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Not so wild about Harry

October 16, 1999

Jessica Garrison

NEWPORT-MESA -- He may have bewitched readers young and old all around

the world, but it seems not everyone here is captivated by teenage wizard

Harry Potter.

In response to brewing controversy nationwide and locally, Supt. Robert

Barbot warned elementary school principals Thursday to be "aware of the

controversy" surrounding the popular children's books and to make sure

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teachers are "using it appropriately."

The three Harry Potter books, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,"

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Harry Potter and the

Prisoner of Azkaban" have become a worldwide, best-selling phenomenon and

-- a first for children's books -- have even topped the New York Times

bestseller lists.

They are also being read aloud to students in a number of classrooms

around Newport-Mesa.

But some parents are concerned that the books, which feature the

adventures of an orphaned, teenage wizard who attends a school for

witchcraft and wizardry and is plagued by his abusive aunt, uncle and

cousin, are not appropriate classroom reading.

"Some parents have a problem with it because of the sorcery," said Julie

Chan, the district's reading coordinator. "But the kids love it. It's a

frenzy on these Harry Potter books."

The books have spurred minor controversy elsewhere in the Southland. In

Ventura County last week, a couple removed their son from school rather

than have him listen to his teacher read the book.

"I feel it's a book that deals with issues that would be best discussed

between a parent and a child and not a teacher and a student," said Jean

Lespier, a parent at Davis Intermediate School whose daughter's teacher

read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" to the class.

Of particular concern to parents are two issues in the book: child abuse

and sorcery.

When he's not at the school for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter

lives with his aunt and uncle, who force him to sleep in a cupboard,

disparage him constantly and subject him to indignities large and small.

This treatment constitutes child abuse, a difficult topic, parents say,

and not one that should be lightly addressed in the classroom.

But perhaps more worrisome for some parents is the fact that the book

could be read as an endorsement of witchcraft and wizardry.

"Many people consider that to be a religion unto itself," Lespier said.

"And so I think it needs to be dealt with very carefully, because it

verges on the separation between church and state."

Many school officials, such as Barbot and Kaiser Elementary School

Principal Daryle Palmer, said they have not yet read the books, but plan

to this weekend.

"I have heard it's very good literature," Palmer said.

Other parents said that they found the books delightful, and that

anything that gets children reading is a good thing.

"My son is enthralled," said Harbor Council PTA president Jill Money, who

said concern over the books had been raised at a recent PTA meeting.

"It's a fantasy," she added. "I don't really see that there's anything

harmful in letting your imagination run wild."

Her son, Tom, a sixth-grader at Andersen Elementary School, said he loved

the books, and did not think they were causing any harm.

"When I read it, I believe in magic, but outside the book, I don't. But I

don't have nightmares about it or anything," he said.

"Everyone in sixth grade has either read it or is reading it right now,"

he added.

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