Richland Schools Rescind Ban of Sherman Alexie Novel

Posted Monday, July 18, 2011 - 10:06
Cover of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The board of the Richland (Wash.) School District reversed its ban on Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The July 11 4–1 vote to put the young adult novel about a Native American teen back onto the district’s reading lists rescinded a 3–2 decision June 14 to remove it.

Two board members who had originally ruled against the 2007 winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Mary Guay and Rick Donahoe, later said their votes had been a mistake, the Tacoma News Tribune reported July 14; a revote is allowed when a member who voted with the majority asks to revisit an issue, said board President Richard Jansons.

The reconsideration came after the board learned that not all members of the district’s Instructional Materials Committee, recently established to review all books used in the schools, had read it. After personally reading the novel, Donahoe said he found it to be “outstanding.” He and Guay said that in the future they will read every book they are to vote on.

Most speakers at the board’s meeting appeared to be in favor of retaining the novel. Teacher Kim Maldonado said a Native American 10th-grader to whom she gave the book “read it five times. It changed his life. It made him understand his heritage and his issues with his father.”

David Garber, a member of the IMC who also belongs to a group that rates books based on how much of their contents it finds offensive, read from a Wall Street Journal article slamming coarse themes and language in YA novels; the article cited Absolutely True as an example.

Residents who want to see what the controversy is about may have a hard time: Kennewick’s KVEW-TV reported July 12 that all 10 copies at the Richland Library are not only checked out but have holds.