Little, Brown Books for Young Readers announced on April 23 – World Book Night 2014 – that the publisher is donating 350 copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho. Booksellers will hand out copies without charge to Boise-area students with valid school identification. The books will be made available to these students next week.
Here’s the backstory: On April 2, the Meridian, Idaho, school board voted 2–1 to remove the book from the 10th-grade supplemental reading list after some parents at Centennial High School objected to it a few weeks earlier. Brady Kissel, 17, a student at Mountain View High in Meridian, gathered 350 signatures on a protest position, which she presented to the trustees at the April 2 meeting. When two Washington State residents, Sara Baker of Seattle and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, heard of the petition, they spearheaded a fundraising drive to purchase 350 copies of the novel.
The 350 trade paper editions were purchased for $8.52 each through Rediscovered Books; some 315 copies were distributed on World Book Night at Meridian’s Kleiner Park by volunteers – three Rediscovered Books staffers, and Kissel – to Meridian school district students and anyone else who wanted a copy. The rest of the books are being held at the bookstore for people who weren’t able to make it to the park.
Meridian, with a population of approximately 85,000, is the second-largest city in Idaho, after Boise, which is about 12 miles away in the Treasure Valley in southwest Idaho.
Lisa Moraleda, associate publicity director at LBYR, told PW that Little, Brown was inspired to donate an additional 350 books after hearing of Baker and Lott’s efforts. The novel, which was an official WBN selection in 2012, has been challenged eight times since January 2013, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship. It was the second most challenged book in U.S. libraries in 2012, according to the American Library Association.
“It was a fantastic grassroots movement that we wanted to support,” Moraleda said. “It ties in very nicely with what’s going on. After all, WBN’s mission is to get books into the hands of people who don’t have access to books.”
Laura ”Wally” Johnson, one of the booksellers who handed out books yesterday, reported afterward, “It was a fantastic experience with a warm and enthusiastic atmosphere and a steady stream of polite and engaged young adults. We got to have a lot of conversations with students about the history of censorship and book banning and we got to talk a lot about World Book Night.”
Several teachers and librarians also observed the gathering in the park, along with a representative of the local branch of the ACLU. The police showed up briefly in response to a call from a citizen expressing concern that teens were being given books without their parents’ consent. After questioning Kissel briefly, the police left.
The NCAC weighed in on what’s been going on, with NCAC communications director Michael O’Neil praising Baker and Lott’s efforts to raise awareness of children’s right to read, and expressing the hope that the entire Meridian community will be inspired by this incident to stand firm against future book bans.
“Schools provide a unique setting for young readers to explore and discuss books,” O’Neil wrote in an email to PW. “We can’t give our students the education they deserve while purging reading selections every time someone objects.”
Alexie, who famously told a crowd of booksellers at Winter Institute 8 in Kansas City last year that sales of his books always spike when there is an attempt to ban any of them from the curriculum, weighed in as well. “I am honored by the hundreds of Meridian students who showed incredible passion and courage for books,” Alexie wrote in an email to his publisher. “Mine, yes, but literature in general. And Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott are friggin’ superheroes. If I ever get caught in a fire, I’m calling them.”