A book recently checked out from the Issaquah High School library gives new meaning to the term “graphic novel” — and one Issaquah mother is not happy about it.
Shirley Lopez made a complaint to the Issaquah High School librarian Kelly Crickmore and principal Andrea McCormick after her 14-year-old son brought home the comic book “Mangaman” by Barry Lyga, which follows the story of a boy who falls out of the comic world and into the real world of American high school.
The comic book came under fire for being too pornographic because it contains a sexual scene between two characters.
In the scene, both characters are shown in a bed about to have sexual intercourse. The girl is wearing just a bra and underpants, while the boy is wearing nothing at all, though his sexual organs are digitized out. Both characters’ faces exhibit signs of pleasure.
Lopez told the Issaquah School District Board of Directors at the Oct. 26 meeting that there were multiple problematic Manga books in both the school library and teachers’ individual libraries. She said that the English version of the “Naruto” comic series had “hyper-sexualized pictures,” including an image of an orgy.
“As the mother of a 14-year-old boy, I don’t feel like that’s appropriate in a high school library,” Lopez said.
Lopez described that one book, which had come from a teacher’s own library, included a scene where a naked woman drank from a water fountain while a soldier engaged in sexual intercourse with her from behind.
Issaquah School District Communications Director L. Michelle said that the district is working with Lopez to ensure that her complaints are heard. Michelle provided Lopez with the district’s official Request for Re-evaluation of Materials.
“It is important to know that we do have a review process in place that allows parents … to challenge materials in our library or curriculum,” Michelle said.
Lopez said that she had previously been successful in getting Pacific Cascade Middle School to remove certain Manga books from its library.
Michelle said that in the past, materials have been requested for review by concerned parents, although it is “more common for curriculum to be challenged” than library books.
In a district of 20,000 students and 14,000 families, Michelle noted, it is hard to please every single person, and “there are bound to be disagreements” over course materials and recreational reading options.
“There are always going to be differences of opinion,” she said.
Michelle did point out that, as the characters in the contested scene decide that they are not yet ready for sex, “the context of the story was students choosing not to engage in sexual activities.”
Amazon reviews claim that the book contains vulgar language, nudity and violence between teens so strong that one student ends up in the hospital. One of the Amazon reviews, which gives the book two stars, states that it is “not a book I would like to have a child or a young teen read.”
According to Article 5: Curriculum, Instructional Materials Selection and District Health Services of the district’s Negotiated Agreement 2014-2017, materials at the Issaquah High School library are chosen by the high school’s library media specialist, who goes through a specific checklist before making orders; the checklist includes actions such as making sure that materials are at appropriate reading “interests, abilities and backgrounds of the students.”
However, even the library media specialist doesn’t have “any way to know about what’s on every single page of every single book” to be ordered, Michelle said.
As stated in Article 5 of the agreement, once the review form is submitted, it must be reviewed by the Instructional Materials Committee, who will then present a recommendation to the superintendent within 30 days. The superintendent then has 10 days to either accept or reject the committee’s decision. If requested by the complainant or the committee, the School Board can also review the superintendent’s decision.
Michelle said that she cannot remember a school board ever making the decision to ban a book from a school’s library, and that, since the makeup of the School Board changes every few years, “it’s important to know that, even if a past school board did, this one did not.”
Lopez feels that the issue of inappropriate library materials is not being given the attention it deserves.
“I feel like if my 14-year-old had a problem with drugs … that would be looked at a lot differently,” Lopez said.