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‘Where is the line?’ Book pulled from Minnesota school shelves after superintendent deems it ‘vulgar’

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HENNING — A book in the public school library here was recently pulled from the shelves after a parent raised concerns about the subject matter and the superintendent deemed it “vulgar.”

Superintendent Jeremy Olson said “This One Summer,” a graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, was banned from the library after he, the school librarian and principal determined the topics addressed to be inappropriate for inclusion in the library.

“I deemed it as being vulgar. There was a lot of inappropriate language,” Olson said.

“This One Summer,” a Caldecott Honor-winning title published in May 2014, centers around two friends reunited while on summer vacation. They’re girls on the cusp of adolescence, one with parents who are having problems.

The girls drink, smoke and swear, according to a book listing from the School Library Journal, which said the book is appropriate for grades eight and up.

For Jamie LaRue, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, the book’s ban is troubling.

“It’s unfortunate... in a time when surely our problem in America is not that children are reading too much,” LaRue said.

Henning is a town of around 800 residents about 30 miles east of Fergus Falls, with a library that is used by K-12 students and does not have specific grade sections.

Olson said books being pulled from school district shelves is “very, very rare” and hasn’t been done in Henning before, to his knowledge.

“We usually feel very comfortable and confident in what we’re bringing into our library,” he said, noting that after several reviews of the book, it was something that should not be in the school’s library.

But making a determination of vulgarity is subjective, LaRue said.

“You’ve got one person who makes a complaint and you have someone else who says, ‘OK, well this is pervasively vulgar,’ and what exactly does that mean?” he said. “You have to wonder how such a subjective standard might be applied to other materials.”

“This One Summer” has been controversial. There have been several attempts to pull the book from libraries, said Betsy Gomez, editorial director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

For LaRue, the subject matter in the book isn’t such that it should be banned.

“There is kind of a creeping willingness in America today to set aside the First Amendment and set aside the First Amendment rights of minors, for values that are a little lower on the chain, and that certainly bears watching,” LaRue said.

Olson said he is not a proponent of censorship.

“I am also a very big believer that you should not be censoring. I’m not an advocate of censoring books,” he said. “Where I draw the line is, with something I would determine pervasively vulgar, I struggle to understand if the educational need for that outweighs the vulgarity, where is that line?”

Rick Abbott

Rick Abbott, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., is a multimedia reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He graduated with a degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in Photojournalism from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Rick previously worked at WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks as production director and later web producer.

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