Grandma Refuses to Return Library Book, Could Face Jail Time

A Maine woman refuses to return a book she deems sexually graphic.


Aug. 29, 2008— -- A concerned grandmother would rather go to jail than let neighborhood kids read about sex in a library book.

She may get her wish.

Officials in Lewiston, Maine, have told JoAn Karkos that she could face jail time if she does not, by this afternoon, return the library book "It's Perfectly Normal."

Karkos has had the book checked out of the Lewiston Public Library for more than a year in hopes of preventing children from reading it. Aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds, the book discusses puberty, sexual health and the emotions surrounding a child's newfound sexual awareness.

Her protest is not the first of its kind. From Texas to Colorado, people concerned about the book's frank images and language have staged protests to get it pulled off shelves at libraries and schools.

Karkos heard about the book from a newsletter put out by the American Life League, a national anti-abortion rights group, that included copies of pictures from the book with the nudity censored.

"I was horrified, just by the newsletter," she said.

After finding the book at the library, Karkos -- a mother of two grown children and grandmother to two young boys -- checked it out and read it. She said it teaches children that their bodies are like a "plaything."

"This is a sex initiation book," she said.

Karkos would prefer that children in the age group targeted by "It's Perfectly Normal" receive gender-specific information at school about their changing bodies. There's no reason, she said, that they need to know about sexually transmitted diseases, abortion or birth control.

Karkos even went so far as to send a check for $20.95 to the library, the cost of the book plus tax. When the check was returned along with a copy of library procedures, she mailed it back.

Karkos tried bringing her protest before city officials, saying the book violated city ordinances on obscenity. Her objection was overruled.

Karkos appeared in court in December after receiving a routine civil summons for not complying with library procedure. She pleaded not guilty.

Her civil trial, held Wednesday, ended with 8th District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill telling Karkos that if she did not return the book by 4 p.m. today, she could be found in contempt of court, which could lead to jail time and even heftier fines than if she would have paid the library's late fees.

Lewiston Police Sgt. David Chick said this is the first case he's heard of in his department where a resident faces possible jail time for refusing to return a library book. Usually, he said, the initial civil summons resolves most problems with overdue library materials.

The case, which received coverage from local media outlets, has spurred residents to take sides, Chick said, though most lean with the town and legal officials.

"I would say that the comments are somewhere in the range of four out of five … saying that she's overstepped her place within society," Chick said.

But one group that fully supports Karkos is the American Life League.

"The book is pornography," league researcher Michael Hichborn said, referencing a portion of the book that pictures a boy and a girl masturbating.

"We want people to do what they can to get the book out of the libraries, out of the schools," he said.

The book's author, Robie Harris, is a member of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Advocates.

"Planned Parenthood has the nation's largest network of sexual health educators, providing accurate, age-appropriate information to teens and adults in schools, health centers and communities nationwide," the organization said in a statement Thursday. "Planned Parenthood sexual health educators find that the book is [a] valuable resource for age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and recommends it widely to parents."

Chick said the issue over whether or not the book is appropriate reading material isn't up to one citizen.

Library director Rick Speer agreed.

"The book has gone out 48 times in 13 years and one person has a problem with it," he said.

Parents, he said, have thanked library staff for stocking the book. The check Karkos mailed back to the library remains there, uncashed.

"Our books aren't for sale," Speer said.

Karkos' grip on the book hasn't stopped children from viewing it at the library. When news of her crusade first hit the media in the fall, Speer said, the library received eight copies in the mail, five of which are now on the shelves.

Speer noted that Karkos ignored other avenues for getting the book removed from the library's collections, including filing a formal objection.

Karkos said she declined to do so because she believed the wording of the library's procedures indicated it wouldn't side with her anyway.

"It's Perfectly Normal" ranked No. 9 on the American Library Association's 2007 compilation of most frequently challenged books. Speer said it nabbed the top spot a few years ago. The book also ranked No. 15 on the association's Top 100 challenged books from 1990 to 2000.

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