We challenged The Chocolate War because of language, actions and situations in it. The author, Robert Cormier, is well known as an author of controversial books. The Chocolate War is one of the most controversial and challenged books.
In our December 10, 2002 meeting at Halley ES we were provided with the school policy for book selection. It did not address anything about controversial content in a book. It listed six criteria and said that books may be selected in accordance with at least one of them. The selection policy really says nothing because at least one of the criteria could apply to any book ever written.
We requested in our challenge that members of the ALA and NEA not sit on this The Chocolate War review committee. This was refused in the letter sent to us calling this meeting. We protest this decision. Official positions and policies of organizations are important to consider in order to achieve non-discriminatory procedures and due process. A member of the KKK, NRA or NRL would not be allowed to sit on the jury of many cases solely due to their organization’s stated and known positions about certain subjects, notwithstanding any statements about how the individuals would follow the laws or regulations. We ask that the documentation for this The Chocolate War review committee include a notation as to who are members of the ALA or NEA.
Language in The Chocolate War includes: For Christ’s sake, bastard (24), Jesus (numerous), Christ (numerous), goddamn (10), hell (numerous), son of a bitch (4), shit/bullshit (5), queer, homo, fairy, etc.
Some excerpts from this book indicative of the action and situations in it are as follows:
- "The exhilaration.. vanished and he sought it in vain, like seeking ecstasy's memory an instant after jacking off and encountering only shame and guilt."
- ".. receive communion... you’re receiving The Body, man. Me, I’m just chewing a wafer they buy by the pound..."
- Looking at girls in Playboy, wondering if “he would die before holding a girl’s breast in his hand.”
- Brother verbally teases and abuses one of his students in front of the class, getting the whole class to laugh at the boy.
- “..how he sometimes felt .. horny.. when he roughhoused a kid or tackled a guy viciously…”
- “At night in bed, he could have one without even touching himself, just thinking of her.”
- “..her breast brushing his arm, setting him on fire…first time (he) thought it was accident….then she brushed again…. He knew it wasn’t ..felt himself hardening ….. those beautiful breasts….tomorrow she’d probably let him get under her sweater.”
- “ (old people) were to old for sex… he couldn’t believe his mother and father ever actually..”
- Boy with camera without film catches another boy masturbating in toilet: “..pants dropping on floor, one hand furiously at work between his legs.” Pretends to take photo. Taunts him: “If you’re going to jack off in a toilet, at least lock your door.” Continues to blackmail/control other boy throughout book using supposed photo.
- Bully forces freshman to buy or steal cigarettes for him
- “..calling to mind the figure of a girl…sweater had bulged beautifully…books pressed against her rounded breasts. If my hands were only those books, he thought….hand now curled between his legs, he concentrated on the girl. But for once, it was no good,..”
- “..Fantastic looking. Tight sweater, clinging low slung jeans. Jesus. ...Watching girls and devouring them with your eyes - rape by eyeball - was something you did automatically…… he feasted himself on her rounded jeans..”
- “It was good to have people hate you-it kept you sharp. And then when you put the needle in them….. you felt justified.. didn’t have to worry about your conscience.”
- “..hang out around ..the girls high school…let your eyes devour some luscious sights…talk one of them into the car, for a ride home. With detours.”
- “How many times you jack off every day? Twice (he) replied quickly. See….no secrets here..”
- Boy harassed by constant late night phone calls, locker trashed.
- Teased by one boy: “..what I mean by closet, ..touching (his) cheek.. lingering in a faint caress…you’re a fairy. A queer.. homos.. you must be creaming all over, wow, 400 ripe young bodies to rub against…Kiss me…You son of a bitch…” Then he was brutally beaten by a dozen boys: "..swarming all over him, hitting him high and low.. a dozen fists pummeled his body, fingernails tore at his cheek and a finger clawed his eye.. wanted to blind him.. wanted to kill him.. Pain.. in his groin.. kicked him there.. blows rained.. without mercy.. no let up.. somebody was pounding his head furiously... another kick in his groin.. vomit now.. open his mouth to let it spray forth.. threw up.. kick him again, this time in his lower back, the final sheet of pain that drew a black curtain over his eyes."
- "..people are 2 things: greedy and cruel... we're all bastards."
- “The raffle tickets were selling like dirty pictures.”
- Brutal graphic fight in front of all school by two boys masterminded, arranged and setup by another boy. All the kids get to pay to describe what kind of blow they want one boy to hit the other with. Fight gets out of hand and they start to chant "kill him, kill him,.. sank to the stage, bloody, opened mouth, sucking for air, eyes unfocused, flesh swollen... collapsed like a hunk of meat cut loose from a butcher's hook." The fight is witnessed secretly by one of the religious teachers (Brother L.) who does nothing to intervene as one boy is almost beat to death. Another teacher who was also aware also did nothing to prevent fight or intervene when it got out of hand
- At the end of the book the cruel sadistic boys come out on top along with the cruel, corrupt brother's who run the school. The boy who resisted selling the chocolate was the one beaten twice in the book. At the end his lesson learned was "..do whatever they wanted you to do.. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing.. Don't disturb the universe.. they murder you."
We don’t feel that the material in The Chocolate War is necessary or appropriate for ES. There was a choice - a choice to purchase this book and place it in some ES libraries. Almost all elementary schools chose not to have this book. Why did some schools choose differently? What makes them different? Our challenge to The Chocolate War requested that the names of the people who made the choice to be identified. We, and the public have a right to know who is making these choices with our tax dollars for us. As stated in our challenge Virginia Law says the entire scheme of instruction in the public schools shall emphasize moral education through lessons given by teachers and imparted by appropriate reading selections.
This committee will obviously do what it wants to do. In numerous past challenges that almost always has been a 100% vote against the challenger. We ask that you consider that it is possible that FCPS has made a mistake on this book.
This book doesn’t even have positive message about how to deal with a gang, bullies, or peer pressure. The main character is tormented and brutally beaten when he resists these forces. At the end he had learned his lesson not to resist - that it couldn’t be done successfully. He had also learned that the religious instructors who ran the school were corrupt and no better than the gang of bullies who were his peers.
The title of this book, The Chocolate War, is one that is very likely to catch the eye of a very young reader, but the language, action and situations in this book are clearly very controversial for use with 6 to 11-year old children. If 6 to 11-year old school children are going to read the material in The Chocolate War the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support the use of this type of material with these age children.
We don’t know what parents, if any, were involved in choosing this book for ES. We don’t know who chose it and why. Parents don’t have a choice if this book is in their child’s school library. The book is available to their child, like every other book in the library, when their children are there.
In FCPS elementary schools masturbation is not an allowed topic for even FLE class. For FLE class parents are sent an opt-out form. To have masturbation outside of the FLE curriculum, in a fiction book in the school library, where children are sent when they opt-out of FLE, is contradictory.
There are many books that have not been chosen for some or any FCPS libraries. FCPS has made a choice to place this book in some ES libraries. We don’t think this was a wise choice.
If The Chocolate War is not available to students at school, it will still be available to them and their parents in public bookstores and the public library - the same as the millions of other books not “chosen” for our schools.
25 February 2003