Looking for Alaska Retained in Waukesha, Two More Books Challenged

Looking for AlaskaWe have another good news/bad news situation in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where a school district review committee last week unanimously rejected a parental challenge to John Green’s Looking for Alaska. But the challengers plan to appeal that decision to the full school board, and it turns out that two more books, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher, have also been challenged by other parents.

At a meeting on Friday, members of the school district’s Consideration Committee heard from parents on both sides of the Looking for Alaska debate. Ellen Cox, the mother who filed the challenge after her daughter started reading the book for AP English, said that it contained “inappropriate language and advanced sexual content.” Another parent who wanted the book banned said it dealt with “adult topics that should be read by adults.”

But committee member Malena Koplin, library media specialist at Waukesha West High School, pointed out that the book was not required for the class and students who were uncomfortable with it could freely choose a different book. Koplin added that some students would relate to the characters’ experiences more than others, saying that “in the book there’s obviously kids doing stuff you don’t want teenagers to do, but we know they’re thinking about it and in some cases doing these things.” Committee chair David LaBorde agreed, pointing out that “perhaps this opens doors for parents to have conversations with their kids and be aware of what they are reading.”

After the committee unanimously voted to retain Looking for Alaska, Cox suggested that the group of professional educators, administrators, and school staff did not take students’ perspective into consideration. She said their opinion “was based on mature adults reading the book and making a decision based on that. Not on what a child’s mind is reading when they’re reading a book.” Cox is appealing the committee’s decision to the school board, which will likely consider the issue at its next meeting on August 13.

The Consideration Committee will meet again on August 20 to decide on a challenge to Chinese Handcuffs, a 1989 young adult novel. The remaining challenge to The Kite Runner will need to be taken up by the school board, since that book was already approved for use in the curriculum in 2006. We don’t yet know if that will also be on the agenda for the August 13 board meeting, but whatever happens we will keep you updated!

We need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.