SPRING HILL — There's nothing like a little controversy over a book to get people reading it.
In the weeks since parent Christy Jordan discovered the Anthony Horowitz book Snakehead in her third-grader's book bag last fall, numerous Hernando County educators and community members have read it to help determine whether it belongs in the Westside Elementary School library.
Even Hernando County School board member Diane Bonfield had a copy during Tuesday's board meeting.
The board ultimately voted to follow the recommendation of school superintendent Bryan Blavatt to leave the book on the library shelf but to limit its availability to fifth-graders.
Jordan said she was disappointed the book is staying at Westside Elementary, but she hopes school personnel pay closer attention to what students check out.
"I don't think fifth-graders should read about terrorists and smuggling and drugs," she said. "We're already battling the TV and video games and the Internet. Now, we've got to fight the school library."
Blavatt said he read the book right after the Christmas break.
"It was pretty compelling," he said. "But some of the descriptions of things were rough for elementary. Probably the fifth-grader would be most able to deal with it."
When Jordan saw the book in her son's bag, she read the back cover, something she said her son hadn't done. He thought he was checking out a book about snakes.
The first words she read: "They murdered his parents. They shot him and left him for dead."
Jordan was shocked. The fictional book wasn't something she wanted her third-grader to be reading, even by accident.
Snakehead, part of the Alex Rider adventure series, includes a teenage spy, the Australian secret service, and a criminal gang in Southeast Asia involved in smuggling drugs and human trafficking.
A committee, made up of educators from across the district and including Adam Brooks of the Hernando County Public Library system, noted that the book was recommended for grades 5 through 10 and was not overly graphic.
At the public library, the book is in the young adult section for ages 12 and up.
The group also noted that the book appeals to boys, who often are reluctant readers. It may not be appropriate for a third-grader, but may be appropriate for a student reading on a fifth-grade level, the committee minutes state.
Blavatt said he was pleased with the way the district's book challenge policy worked.
When a parent has a concern about a particular book, he or she completes a school-based form, where an onsite committee meets and reviews the book. If the parent isn't satisfied with the outcome, another committee reviews the book for the superintendent. The School Board can uphold or deny his recommendations.
"This is the way it's supposed to work," he said.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.