A Billings, Montana, parent’s crusade against Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian ended after a packed school board meeting last night, during which the school board elected to retain the novel in area classrooms. CBLDF joined the Kids Right to Read Project in sending a letter to the school board in defense of the book.
Gail Supola filed her first complaint against Alexie’s award-winning novel last spring, arguing that the coarse language and subject matter in the book was inappropriate for the sophomore English students to whom the book was assigned. Supola also raised concerns over what she felt was an overly negative portrayal of Native life.
The book is on district required reading lists, but the school does not have an official opt out policy. Regardless, discomfited students have usually been given other reading assignments. As part of her complaint, Supola argued that the district should better inform parents about the content of reading assignments, so the school board will be reviewing the districts policies to develop a policies that ensure parental notification and the availability of alternative assignments.
Alexie is no stranger to book challenges, especially when it comes to The Asolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It won the National Book Award in 2007 and garnered many other accolades, but it is frequently challenged for language and sexual content. Given the passionate defense of the book and its pedagogical relevance, most (but not all) challenges fail.
CBLDF has defended the book multiple times, and the latest letter from the CBLDF-sponsored Kids Right to Read Project argues that one parent cannot determine what is appropriate for all children in the district. Nearly all of the 40 people who spoke at last night’s school board meeting argued in favor of the novel, asserting their right to read. Among those who spoke on behalf of the book were students (both Native and non-Native), educators, legislators, and even a German immigrant who lived in Germany in the 1940s and likened the attempt to ban Absolutely True to her experiences under the Nazi regime.
The school board correctly sided with the right to read in deciding to retain the book. CBLDF applauds the decision the school board made in retaining the book! The entirety of the letter that CBLDF wrote on behalf of the book follows.