Brown Paper Book Bag

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

What used to come in the mail in a brown paper wrapper now pales in comparison to what might show up on a high school student’s assigned reading list.

The former usually contained magazines, one in particular springs to mind, that gave adult readers the opportunity to see up-and-coming starlets like Marilyn Monroe naked, whether their loved ones appreciated it or not. The latter gives young adults, sometimes really young youngsters, crash courses in subjects that they probably may never want to master.

“As school was ending last year, Sue Ann Johnson came across a copy of a short story that was assigned reading for her son’s Advanced Placement English class,” Dale Buss writes in the August/September issue of Citizen magazine, which is published by Focus on the Family. “‘I Like Guys’ is a homosexual coming of age tale set in a summer camp.”

Mom found a trio of other similar short stories in her son’s book bag. Some assigned books that Buss examined telegraph their point in the title while others do not.

In the former category are tomes such as Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade. In the latter category are books such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, of which one reviewer on Amazon remembered, “I was assigned this book nine years ago during a women’s literature class.”

As Buss notes, The Bluest Eye “depicts in disquieting detail a father’s rape of his 11-year-old daughter.” Stories with a multicultural bent are particularly problematic, especially for the culture represented.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a novel about a boy who copes with his abject situation on a reservation through pornography and masturbation,” Buss reports. The School Library Journal claims it is appropriate for Grades 7-10.

“Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie’s first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA,” Chris Shoemaker of the New York Public Library writes in his School Library Journal review.  “The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw.”

“He says, ‘I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.’ He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one’s community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist’s grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney’s simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney’s illustrations. The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.