LEWISTON – JoAn Karkos, due in court next month to answer a theft charge over a controversial sex-ed book she refused to return to the Lewiston Public Library, now wants the library to answer her allegation of obscenity.

Karkos, 64, gave Lewiston police a one-page complaint Monday charging that the library violated the city’s obscenity ordinance when it placed “It’s Perfectly Normal” on its shelves.

“No. 1, I want awareness,” Karkos said in a phone interview. “People are simply not aware of what this book means. And when they find out, they don’t want it to exist at all and they certainly don’t want it in their libraries and their schools.”

City officials met Monday afternoon to talk about the complaint and the ordinance. When the meeting ended, the complaint remained under review so ordinances and other materials could be examined, said Sgt. David Chick, spokesman for the Police Department.

Officials will decide whether to press the complaint within the next few days, Chick said.

The award-winning book has been discussed in Lewiston City Hall since August, when Karkos’ campaign began.

Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the book was published in 1993. Subtitled “Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health,” it features some frank but cartoon-like illustrations of naked people. Topics include abstinence, masturbation and sexually transmitted diseases.

This summer, Karkos checked out copies of the book at both the Lewiston and Auburn libraries. She refused to return the books, but sent each library a check to cover the cost.

Karkos, who lives in Lewiston, said she particularly objected to a series of cartoons showing naked male and female bodies. One page depicts masturbating children. Another teaches girls to examine their genitalia with a hand mirror.

Karkos contended that such images are obscene. Librarians disagreed, and the Lewiston Public Library board chose to file charges of theft against Karkos. She is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 19.

The obscenity complaint filed against the library “boggles the mind,” Lewiston Library Director Rick Speer said Monday. “There’s a lot of books in this library that people have called obscene.”

Notoriously banned books have included Nobel and Pulitzer winners, classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“It’s Perfectly Normal” has been banned in some cities but applauded in others. According to its publisher, Massachusetts-based Candlewick Press, it has been sold in 25 countries and translated into 21 languages. More than two dozen Maine libraries carry the book.

For now, the issue rests with city staff, who must compare the ordinance with the book. The ordinance bans depictions of masturbation and other activities. However, it also makes allowances for context.

Speer said he is saddened that much of the discussion of the book has left out that it also talks about abstinence and sexual crimes. Without information, some children and young adults may be at a greater danger from predators.

“The library has an educational role,” he said.

Karkos said she continues to be surprised at how much attention her act of civil disobedience has gained.

“I never, ever thought it would get this far,” she said. Since her story first appeared in the paper, she’s been approached by news organizations across the country.

“I’m not sure how comfortable I am with all of this,” she said.

Staff Writer Scott Taylor contributed to this report.


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