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Twenty-one parents and 18 students who think the reading textbooks used by the Hawkins County, Tenn., school district violate their religious convictions have filed suit in federal district court.

The suit, brought against the Hawkins County Board of Education, charges that the textbooks used in Church Hill Elementary and Middle Schools are "un-American" and "un-Christian." The parents and students seek an injunction blocking district officials from forcing students to use the books and from suspending students who refuse to read the books in class, according to Bill Snodgrass, district superintendent.

They also ask that officials be required to make available alternative reading assignments, according to Michael Farris, the lawyer representing the group. The parents and students have never requested that the books be removed from the school, said Mr. Farris, who is with Concerned Women for America, a privately funded organization that supports family rights and has 230,000 members nationwide.

The plaintiffs have presented their grievances at three school-board meetings, according to Mr. Snodgrass. In October, the district permitted teachers to use a second reading series as an alternative. But when they found how much work it was for teachers to prepare a second lesson plan, Mr. Snodgrass said, the board decided that all students must use the same series.

Mr. Farris said he thinks the reason the school will not allow alternative reader assignments is "pride." In what he said is called "the buckle of the Bible belt ..., the school is trying to engage in a battle of who's the better Christian."

Thirteen middle-school students who refused to read the textbooks in their class were suspended last month, and the mother of a 2nd-grade student was arrested after she entered a classroom to protest the use of one of the books, according to Mr. Farris.

The books, which are part of the Holt Basic Reading series, were approved by the state textbook committee and recommended by a panel of Hawkins County teachers, according to Mr. Snodgrass.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull was expected to rule on the case late last week.

While Americans might be reading more books than in past years, West Germans seem to be watching more television than ever before. That report comes from the West German Association of Book Dealers, which, in a preliminary study, indicates that only 25 percent of the country's adults are reading books regularly. One reason for the decline, they suggest, is that reading habits are not being instilled in the young.

A spokesman for the association told the Associated Press that he blamed German schools for the decline in reading. "The schools don't seem to instill the habit of reading in young people as much as they used to. It is easier to watch a screen and learn passively than it is to read, and that's what students become used to."

Despite these gloomy findings, West German book publishers say books continue to be the most favored present to give. Therefore, the report says, book sales are increasing, but at a slower rate. West Germans bought the equivalent of $3.2 billion-worth of books last year, up 2 percent from 1981 sales, the association spokesman said.

The most popular books sold are novels, mostly romances, thrillers, and other light reading, according to the report.

To promote the arts and literature in edu-cation, the Saturday Review Magazine Company is donating copies of Saturday Review to high-school English classes around the nation. The magazine, which sells for $2.50 on newsstands, covers theater, literature, dance, art, film, publishing, records, and other cultural topics.

"We felt it was important to [expose] high-school students and even college students to Saturday Review for two reasons," said Jeffrey M. Gluck, the magazine's publisher. "The content of the magazine is perfect for high-school and college English and English-related studies.'' And students who read the magazine in high school might become subscribers, Mr. Gluck said.

The program, which started this fall with a shipment of 2,124 copies of the September-October issue and 4,200 copies of the November-December issue, has cost more than $15,000 so far. Mr. Gluckman said the magazine will continue giving away copies for an indefinite period of time.

The magazines are available to teachers who provide written confirmation of their use, order a minimum of 10 copies of each issue requested, and pay a shipping charge of 25 cents per copy, Mr. Gluckman said. For more information, write Saturday Review Magazine Company, 1205 University Ave., Columbia, Mo. 65201.

Ask a child which book he or she wants for the holidays and the answer might just be a Berenstain Bear book.

The Berenstain Bears are the creation of Stan and Jan Berenstain of New Hope, Pa. And they are so popular, reports their publisher, Random House, that sometimes as many as nine titles a week appear on the Waldenbooks bestseller list. The Berenstains, who have been writing about the bear family for 21 years and have published 50 million copies of some 50 titles, expect to sell 6 million copies of the books this year.

Because of their great appeal, the bears just couldn't stay in books. Enter the field of character licensing. Through King Features, the Berenstain Bears will be seen on Coleco video screens and peering out from Hallmark cards and puzzles, according to Ita Golzman, director of domestic licensing for the licensing company. In addition, because the Berenstain Bears promote family values, stuffed versions of the bears will be sent to pediatricians' offices nationwide as part of a project by Lederle Laboratories to encourage children to get vaccinations, Ms. Golzman said. About 40 additional companies have signed up the bears to push more than 150 products through King Features.

Other children's books are also selling quickly this holiday season, according to Judy Noyes, owner of Chinook Book Shop in Colorado Springs and chairman of the American Bookseller's Association liaison committee with the Children's Book Council.

Although neither organization has compiled figures on bestselling holiday books, Ms. Noyes says the following titles are selling well: Susan Jeffers's illustrated Hiawatha; Michael Hague's illustrated versions of Beauty and the Beast, The Velveteen Rabbit, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and Eric Hill's Spot's First Christmas.

Book sales in her store--which carries only children's books--are up this year over past years, Ms. Noyes said, with Christmas books selling extremely well.

Costs of books this year range from $1.95 to $20, said Ms. Noyes, who has been in the children's book business for 25 years.--ab

Vol. 03, Issue 14

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