Friend and loyal Iserotope reader Sarah (Logan, UT) sent me an article today that boggled my mind (a little bit).
Apparently, the folks in Meridian, Idaho do not like Sherman Alexie and his extremely popular book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Earlier this year, parents complained about the book on moral and religious grounds, and the Meridian School Board pulled the title from the district’s 10th grade supplemental reading list. According to the Idaho Statesman, trustees said they would try to find a replacement similar to True Diary but at a higher reading level.
So far, nothing is surprising. There are tons of school districts that ban books. A few years ago, Tucson infamously censored a large list of books by and about Latinos. My second year of teaching, district officials in Fremont, California pulled Richard Wright’s Native Son right before my co-teacher and I were about to teach the book.
But the story gets weirder. Teens in the community protested the decision, and a local bookstore raised enough money to purchase 350 copies. High school student Brady Kissell then distributed the books in a public park as part of World Book Night on April 23.
Brady is awesome. Here’s a picture:
World Book Night U.S. is a celebration of books and reading held on April 23, when 25,000 passionate volunteers across America give a total of half a million books within their communities to those who don’t regularly read.
All right, let’s proceed. So apparently, Brady was giving out books, tons of them, and teenagers from Meridian were snatching up copies, so many that the books nearly ran out, and there likely was joy.
Then an adult called the cops.
According to a Boise news station, the police said that “someone [was] concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.”
This is just strange. And ludicrous.
And sad, really, for a number of reasons, including: (1) Diary is a fantastic book, one of the best for high school students, especially ninth grade boys of color, (2) I haven’t met a student who doesn’t like the book, (3) It’s superbly well written, partly because of the themes Mr. Alexie explores, and partly just because the writing is so incisive, (4) There are many more reasons.
Please, one more aside: If you haven’t yet, Please read this essay, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood,” in which Mr. Alexie explains how True Diary and other books with challenging content can transform young people’s lives. (The article is also on Iserotope Extras, where I share my favorites.)
I understand that parents are afraid that their children are going to be exposed to values antithetical to their moral and religious beliefs. It’s tough to be a parent who, say, doesn’t want to discuss topics like masturbation with your child, and then your son or daughter, maybe at the dinner table one night, busts open the page of True Diary where it’s discussed and goes on to tell you the book is required reading for English class.
That might be stressful, but the answer, in my mind, is never to censor — not in schools, and definitely not in a public park. (The police were confused, by the way, by the emergency call. Handing out free books is not a crime.)
The story ends well. No one was arrested; no books were detained. In fact, Hachette Book Group, the publisher, bought 350 additional copies to distribute in Meridian.
This is sort of a rambling post, but I just wanted to get some of my ideas out there. There are also several unanswered questions. For instance, I’d love to know more about the process by which the parents raised their concern. Was the book even being taught in the schools? If so, did the parents approach the teacher first?
What are your thoughts? In what cases, if any, should books not be allowed in schools? Should books with controversial themes stay out of the classroom but maybe be allowed in the library? I’d love to open this up (in the comments!) for a spirited and respectful conversation.
One last thing: Thanks, Sarah, for the article! Got me thinking.