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Authors Challenge 'Inappropriate' Nature Of Books Removed By Leander ISD

The Leander Independent School District's administrative building.
Michael Minasi

A controversy surrounding reading lists for English class book clubs in the Leander Independent School District drew the voices of parents and administrators. Then teachers and students chimed in — and then came the book authors.

In an op-ed published Tuesday by The New York Times, author Carmen Maria Machado wrote that preventing children from reading books won't protect them.

"While our books may contain passages that are potentially uncomfortable, challenging or even offensive," she wrote, "exposure to our books is vital to expanding minds, affirming experiences, creating appreciation for the arts and building empathy — in short, respecting the adults that the students in Leander, Texas, will soon become."

The district has so far pulled six books from the reading lists, including The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault. Machado's book In the Dream House, which parents said was inappropriate for its sexual content and graphic descriptions, is still under review.

Machado's op-ed reiterated what she and others told Leander ISD in a letter last month: Students should be allowed to read these disputed books.

The letter was addressed to the district from illustrators, contributors and authors of some of the books in question, including Atwood, Derf Backderf and Erika Sánchez. It refuted the alleged "inappropriate" nature of their content.

"In all, we are deeply concerned that this entire episode risks sending a dangerous message to students: that the best way to confront ideas or literature with which one disagrees is to prohibit or silence it, rather than finding other, constructive ways to engage with it," the letter said.

Leander's English curriculum has students break into "book clubs" twice a year, where they choose a book from these curated lists and discuss it with peers. Students can also ask to read a book that isn't listed.

Parents began protesting the selection of books — particularly for high schoolers — last fall.

The district tasked the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee with reviewing the lists. The CCAC is made up of staff, parents and community members. It's expected to finish reviewing all the books by the end of the year.

Allyson Ortegon is a former Williamson County reporter for KUT.
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