Mermaids afloat in Davis libraries despite protests

Published August 23, 2006 1:04 am
County board's vote: Book is acceptable in young-adult section
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FARMINGTON - Is it borderline porn or fantasy art intended to enliven youthful imaginations?

The answer seems to lie with the beholder.

Citizen-watch groups in Davis County recently sought to get a young-adults' book - Voyage of the Basset - yanked from library shelves, saying some of its illustrations were too suggestive.

The groups failed Tuesday.

The Davis County Library Board, following a third hearing on the complaint, unanimously voted to keep the book in the young-adult section.

Illustrated by renowned Utah artist James C. Christensen - a retired Brigham Young University art professor - the book has nearly 120 lush illustrations depicting trolls, dragons, ogres and a few mermaid-like creatures.

In a phone interview Tuesday night Christensen said he was astonished at the controversy his book has aroused. "It was never my intent to cause any problems for people," Christensen said, adding that it's good to have a healthy understanding of human anatomy and mythology.

Rod Jeppsen, a Sandy therapist who works with adult and teen males addicted to pornography, told the Davis board he was asked by the group Citizens for Decency to present the case against a handful of Christensen's illustrations.

"What we normally don't consider pornography, a child may get sexually aroused by," he said. "The question to me is not whether the book has a good story line, but does it sexually stimulate young boys?"

He said seemingly innocuous images such as lingerie ads and swimsuit editions of sports magazines - and graphic illustrations in books - can launch a child on the road to hard-core addiction.

Bountiful resident Valerie Mills - representing Citizens for Families - described how her 5-year-old came home with Christensen's book one day.

She said his cousins had tipped him off to it. "They knew of, and could go quickly to, the pages with the nudity," Mills said, adding that she quizzed two of her teenage children about why these fairy-like drawings seemed so real. "My kids said it was their faces" - drawn in fine detail to appear lifelike, Mills said. "So it is very damaging."

Bountiful resident Dean Tucker voiced another perspective.

"I'm afraid that if we completely ban this book, there's so many other things that could be banned that are of equal value," Tucker said, adding that even Disney's cartoon mermaids are drawn in classic pin-up poses and could be deemed provocative.

Board member Paul Rowland said he doesn't believe a village raises a child. "I believe parents raise a child. . . . Parents need to take some responsibility."

Board member Michael Gann agreed. "The term 'slippery slope' is appropriate here. We don't rate books and never will," Gann said. "Our job is to make things available."

When youth sign up for a library card, the Davis County Library gives parents a range of choices to limit which departments - children, young adults or adult - those cards can access at checkout.

Mills said she felt comfortable with the board's decision in light of those extra parental controls.

At the Salt Lake City Public Library, Christensen's Basset tale can be found in both the young-adult and adult sections.

Salt Lake City Library Director Nancy Tessman agrees that the parents' role is key to shaping a child's reading choices.

But unlike Davis County and, in some cases, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City's library cards all have the same level of access.

Salt Lake County's system allows parents to select restricted cards for their children, which prevents the youngsters from checking out R-rated movies and music labeled with parental-advisory warnings.

However, when it comes to printed material, those choices are left to the discretion of parents and guardians, said Scott Russell, Salt Lake County Library marketing manager.

Catherine Weller, retail operations manager for Sam Weller Books, a Salt Lake City staple for 77 years, applauded the board's decision.

"Freedom of expression and the freedom to read is very important," Weller said. "That means the freedom to read things you like, and also the freedom for others to read things you might not like - with the exception of clearly harmful stuff."

And Vern Swanson, director of the Springville Museum of Art, who said he has known Christensen since 1965, called Christensen "a great soul."

"Because of his brilliance, intellectuality, articulateness and basic goodness as a human being, he brings to the table formidable talent. "I'd be on my high horse if they voted to ban the book," he added.


Voyage of the Basset

Illustrator James C. Christensen's second book, which he dedicated to his children and grandchildren, was published by Artisan, a division of New York-based Workman Publishing Co. Inc. Also credited with creating the 1996 book are Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foster.

Christensen, an Orem resident, has, according to the Greenwich Workshop Web site, received the Governor's Award for Art, is ranked among Utah's top 100 artists and co-chairs - with his wife Carole - the Mormon Arts Foundation.



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