Summer reading list controversies: removal of all LGBTQ books in DC, Sherman Alexie’s book challenged

It’s only the second day of summer, and controversial books are already disappearing from summer reading lists.

A quiet act of censorship by Washington, D.C. Public Schools may have resulted in a reading list free of LGBTQ titles. According to a post on ALA’s LGBTQ listerve by Jeanne Lauber, librarian in the D.C. Public Libraries, the school district asked the Public Library for a list of LGBTQ books in order to remove them from reading assignments. The library complied without knowing why they had been asked.

Librarians, the gay community, and others in D.C. have submitted complaints to the school district and are waiting to see the finalized list when it is released on June 26.

Meanwhile, at a School Board meeting on Thursday at Antioch High School outside Chicago, seven parents asked that Sherman Alexie’s oft-censored young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian be removed from the freshman reading list, the school curriculum, and library shelves.  Jennifer Anderson, mother of a 14-year-old incoming freshman, said she started to read the book when the school assigned it to her son:

I began reading, and I started to cross out sections that I didn’t want him to read… Soon I thought, ‘Wait, this is not appropriate; he is not reading this.’

John Whitehurst, chairman of the English Department, argues that the main character, Arnold, acts and talks like many male students his age and would engage reluctant readers. Alexie’s novel, winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, also has a life-affirming message and a powerful anti-alcohol theme. The School Board is set to decide tonight whether or not to remove the novel from the curriculum.

Lauber says she wants to expand this case into a national movement for a rating system for books. One reason why this is a bad idea?  Depending on who’s deciding the label criteria and who’s stocking the shelves, a rating system for books could translate into more shelves free of LGBTQ titles, classics like Hemingway short stories, and highly acclaimed new fiction such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

UPDATE:  Antioch H.S. Superintendent Jay Sabatino announced yesterday afternoon that he and two Board members had read the book and decided that it will stay on the reading list!  He said that concerned parents or students may still read an alternate book.  The bad news is that the Board will form a committee that may review books and warn parents about possibly offensive content.

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2 Responses to Summer reading list controversies: removal of all LGBTQ books in DC, Sherman Alexie’s book challenged

  1. Grammar Fix says:

    “Jennifer Anderson, mother of a 14-year-old incoming freshman, said she started to read the book to when the school assigned it to her son:”

    You must mean:

    Jennifer Anderson, mother of a 14-year-old incoming freshman, said she started to read the book TOO when the school assigned it to her son:

  2. Pingback: Board of Ed v. Pico: 27 years of reading freely in school libraries « Blogging Censorship

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