Girl Who Fell From The Sky controversy in Charlotte, NC

A book hand-picked by teachers and students on Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s ninth-grade reading list this year has drawn the ire of some parents who say it’s sexually explicit.

“The Girl Who Fell From The Sky,” originally published in 2010, is about a young biracial girl and sole survivor of a family tragedy. After her parents die, the main character Rachel moves in with her grandmother and finds herself grappling with her racial identity as nearly everyone around her tries to label her either Black or white.

The book has been praised for its honest portrayal of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and Black military father. GoodReads summed it up as “Here is a portrait of a young girl – and society’s ideas of race, class, and beauty.” In CMS, the book is part of a curriculum choice aimed at improving diversity of authors and content in the classroom.

In recent months, some parents, including the head of Moms for Liberty-Mecklenburg, have contested scenes in the book they consider too mature for ninth grade. One example is when Rachel, 16, is forced into non-consensual sex. Her grandmother walks in during the assault and says, “You little hussy.” Later, Rachel writes in her diary: “The doctor says I have a pretty bad tear down there. I should be more careful. And make sure I’m ready next time. … I think he did something to me. I want him to do it again. ”

Although CMS has not banned the book – and parents can request alternative assignments for their student – the Observer has learned Superintendent Earnest Winston last month responded to complaints by reminding principals they could choose to have students read a different book. In this case, the alternative text is “If You Come Softly,” a story of teenage interracial love.

Like many districts across the county, CMS is seeing an uptick in complaints about assigned books to middle and high school students. But a review of the lists of required reading texts issued by grade level this school year shows the vast majority aren’t controversial.

And even with the challenged books – namely “Maus” and “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” – students and some administrators argue the texts are important, even if the subject matter is controversial.

In response to outcry, CMS board member Carol Sawyer recently took to Facebook to say she’d read the two books parents have most-recently complained about. “Glad to see deep and inclusive materials in our CMS schools,” Sawyer wrote.

How to opt out

Eve White, the district’s executive director of communications, said the district has a book objection process.

“This starts with a community member (parent, or student if in grades 9-12) notifying the principal and the principal reviewing the objection with the appropriate board policy in mind,” White said.

So far, CMS has not removed any books from reading lists this year.

How are books chosen?

White said that in the spring of 2021, CMS provided all English I teachers and rising ninth-grade students a list of four novel choices, which were suggested titles from the district’s adopted curriculum and fit the culturally relevant request of the community.

Officials received responses from 75 teachers and 753 students.

“The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” and “If You Come Softly” were selected in response to requests from students, teachers, and the community and feedback was provided on the initial four titles.

School book controversy

Brooke Weiss, a mom of three, contacted her daughter’s teacher at the beginning of the school year to get a list of all the titles of books her daughter would be assigned, already knowing the controversy surrounding “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.”

Weiss, head of the local Moms for Liberty chapter, got her own copy of the book, read it and demanded an alternative assignment for her daughter. She said now the entire class will read “If You Come Softly.”

Still, Weiss wants CMS to start rating books when reading lists are provided, similar to how industry standards for movies, music and video games are rated.

“The fact is most parents do not have the time to read every book assigned prior to their children; however, they have a right to know the kind of content that their children are being exposed to, ”Weiss, whose youngest is a ninth-grader, said.

But others say books like “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” offer young readers a class-wide reading experience that enriches learning.

Winston wrote to school board members after complaints emerged in February:

“When considering an alternative novel, school leaders, teachers and stakeholders should consider the role literature plays in the student experience. Many novels for young people engage readers with topics that challenge their worldview and involve conflicts of class, race, culture, and gender.

“Each novel provides a mirror for some students who see themselves in the characters and a window for others to see a reality different than their own.”

The Observer obtained a copy of the email from a forward to Weiss, who shared it with a reporter.

She’d previously emailed district officials to complain about the book, saying: “It is a matter of a book that is not age-appropriate being used as a teaching tool. There are so many other choices in literature that can be used. ”

Nancy Brightwell, CMS ‘chief academic officer, responded: “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky … differs from the romanticized stories that are often portrayed in society. ”

“The limited snapshot that has been shared (in complaints) does not capture Rachel’s whole story as a young woman who experiences conflicts of class, race, culture, and gender, ”Brightwell said.

“Her experience, which is shared by many adolescents, provides teachers and students with the opportunity to discuss challenging social justice themes, including the societal pressures and double standards that some students face every day.”

Besides “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” other books on the CMS ‘reading list have been questioned across the country.

For example, the novel “Two Roads” by Joseph Bruchac – assigned to CMS sixth graders – includes misinformation about American Indian language and a ceremonial dance, according to the organization American Indians in Children’s Literature.

At least one parent recently complained to CMS board members about a book assigned to eighth graders called “Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History.” Earlier this year, “Maus” was banned by the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee, according to various media outlets, because of what some call inappropriate material. The graphic novel about the Holocaust was written by Art Spiegelman and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Malini Kumar, a CMS parent, spoke at the March 8 CMS board meeting against “Maus.” First Kumar said the graphic novel should not be in classrooms because it “is a comic book with very few words and the words that are there are grammatically incorrect so it’s not going to raise reading standards.” The book also contains a scene where the author depicts himself calling his mother a b —-.

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