has watched kids read for 22 years in her suburban Minneapolis school district.
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Who can tell us a book they've read that really was scary to them?
JACLYN DAVIDSON, Student: "The Barking Ghost."
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Okay. And I don't know that story. Can you tell us something about it?
JACLYN DAVISON: It's about--it's about a dog, and it's like it attacks people and they don't believe in it, but it comes to ‘em.
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Okay.
KIMBERLY PEDDYCOART, Student: (reading) "Frozen as still as a statue, I listened, I heard the scrape of feet moving rapidly over the ground. I heard heavy breathing. ‘Hey, who is it,' I called."
SHIRLEY EMMERT: They like the tinge of scariness in them. They're quick reading. He writes ‘em so that the end of every chapter you have to go on to see, you know, what's going to happen next, how the situation will be resolved.
MATTHEW OLSON, Student: "‘You're a creep," I replied. ‘No, you're a creep,' she replied. ‘You're a jerk!' I shouted. I felt so good to be calling her names again."
SHIRLEY EMMERT: The prose--they are not well written as far as literary value is concerned, no.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But that doesn't stop Emmert from stocking her school library full of "Goosebumps" books. In her mind, anything that gets disinterested children to read is a useful tool.
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Our No. 1 goal is to get our children to read and to comprehend. Reading is a skill that is going to be more and more important as we move into the 21st century. And so regardless of what someone might choose for their life's work, they are going to need to be able to read and comprehend in order to be a successful, contributing citizen.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So your approach would be to get the kids to read--
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: --no matter what they're reading, to begin with--
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: --and then worry about exactly what they read later on?
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Yes, yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And children eat them up.
SHIRLEY EMMERT: Raise your hand if the only thing you read is "Goosebumps."
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The author, R.L. Stine, has been churning out a new book every month, and the Fox Television Network has a new TV "Goosebumps" every Saturday morning. But not all parents share their children's enthusiasm. Margaret Byron asked that "Goosebumps" books be removed from her children's school library.
MARGARET BYRON, Parent: A lot of kids are very afraid of them, carry them around in their book bags and are afraid to read them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Byron's request sparked soul searching among parents and educators who were forced to ask themselves the question: Can something that inspires children to read be bad for them at the same time? Letters poured in from around the country. District officials held hearings where parents and children came out in force.
GREGORY STULL, Parent: We try to influence non-violence on our children; yet, we allow books that glorify violence and gore and somehow becomes appealing to our children. Elementary school age children are not mature enough to make the decisions on what is good or bad for them to read. They need the guidance of their skills, as well as their parents. I challenge the district to continue the tradition of excellence in our education.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Parent Cheryl Dankers said educators should spend their limited funds on better quality books.
CHERYL DANKERS, Parent: Any parent can bring these books home to their children to read either from the public library, from a local bookstore, or a department store. This discussion isn't about censorship. School libraries must choose which books adorn their limited shelf space.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But censorship is the issue for parent Sharon Cuskey.
SHARON CUSKEY, Parent: The small group of parents supporting this ban-the-book movement need to be reminded that it is their parental responsibility to censor what their children listen to, watch, and read, and not their right to decide what is appropriate or acceptable for my children or any other children in the school district. Before you decide whether or not to fire up the furnace and ban these books, please remember the real issue that lies below the surface, and that being freedom.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And for the child who isn't interested in reading at all, "Goosebumps" supporters see the books as a beginning.
COLIN FLUEGEL, Student: For third through fifth grade I started reading the "Goosebumps" books, and then I started reading more Gary Paulson books, and now I'm up in Jules Verne's, the "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
BILL GARRISON, Parent: I'm unable to read to her for the simple fact that I'm a single parent, and I have no time to read for her, so with these "Goosebumps" collection that I have here, which I have not seen one tonight, encourage her to read, and if they're taken off the shelves, then I'm afraid she's going to lose interest to read and going to end up like me, without a decent job because of no education.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But fourth grade teacher David Edholm says children can get a far better education from other literature.
DAVID EDHOLM, Teacher: For them to say at least the kids are reading, if they're reading a wrong message, their reading skill does not mean that much, at least in my view. The same argument could be used if middle school boys aren't reading, you know, do we put erotic novels in the middle school library so that they would read, and so we can do better. We can do better than to--than these types of books.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, this Minnesota school district decided to leave the books in place, but the debate over "Goosebumps" continues.