Dad drops request to ban ghost story

NASHUA – The Pennichuck Middle School parent who challenged whether a children’s horror story should be read by city students has withdrawn his request to ban the book.

Robert McCarthy asked the district to discontinue using the book “Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story,” by Mary Downing Hahn, in 1986.

McCarthy withdrew his request after learning that the book was not required reading in the school.

“I think this is one of those instances when further communication with the parent helped relieve their concerns,” said Superintendent Mark Conrad.

McCarthy said it was likely a miscommunication between himself, his son and his son’s teacher that led him to believe that his son had to read the book.

“It just looked like he wasn’t given another option,” he said. “I don’t see a need for my son to read a book that talks about people talking to the dead.”

When he learned from the district that it was not required, he decided to withdraw his request so other students, whose parents had no objection to the book, could read it.

“I’m not going to force my viewpoints on people in the future who want to read that book,” McCarthy said.

On a “Request for Reconsideration of Printed or Audio- Visual Material” form McCarthy submitted, he said he objected to the book’s theme’s of talking to the dead, spiritism and “the belief that a part of the body survives after death and that you can communicate with it.”

“The act of talking to the dead is called spiritism and is condemned in the Bible Galation 5:19-21,” McCarthy wrote.

Conrad said “Wait Till Helen Comes” is the first book a parent has challenged since 2008 when a Main Dunstable Elementary School parent challenged the use of “The Giver” because of its themes of euthanasia.

“Wait Till Helen Comes” is a horror novel about a 7-year-old girl named Heather who begins communicating with the ghost of a little girl named Helen.

Althea Sheaff, executive director of curriculum for the district, said eight to 10 copies of the book are available in the city’s three middle school libraries and it is not a required reading selection.

Conrad said the school’s curriculum sometimes requires students to select a book to read without specifying what book.

Because McCarthy withdrew his challenge, the district will no longer form the seven-member Instructional Materials Review Committee that would have included the principal, teacher and librarian from the school, the staff member responsible for selecting the book, the assistant superintendent and two members of the board of education.

The committee would have been responsible for reviewing the complaint and coming up with a recommendation to the superintendent. Part of the committee’s job would have been to read the book in question. The complainant could have appealed the decision of the superintendent to the Board of Education.

Conrad said he hasn’t read “Wait Till Helen Comes.”

“I think a great deal of thought goes into the selection of grade-level appropriate reading materials,” he said. “I think we have a very good process that allows for a parent to raise a concern and to place their concern into a fair process for reviewing it.”

Macey Morales, a spokesperson for the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom that tracks how many books are challenged across the country, said their records show that “Wait Till Helen Comes” has only been challenged four times. The most recent challenge was 14 years ago, she said.

The most challenged books of the past decade have been the “Harry Potter” series, according to the American Library Association.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com.