Recently, CBLDF joined a coalition led by CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project in defense of Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits, which was challenged in North Carolina. A second review committee convened and unanimously voted to keep the book in classrooms.
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like this one to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Chastity Lesesne filed a complaint against the book in October after it was assigned to her son in a sophomore honors English class at Watauga High School in North Carolina. Lesesne called the book “graphic,” “immoral” and “pornographic,” but the first review committee unanimously disagreed with her assessment that the depictions of sex, rape, and violence are unacceptable for high school students. Lesesne appealed the decision, and a second committee was convened. From Mark S. Kenna with High Country Press:
As a part of the ongoing book challenge at Watauga High School, the second review committee, comprised of Supt. David Fonseca, educators and a community member, heard from Chastity Lesesne, the parent appealing the book, and Mary-Kent Whitaker, the WHS teacher who teaches the book in her 10th grade honors English class.
Lesesne and Whitaker each had 30 minutes to present their case. In closing her statement, Whitaker echoed the tone of KRRP’s letter in defending the work as a whole:
“I implore you to make the right decision to keep the book,” Whitaker said. “Form an opinion on the work as a whole not the excerpts”
In making her statement, Lesesne argued that she did not believe the issue was about censorship, but about a parent having a say in educational policy:
“There is no place for parents,” Lesesne said. “It’s shut out. What part do we play in this? That’s what concerns me. And I have been very specific about those concerns. According to this [Board of Education policy] I am not going to be heard.”
Her statement is ironic given that, though she claimed to be speaking only for herself and her family, Lesesne’s actions would have meant that students, teachers, and other parents in the community were “not going to be heard” if she had been successful in banning The House of Spirits.
The House of Spirits follows several generations of the Trueba family and draws on Allende’s personal experiences. It has garnered critical acclaim since its 1982 publication, including being named the best novel of the year in Chile, and it has found a regular place in high school curricula, including in North Carolina’s own Common Core curriculum.
Lesesne has one more opportunity to appeal the decision of the review committee. It is unknown whether she will choose to do so, but the third review would be undertaken by the Watauga County Board of Education. So far, both challenges have resulted in unanimous support for the book and the school system’s selection policy, so it seems unlikely the School Board would overturn the previous decisions. However, it remains to be seen, and CBLDF will post updates if another appeal is made.
We scored another victory for free speech, but we need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Get in the Spirit of Giving, and help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by getting personalized holiday gifts, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!