Monday, September 29, 2008

How The Garcia Girls Lost Henrico County

On October 7th, Henrico County, VA hosts author Julia Alvarez, whose book How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was on — and then removed from — the high school summer reading list. Despite the removal, the book remains on the 'continuing education' course list for area high school English teachers, as an example of how to use a book in education (see item SLA17038, here), but another session focusing on another Alvarez book, Finding Miracles, had been added. Those teachers who prepared for the García session were to have read the book in its entirety, then attend the CE class, before actually meeting Alvarez to further discuss...the book that the high school students will no longer be encouraged to read. Alvarez' own website would indicate that García Girls has been replaced by Something to Declare at her reading on the 7th.

Now, the kicker is this statement from the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch:
"[School Superintendent Jean] Murray noted that the selection of "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" has not been challenged formally in Henrico. It may remain on the shelves at school libraries...

"...[Library Director Gerald] McKenna said there were no plans to include "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" in the county's observation of Banned Book Week, which started Saturday."
And this, readers, is why Banned Books Week is so important. The inclusion of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents on the high school reading list was hardly a casual mistake. The list was first compiled by the school's literary experts. Then a course for English teachers was developed around the book's application in high school classrooms. And, then, the book's author was brought to town by the public library to coincide with the teacher's CE course and a citywide event called "All Henrico Reads". Numerous people were involved in this decision — including the author — to make the book an influential one on students at Deep Run High School. When the parent complained, their child was given an alternate book to read...but that was not enough for the parent, who enlisted the help of a School Board member to undermine the school and the public library's decision to hold up the book as an example of relevant literature to young adults, so the book was removed from the reading list. It is splitting hairs to say the book was not "contested" in the narrowest definition of the word, or that the event is irrelevant to Banned Books Week. This sort of populist, anti-intellectual act is exactly what Banned Books Week addresses.

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