The award-winning graphic novel “This One Summer” won’t be in the Henning School District’s library.
After a parent complaint, the librarian at the district’s only school, the principal and superintendent reviewed the coming-of-age story, then pulled the book from the shelves. Attending the Minnesota school, which is located about 160 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, are 390 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade.
“We deemed it to not be appropriate for a pre-K-12 library,” Superintendent Jeremy Olson said Thursday. “It’s not available in our library.”
The book features two tween girls on summer vacation, growing increasingly aware of the adult world’s problems as they emerge from childhood. Topics include unplanned pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, suicide, swearing and oral sex.
Olson said the book may be fine for older students, but not for elementary-age children.
The school librarian received a complaint from an elementary school student and determined the book was inappropriate for that age. The principal and then Olson agreed. On Friday, the Henning school board will review the decision. If the board disagrees, the book will go back on the shelves. If the board agrees, the book won’t be available.
“We didn’t ban it,” Olson said. “We took it off the library shelves.”
The decision has given the Minnesota school district national notoriety in certain circles. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent Olson a letter urging him to reconsider the book by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. The organization noted that the book was given a Caldecott Honor for illustration in 2015, an award usually given to illustrated books for children up to age 14.
“This is a very rare thing and I’m not a proponent in any way of censorship,” Olson said, adding that he believes he was “very careful” in his decision.
The district bought the book earlier in the school year. No concerns were raised until the past few weeks. Olson said this is the first book he has removed.
The superintendent said censorship is “contrary to democracy” and that he wants students to discuss a wide range of ideas and viewpoints, but determined that the vulgarity in this book outweighed its educational value.
In a letter to Olson, the NCAC said that although the book “may be above the maturity and reading level of elementary school students, its value for young adults at the high school level has been recognized by leading professionals.”
Both Olson and NCAC cited a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court plurality decision that provides guidance on when and how books can be banned. The decision prohibits school officials from pulling books off library shelves because they dislike the ideas. The decision did give administrators discretion to remove a book that is “pervasively vulgar.”
The NCAC said that “This One Summer” could not be deemed “pervasively vulgar” under any standard.
Olson said he found neither the story nor the message of the book objectionable. But he determined that “vulgarity permeates” the book, so he had legal authority to remove it.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson