Without prior notice or even an explanation, an Arizona school district removed Khaled Hosseini's contemporary classic, The Kite Runner, from the school English curriculum.
Students at the Williamsfield High School, AZ, were confused and angry when they discovered teachers were told not to use Hosseini's novel or to assign it as a piece of independent reading. The book had been part of the English curriculum for 5 years. One of the students, editor of the school paper Jaxon Washburn, told the local ABC affiliate that the book was to be replaced by John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
The Kite Runner, which tells the story of a young boy living in Afghanistan during the rise of the Taliban, is no stranger to controversy. The American Library Association placed it #6 in its 2012 list of most frequently challenged books, it's commonly flagged for its religious viewpoint, sexual references and use of offensive language. Of Mice and Men is also challenged frequently in schools, however, with Steinbeck's book making the ALA's list in 2001, 2003 and 2004 for bad language, themes of racism and violence.
The school district released a statement to local news responding to the controversy:
“The Higley Unified School District does not ban books. We have an approved list of books for use in class created through the participation of parents and staff. If a book is not on the approved list for a specific grade level, there are protocols in accordance to board policy to submit the book for approval and the list gets updated. There is a committee of stakeholders that would make that decision. At this time, the Kite Runner is not on the list. The district makes every effort to select books for use in its classes that reflect community standards" the district wrote.
Despite the district's assurance this is not a case of censorship, questions remain. Why was the book removed now after 5 years on the school curriculum? Why weren't teachers and other community members given input before the decision to pull the book was announced? Why was one controversial book replaced with another controversial book?
NCAC is currently drafting a letter to the school district asking it restore The Kite Runner to the English curriculum. The letter will underline the educational value of the book, emphasizing that the book is critically acclaimed, praised by Publisher's Weekly for its “ eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience.”
Given its place on the ALA's most challenged list, the book has, naturally, had a recurring presence in NCAC's work. Although the book is most commonly challenged because of the presence of violence and a central event in the book involving a character's rape, some challenges come parents uncomfortable with its religious perspective. For example, in North Carolina in 2015 a parent complained that the book “inaccurately [assigned] Judeo-Christian characteristics to a Muslim god.”
Stay tuned for updates.