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Books

Children’s books set in Afghanistan, Iraq challenged in Florida schools

Challenged books

Two children’s books based on real stories in the Middle East are being challenged by Florida parents.

(Harcourt)

Several residents of Duval County, Florida, are protesting the inclusion of two children’s books set in Afghanistan and Iraq in the third-grade curriculum of the county’s public schools, the Florida Times-Union reports. They argue that “The Librarian of Basra” and “Nasreen’s Secret School” contain subject matter too heavy for children, and promote “prayer to someone other than God.”

The two books, both written by Jeanette Winter, are based on true stories. “The Librarian of Basra” tells the story of a woman who saved books from a library that was later burned down; “Nasreen’s Secret School” is about a girl seeking an education in an area of Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban.

About nine parents have submitted petitions challenging the books, according to Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, is the seventh-largest county in Florida.

Vitti opposes removing the books, warning it would lead to a “slippery slope.” He notes that both books deal with the freedom to read and learn, saying, “Ironically, it’s the same themes that are discussed in the books themselves.”

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Dianne Haines Roberts, a resident whose grandchildren attend a Duval County public school, says the content of the books is too adult for 8-year-old students. “We’re talking about third-graders and they’re very impressionable,” she said. “I don’t think they need to know the horrors of the world.”

Roberts was one of several residents who shared a Facebook post opposing the books, which appears to have led to the petitions. The post, which she says she didn’t write, reads in part: “If we cannot promote praying to God and Jesus Christ in our public schools, how can we promote reading the Koran and praying to Muhammad?”

The Times-Union notes, however, that “Those on both sides agreed that there are relatively few direct references to religion in the book.”

This is far from the first time that books have been challenged in Duval County Public Schools. WJCT-TV notes that almost 300 books have faced banning attempts over the years, including “Puss in Boots,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Some Swell Pup” (which was challenged in 1983 “for the pup’s proclivity for urination and defecation”).

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Several books remain banned from the county’s public schools, such as Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Angels in America” and Tom Robbins’ “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” The list of banned materials also includes Thrasher, a monthly skateboarding magazine.


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