Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks #bannedbooksweek

I decided to feature Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks today because this book was challenged by a parent in Tennessee, which is where I live.

Skloot's book is an award-winning account of science, ethics and medical history. It tells the riveting story of how one woman's cancerous cells were taken without her permission, and became an essential medical research breakthrough linked to an array of projects, including the polio vaccine.

Jackie Sims, a mother in Knoxville, Tennessee, whose son's school, the L&N STEM Academy, had the book on their summer reading list, took offense to her son (or any student, for that matter) reading the book and basically called it pornography.

When her son brought the book to her because certain passages were making him uncomfortable, she had this to say,

"I was shocked that there was so much graphic information in the book," Sims said.

What Sims read appalled her, she said, citing a passage that describes infidelity and another that describes Lacks' intimate discovery that she has a lump on her cervix.

"I consider the book pornographic," she said, adding it's the wording that bothers her most.

"It could be told in a different way," she said. "There's so many ways to say things without being that graphic in nature, and that's the problem I have with this book."

Though her son was issued an alternate text, per district policy, Sims wants the book removed from the hands of all Knox County Schools students.

And therein lies the problem. What right does she have to decide what other people's kids read or don't read?

This Tennessee parent agrees...

"To try and stop the book from being read by all students is, to me, a modern day kind of book burning…. If someone comes along and tries to take the book out of the curriculum, then that affects me and that affects my child…If the parent doesn't want the child to read it, the parent doesn't want the child to read it, but do not take away everybody else's choice to read that book."

The author, Rebecca Skloot weighed in on her Facebook page:

"Just in time for ‪#‎BannedBooksWeek, a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system."

She also pointed to a comment left by the vice principal of the L&N STEM Academy: "Know that the book and teachers have the complete support from the administration of the school. It's an amazing book that fits with our STEM curriculum better than almost any book could! The next book that the sophomores are reading? Fahrenheit 451… Oh, sweet, sweet, irony."

It's great to see the educators in this case standing up for the literature. It's exactly this type of case that makes Banned Books Week so essential to the reading world. That this received such media attention shows that this issue is important to a great number of people. United we are strong!




Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means so much.

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  1. What!? I didn't know that was now on the banned books list! What is wrong with people?

    That was a wonderful book. I have recommended it to many people.

  2. You give really an excellent account of a surprising instance of book banning. That's the scary thing. The importance of the book and the poignancy of this story in particular get completely lost in the focus on individual words out of context. As you say, there is no good reason for every child to be shielded in the way that this family chose to be. Some parents might wish to have their children learn how one person could turn a personal tragedy into help and hope for others. I suspect a wariness of the science entered into it too.

  3. Wow, I'd no idea people were challenging this book. I haven't read it yet, but did pick it up on my ereader earlier this year. The fact that the next book on the list is F451 is indeed sweet irony.

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