A young heroine in “Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp” conquered a witch, a monster and a swamp devil.
Now she’s up against a group of Spokane parents who say Liza Lou’s exploits give kids nightmares.
Nine people have signed a petition asking School District 81 administrators to pull the 21-year-old book from the shelves in elementary school libraries.
Administrators are deciding what to do with the book. Its New York publisher says the story is empowering, not scary, and should be left alone.
Parent Nanean Shupp said she first encountered Liza Lou when she checked out the book at Holmes Elementary School a couple of years ago.
She read it to her three kids at bedtime as part of their nightly routine.
The kids had bad dreams, which Shupp attributes to a string of villains in the book - particularly the witch who threatened to boil Liza Lou and chew on her bones.
And then there’s the swamp devil who wanted to jump in Liza’s ear and steal her soul.
“When they talk about stealing a child’s soul away, this is getting a little in-depth,” said Shupp, a 28-year-old woman who does volunteer work at Holmes.
“Kids have enough worries and fears,” she said. “Why give them more?”
But she didn’t complain until her 7-year-old son, Dustin, checked out the book again a year later. It was on a shelf for children in kindergarten through second grade, Shupp said.
This time, she got eight other adults from her neighborhood and church to sign a petition objecting to the book. They sent a formal complaint to school administrators in June.
“I think it’s scary and evil at the same time,” said Christina Garcia, Schupp’s neighbor. “It’s nothing children should be worrying about at that age.”
Fran Mester, the Spokane administrator who reviewed the book with a committee of district employees, said she forwarded a recommendation to the associate superintendent who’ll decide Liza Lou’s fate.
Associate Superintendent Cynthia Lambarth was out of town this week, and Mester wouldn’t reveal the recommendation until a decision was passed on to Schupp.
The district decided against banning “Goosebumps,” a popular children’s book series that came under fire in March 1996.
Instead, administrators told parents to notify teachers and librarians if they didn’t want their kids reading the books.
Mester said the Liza Lou story, by Connecticut author Mercer Mayer - best known for the book “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” - has been a longtime hit with kids.
“It tends to be popular in that he was a well-known, well-respected author,” she said.
The book was recently recommended as a great summer read by “CBS This Morning,” noted Ellen Krieger, an editorial director for Aladdin Paperbacks. The division of Simon and Schuster published a paperback version in May.
Krieger called Liza Lou a good, clever role model for kids.
“It is very much an empowering story. Liza Lou is never actually intimidated or frightened by the monsters. She’s always very much in control.”
Schools should leave the book on the shelves and leave the decision on whether to read it to individual families, said Krieger.
Reviews varied when the book was published in 1976.
Liza Lou could be a “much younger, black Daisy Mae - and no doubt some will see her as a female Sambo,” according to the Kirkus Review. Readers couldn’t deny a “gruesome fascination” with the book, though, the reviewer wrote.
The book is “a lot of fun,” according to a review in Booklist. “There’s never any question about who’s going to have the last laugh on all those dumb monsters.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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