February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Alexie’s ‘True Diary’ Removed from NYC School’s Summer Reading List

PartTimeIndian JacketPBThe inclusion of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—winner of the 2007 National Book Award—on a required summer reading list for sixth graders has raised the ire of a group of parents in Belle Harbor, NY, who have successfully called for its removal, the Daily News has reported. Bowing to pressure from the outraged parents (and after inquiries from the paper), the principal of Public School/Middle School 114 in Rockaway Park announced that the book is no longer required reading.

The lauded young adult novel—a story about Junior, a Spokane Indian who transfers from his school on the reservation to a rich, white school—received a starred review from School Library Journal, and is recommended for a grade 7–10 audience. In the original review, Chris Shoemaker says, “The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message.”

Nevertheless, Queens parent Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss stepped forward last week with the support of about eight other parents to request that an alternative assignment be given to their children. McMullan-Preiss cited the repeated discussion of “masturbation” as the main reason for her complaint, according to the Daily News.

Attempts by SLJ to reach administrators and school library staff for comment were unsuccessful,  however the original story has since made the rounds on several news outlets and through social media, and on Twitter, the author has responded personally. Alexie, after a banning of his book unrelated to the Queens controversy, also said recently in an interview on the National Coalition Against Censorship blog that, “I have no objection to a parent not wanting their kid to read my book. But when they try to control a school’s curriculum, that’s when the fight is on. So the second they try to make it a policy, no, I can’t think of when it’s acceptable because whatever the text, you can teach and learn from it.”

Alexie’s publisher echoes those sentiments. Megan Tingley, executive vice president and publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, tells SLJ that, her company is “proud” to be the publisher of the book, and that the company is “opposed to censorship of any kind.”

She adds, “We are dismayed about the recent decision of a middle school in Queens, NY, to remove the critically acclaimed book from its required reading list.” The book, she says, “is a story about hope and resilience. We applaud Sherman Alexie’s triumphant work of contemporary fiction, which shares a Native American experience that is both poignant and uplifting and has enlightened and engaged countless readers.”

The NCAC has also come out in support of Alexie. Its Kids Right to Read project coordinator Acacia O’Connor notes that, “Studies have shown that students who have some semblance of choice, read more. Alexie’s book is often selected for reluctant readers because it’s so popular and kids really feel that the characters and their experiences speak to them.”

She also says, “The message of this book is entirely positive and uplifting. I’m sure it was selected because highlights a teen character that has confronted adversity. If the parents have some objection to reading a specific title, we always encourage that an alternative is offered instead. If the book was selected by the teachers or school media specialist, it was for a reason.” The NCAC plans to honor Alexie in November 2013 for his work on free speech.



Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

Diversity and Cultural Competency Training: Collections & RA

Do you want to ensure that your library’s collections are diverse, equitable, inclusive, and well-read?

Do you want to become a more culturally literate librarian and a more effective advocate for your community?

We've developed a foundational online course—with live sessions on February 28 & March 14—that will explore key concepts essential to cultivating and promoting inclusive and equitable collections.
Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. I’m not for censorship when it comes to the press, but I’m on the fence when it comes to schools. I could probably be persuaded either way when it comes to curriculum, because I am both a conservative parent and a sometimes English teacher; thus, I understand both sides of the issue. It is not an easy one to resolve, for sure, because I feel parents should have the primary say about what their kids are taught. When they send their kids to school, though, they must let go of this to a certain extent.

    It has been said that parents lose their rights over their children when they walk in the school door, which isn’t acceptable for the America I believe in. There must be some kind of compromise. Because it is impossible to avoid offending someone when literature is chosen, I feel that allowing parents to opt their children out of a novel is probably the best compromise. I did this in my daughter’s last school, when they were reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I love Anne Frank and very much respect her diary and her contribution to literature, but it does contain things I felt my daughter wasn’t ready for. The fact that the school allowed my daughter an alternative meant a lot to me, and she still covered the themes the teacher was trying to teach.

    In addition to providing an opt-out alternative, t seems to me that the schools need to think long and hard about their demographics before choosing required literature. But by the same token, parents need to think long and hard before choosing a school (if they have any options). And when it comes to that, I think authors need to remember the parents of the kids they are writing for. The novel discussed in the article sounds wonderful and I plan to read it, but I don’t particularly want my teens to read about masturbation, either. Maybe after I read the book I’ll decide otherwise, but at this distance I can hardly blame the parents who are complaining. Again, it is a tough issue.

  2. If the book is recommended for grades 7-10, as the article says, why was it being required for students entering grade 6? Seems to me that this was not the wisest decision on the part of the school curriculum folks. I probably wouldn’t have been happy giving it to my kids when they were 11 either. . . .

  3. Since when does “request[ing] an alternative assignment” and “removing a . . . book from a required reading list” equal censorship?
    Did the assigning teacher(s) or librarian(s) read the entire book before they decided to require it of every 11 & 12 year old boy and girl in their class?
    I am a librarian in a K – 8 school and joyfully recommend Alexie’s book to some of our 7th & 8th grade students, but, having read the book cover-to-cover, I don’t consider it a “good fit” for every middle school student, let alone every 6th grader.
    This isn’t about censorship, it’s about common sense.