In another victory for the freedom to read, a school district review panel in Marshfield, Wisconsin unanimously voted last week to keep Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle in the curriculum for high school sophomores. A parent initially complained of “foul language, and explicit and disturbing materials” at a school board meeting in December, but did not file a formal challenge; instead, a board member who previously challenged a UNICEF children’s picture book filed the challenge against Walls’ book.
Walls’ book about her impoverished childhood with abusive parents is a popular choice in high school curricula, but also a frequently challenged one. Board member Mary Carney drew up a five-page collection of excerpts from the book that she found objectionable, and summarized her complaint thusly:
The language is vile. The abuse is rampant. And, as a Catholic, the blasphemy against Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother Mary is beyond offensive. The representations of the Catholic faith are wholly inaccurate and never refuted.
CBLDF and other members of the Kids’ Right to Read Project last month sent a letter to the school district defending The Glass Castle. After the review committee made up of Marshfield School District staff, parents, and community members unanimously voted to keep the book in the curriculum, Carney said she was “disappointed but not surprised.” Normally a complainant has the option to appeal the review committee’s decision to the school board; presumably if Carney were to choose that route, she would be recused from the board’s vote on the book.
In 2015 Carney also asked that the United Nations-published picture book For Every Child a Better World be removed from the kindergarten curriculum. The book features Kermit the Frog and a multicultural cast of Sesame Street-like humanoid characters shown in global settings. Its aim, says the publisher’s description, is to teach “young readers about the plight of young children who lack the basic human necessities and the efforts of the United Nations to provide such essentials as housing, water, food, and medical aid,” but Carney alleged that it contains too much “negative, dark, depressing imagery.” A review committee unanimously voted to keep the book in classrooms.
The Glass Castle has also faced its share of challenges in other schools. Last year the full text of the book was replaced by excerpts in the ninth grade curriculum at West Allegheny High School in Pennsylvania, prompting students to launch a petition in favor of restoring it. The petition garnered about 200 signatures and was presented to the school board by one of the organizers, but the board took no further action despite praising the students’ initiative. Walls’ memoir was also one of seven books that were temporarily suspended en masse from the approved reading list of Highland Park High School near Dallas in 2014. The district reversed course after a public outcry.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.