Classics, best


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Jul 07, 2023

Classics, best

More than 110 novels and plays – a mix of classic and contemporary literature including several best-sellers and award-winners – are included in Prince William County Schools’ division-wide “sexually

More than 110 novels and plays – a mix of classic and contemporary literature including several best-sellers and award-winners – are included in Prince William County Schools’ division-wide “sexually explicit” list of library books and instructional materials, which school officials compiled over the summer in response to a new state law requiring schools to give parents more information and control over what their children read in Virginia’s public schools.  

The new regulations require schools to inform parents 30 days ahead of time if any of the materials on the list are used in class. The portion of the law governing “instructional materials” also states that parents can opt their students out of reading or viewing the identified materials. Schools must provide non-explicit alternate materials to students upon request and without penalty.  

Some of the books on the list include best-sellers and award-winning literature, such as “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison; “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut; and the plays “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams. Other classics such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood and “Tess of the d'Urbervilles,” by Thomas Hardy, are on the list as well. 

Books dealing with Black and LGBTQ experiences are often a focus of book challenges, and the Prince William County list has several. The 1952 novel “Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison, which deals with racism faced by the Black community, is on the list, as is “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir by Black LGBTQ activist George M. Johnson.  

The young adult novel “Red White and Royal Blue,” which focuses on a young gay couple, is also on the list. Although the law says the homosexuality does not in itself make a book sexually explicit, identified books have depictions of sex or sexually charged scenes that otherwise qualify.   

Contemporary bestsellers like “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, and “Little Fires Everywhere,” by Celeste Ng, are also on the list.  

Most of the books listed are found only in high school libraries, but a few are also found in middle schools, such as “The House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisneros. No elementary school level books are on the list.  

Some Prince Wiliiam County teachers say they have decided not to teach certain books – and even plan to eliminate their classroom libraries -- due to fears that parents might find some content objectionable or that they might get in trouble for not properly notifying parents. 

According to the school division’s regulations enforcing the law, all teachers must sign affidavits saying that either they have no sexually explicit materials in their classrooms or list all sexually explicit materials in their classrooms so parents can be informed of the items. 

The law says it’s in no way meant to ban books from schools or school libraries, but some teachers say they are removing some books from their plans due to concerns about pushback from parents. 

Brandie Provenzano, who teaches Language Arts at Battlefield High School, says that this year she will stop teaching one of her favorite books, “The Things They Carried” to her class. The book follows a platoon of young soldiers through the Vietnam war, but Provenzano fears that some parents could object to the book’s explicit language. 

“It was the most successful and engaging thing I’ve ever taught,” Provenzano said. “But I stopped teaching some of my favorite novels—the ones kids absolutely love—several years ago. I saw this coming.” 

“The Things They Carried” is not on the division’s sexually explicit list, nor is “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which Provenzano says she will also stop teaching this year, despite it being a favorite among students.  

Reach Anya Sczerzenie at [email protected]

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