Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Word in school library books angers New Tampa family

NEW TAMPA — Ashyaa Brown is in the gifted program at Turner Elementary School. She can handle pretty advanced books, says Darryl Brown, her father.

But when the 11-year-old discovered a racially offensive term in two books from the school's accelerated reading list, her parents were appalled to learn they came from shelves at her school library.

Ashyaa was reading The Starplace, by Vicki Grove, when she ran across the N-word. She also found the term in another book, The Land, by award-winning author Mildred Taylor, who is black.

Now Darryl and his wife, Alytrice Brown, who are black, want those books off the shelves.

"There needs to be an examination of these words that elementary school kids are reading," said Darryl Brown, who lives in Live Oak in northeast Hillsborough. "I want them pulled."

Book challenges are not unusual in Hillsborough County. In a typical year, about a half-dozen are filed, school officials say.

Two months ago, after Ashyaa discovered the words, Brown told Turner's assistant principal that he was offended by the content. Last week, Ashyaa saw a student reading one of the books in an after-care class and an emotional discussion about the N-word ensued, leaving Ashyaa visibly upset, Brown said.

Brown complained again. This time, the media specialist at the school, Donna Simonetti-Tedesco, called him. She told him he could file a formal complaint, but used the word n----- when discussing the book's contents, he said. That incensed him even more.

"It's like pouring salt on a wound," said Brown, who is a doctoral student in education at the University of South Florida and the director of sales and marketing for an event planning business. "She was like, 'I apologize,' but it was a lackluster apology."

Brown, 44, sent Turner principal Donna Ares a letter Monday asking that Simonetti-Tedesco be suspended. Simonetti-Tedesco could not be reached for comment. Ares did not return a call for comment.

The Browns have not read either book, but they think the word has no place on elementary school bookshelves.

New complaint

The Land is about the son of a prosperous landowner and a former slave whose white father raises him openly in post-Civil War Georgia.

Taylor, the author, has addressed her use of the offensive term. She wrote: "I have chosen to use the language that was spoken during the period, for I refuse to whitewash history. The language was painful and life was painful for many African-Americans, including my family. I remember the pain."

The Starplace, whose author is white, is about racism and the friendship between two middle school students, one black and one white, in Quiver, Okla., during the early 1960s.

According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, which has kept records of challenges from school and public libraries since the 1970s, this is the first instance they have heard of in which someone has challenged these two books.

"These challenges are often based on a sense of language or the use of racial slurs," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director for the office for Intellectual Freedom. "That's one of the reasons To Kill a Mockingbird is often challenged. Yet it's one of the most eloquent arguments against casual racism in this country."

Caldwell-Stone said the most-challenged book last year was a picture book aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds titled And Tango Makes Three. It's about two male penguins who raise an egg together.

Upset by reaction

The Browns are upset they weren't told initially they had the option of filing a formal complaint.

"Two months later, it takes my daughter getting hurt for me even finding out about the procedure," Brown said.

School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the Browns did not receive a phone call from the media specialist after the initial complaint because of a miscommunication.

The assistant principal who fielded the complaint did not realize the Browns wanted to make a formal challenge and was not familiar with the process. The media specialist has been reported to the Office of Professional Standards to review Brown's complaints about her use of language, Cobbe said.

The Browns will now fill out a form so that a school review committee can determine if the books belong in the Turner library.

According to Barbara Rooks, supervisor of K-5 media centers for Hillsborough, each school has between 9,000 and 20,000 books, and not every school has the same books.

When a book is formally challenged, a committee of teachers, media specialists and parents from the school in question reads the book and decide to either keep it on the shelves or find another place for it.

If the person complaining is not satisfied, he or she can appeal to a district committee, which goes through the same process. Again, the person can appeal, and the School Board will have the final say.

In most cases, the books stay, Rooks said.

Rooks said she has not read the two books, but plans to. Taylor, the author of The Land, "has won millions of awards. She's very well known," Rooks said.

"The key is if things are taken out of context," Rooks said. "You can probably find something wrong with every book in our library if you chose to find something."

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Jared Leone and Amber Mobley contributed to this report. Information from the Washington Post was used in this report. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5312.

Passages with offensive term

The Land

by Mildred Taylor:

"He looked at me square and said matter-of-factly, "I got no use for white n------."

The Starplace

by Vicki Grove:

"Several people who came out to do ranch business with my dad today asked him if that

n----- girl was really going to my school."

The 2 books are on many shelves

•  Of the more than

100 schools and centers throughout Hillsborough County that have a copy of The Land, 36 are elementary schools.

•  Of the 96 schools

and centers that have

a copy of The Starplace, 24 are elementary schools.

Source: SUNLINK is Florida's K-12 public school union catalog, a shared database of materials in Florida K-12 library media centers that is funded by the Florida Department of Education.

Word in school library books angers New Tampa family 03/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 6:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick Friday night in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case

    Crime

    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101