YORBA LINDA : Parents Object to Assigned Class Book


Parents of several fifth-grade students at Bryant Ranch Elementary School say their children have been assigned to read a book filled with profanity and violence.

The parents are protesting the use of “My Brother Sam Is Dead,” an award- winning book by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier about a young boy’s experiences during the American Revolution.

The 216-page book, which was awarded the prestigious Newberry Honor Book designation in 1975, was assigned earlier this month by four teachers at the school as part of a social studies lesson on the Revolutionary War.


At a meeting Tuesday of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Board of Trustees, Tamara Heathcote, whose daughter was assigned the book, read a list of words contained in the book, including “bastard,” “goddamn,” and “son of a bitch.”

After hearing the list, as well as several excerpts, Trustee Jerry Brakebill asked, “How in the world did that book get in the classroom to begin with?”

The book, which is not on the district list of approved books but is on a state Department of Education list, currently is being reviewed by a committee of school administrators, teachers and parents.

The committee could make several recommendations, including that the book continue to be available to fifth-grade teachers, or that it be restricted to older students.

Until the committee makes a recommendation, the book will continue to be used.

Heathcote and two other parents also criticized the book’s depiction of violence, saying that it would be rated “R” if it were a movie.

In one passage, the young protagonist witnesses a British officer decapitating a slave. He also details the execution of his brother.

“I can’t imagine as a parent handing this book to kids as suggested reading,” Heathcote said.

Three fifth-grade students from the school, including Linda Heathcote, 11, told the board they didn’t think they or their classmates should be reading the book.

“Some kids said if their parents saw the book they wouldn’t be able to read it, so they weren’t going to tell” their parents)’Linda Heathcote said.

Teachers have assigned an alternate book to students whose parents object to “My Brother Sam Is Dead,” but some parents and students say that is not an acceptable arrangement.

“When we are out of the room sometimes we don’t hear our teacher tell us about things like spelling words and vocabulary words we have to know,” Chad Challoner said.