Book Reviews and Recommendations
In early November, the Ankeny Community School District received concerns around four books that can be found in some of our media centers. We immediately reviewed the board policy on objection to library materials:, the Reconsideration Request Form, and student handbook, where the reconsideration process is outlined on page 20. Additionally, we reviewed the process used by our teacher librarians to determine titles to add to school library collections.
The building principal and teacher librarians met with the stakeholders that expressed concerns about the books, discussed the issue, and reviewed the library material selection process. From those meetings, it was decided that the district’s teacher librarians would review the books and determine next steps. Receiving support from the director of curriculum and innovation all four of the books have been reviewed, and recaps of their recommendations can be found later in this document along with links to the full reviews.
Review Criteria and Considerations
When books are being reviewed several things are considered including:
- ALA’s Library Bill of Rights
- Freedom to Read Statement
- Controversial Materials
- Serve every single student; does not promote one point of view over another
- Cannot reject and remove a resource because an individual or a group has found the material objectionable
- Provide access to material that may be controversial to some patrons, while also providing a process to request reconsideration
- Selection Quality Criteria (School Library Selection Policy/Procedures)
- Support and enrich the curriculum and/or students’ personal interests, extracurricular activities, and learning
- Meet high standards in literary, artistic, and aesthetic quality; technical aspects; and physical format
- Be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social, emotional, and intellectual development of the students for whom the materials are selected
- Incorporate accurate and authentic factual content from authoritative source
- Earn favorable reviews in standard reviewing sources and/or favorable recommendations based on preview and examination of materials by professional personnel
- Nominated and/or received awards and honorable mentions
- Represent differing viewpoints on controversial issues*
- Demonstrate physical format, appearance, and durability suitable to their intended use
- Balance gaps in the collection utilizing collection analysis data
- Balance cost with need
Book Reconsideration Recommendations
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
After careful and thoughtful review and discussion of this title in its entirety, the committee decided to remove the book from all collections. The recommendation comes after review and discussion of several selection criteria. This title represents different viewpoints on controversial issues in a format that allows a variety of reading levels to access the information.
Although this book meets criteria of the selection policy, this particular book takes some different considerations. First, while in no way pornographic, the explicit visual and graphic nature of the graphic novel overshadowed the message to the reader, thus reducing the literary value as a whole. Often in books, people can skip sections or create their own images within their personal maturity level. In this case, however, the graphic images are already provided for the reader by the author and may not match a student’s personal maturity level. Additionally, the images are impossible to skip for self-moderation. Finally, this particular book was written for and reviewed professionally for adults. Read the full review.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
After careful and thoughtful review and discussion of this title in its entirety, the committee decided to retain the book in the collections at the 10-12 grade level.
It is important to remember that as a part of the reconsideration process, the entirety of the work must be considered, not just an excerpt pulled from the whole. While the parts objected to (the sexual abuse and first sexual experience) are explicit, they do not reach the level of obscenity as defined by the Iowa Code 728.1 and upheld in U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller vs. California. Furthermore, the objectionable part(s) comprise less than 5% of the total work. In the memoir, the author shares their life story, experiences, and overcoming adversity, as well as their own experiences with abuse and sex. In its entirety, All Boys Aren’t Blue has both literary and artistic value, having earned high and/or starred reviews from multiple professional review sources. Read the full review.
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
After careful and thoughtful review and discussion of this title in its entirety, the committee decided to retain the book in the collections at the 8-12 grade level.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deals with cancer, loss, and grief in a manner distinct from other books. The unique format of the multi-genre writing mirrors the main character’s personality and interests. The novel portrays both realistic and dysfunctional family relationships and shows how teenagers do not always know how to handle their emotions, and, in fact, that they do not have the maturity and/or skill set to handle difficult emotions like grief. Read the full review.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
After careful and thoughtful review and discussion of this title in its entirety, the committee decided to retain the book in the collections at the 8-12 level. This multi-award winning novel meets every single criteria of the selection policy for inclusion in the public school library, and most professional reviews indicate it as appropriate for grades 7+. Read the full review.
If you have questions about the review process or selection criteria, please contact Dr. Jen Lindaman at firstname.lastname@example.org.