World Book Night: cops are called as Idaho teen hands out challenged book

On World Book Night in Meridian, Idaho, police were summoned when a high school student and bookstore workers handed out copies of 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie.

'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' is by Sherman Alexie.

World Book Night and challenged books became intertwined on April 23, the 2014 celebration of WBN, when a high school student began distributing copies of Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which had been taken off a reading list at her school due to complaints from parents.

Brady Kissel, a 17-year-old student at Junior Mountain View High in Meridian, Id., began distributing copies of “Diary” in Kleiner Park to teenagers on April 23 along with three employees from local bookstore Rediscovered Books. The Meridian school board had voted to take the book off a supplemental reading list for tenth-graders after parents complained about the book.

Kissel had gotten 350 signatures for a petition to protest the book's removal from the reading list, which she showed the school board at the meeting on April 2 at which “Diary” was banned. Sara Baker of Seattle, Wash., and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, Wash., learned of the incident and started a fundraising drive to buy enough copies of “Diary” for the 350 students who had signed Kissel’s petition and the copies were bought through Rediscovered Books.

According bookseller industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, when 315 copies of the book were handed out by Kiseel and Rediscovered Books employees on World Book Night, police arrived at Kleiner Park, saying someone had called them, worried that young people were getting copies of the book without having permission from a parent.

However, after talking with Kissel, police “said they found nothing wrong with what was going on in the park,” according to Shelf Awareness.

The books that weren’t given away on April 23 were stored at Rediscovered Books for students and “Diary” publisher Little, Brown has said it is donating another 350 books. According to Rediscovered Books, those copies will be given to local libraries, school libraries, and teachers who are in need of more copies.

Laura “Wally” Johnson, one of the bookstore workers who handed out copies of “Diary” with Kissel, told Publishers Weekly that her time doing so “was a fantastic experience with a warm and enthusiastic atmosphere and a steady stream of polite and engaged young adults.” 

“We got to have a lot of conversations with students about the history of censorship and book banning and we got to talk a lot about World Book Night,” she said.

Alexie himself praised the efforts of those involved, particularly Baker and Lott, to get copies of "Diary" to students.

"I am honored by the hundreds of Meridian students who showed incredible passion and courage for books,” he said, according to Publishers Weekly. “Mine, yes, but literature in general. And Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott are friggin’ superheroes. If I ever get caught in a fire, I’m calling them."

"Diary" placed at number three on the American Library Association's list of most-banned or -challenged books in 2013.

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