A controversial novel on a Pasco County middle school reading list has renewed a long-running debate: What books on school-approved reading lists are appropriate for which ages, and how do districts decide? In this case, Pasco officials acted too hastily in banning a book after a single complaint and failing to follow their own policy in dealing with such issues.
A parent of an eighth-grade student at John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel was alarmed when her daughter asked questions about racy material in John Green's novel Paper Towns, which was on the summer reading list. The mother contacted school officials, saying in an email she wished there was some warning that the content might not be suitable for some children. The school district's curriculum department promptly provided information about the book's content. A few days later, Paper Towns was quietly removed from the summer reading list.
Green's books have been criticized for their harsh language, heavy topics like suicide and conversations about teen sex. Another Green novel, Looking for Alaska, appeared on a 2012 list of most frequently challenged books. The Pasco school district has a review process that allows for many points of view when books are objected to, and time for appeals. That was not followed in this case.
When school districts are quick to censor reading material, they risk shielding students from quality literature, diversity of thought and the realities of the world. Parents should know what their children are reading, but school districts should follow their own policies before removing books from reading lists.