Dear North Carolina,

This post is also available in: Spanish


If I were a student at a North Carolina high school— well, I’m too darn old but never mind—I would be dying to get my hands on a copy of The House of the Spirits just to see what all the fuss is about! I mean, if you want to get kids reading, tell them they can’t and see what happens. I sure hope that’s how things play out for the kids in the honors English class at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina, where a group of parents tried to ban Isabel’s book from the curriculum. (So far, thank goodness, they have been unsuccessful. Last fall the county board of education voted unanimously to uphold its use in the classroom but there’s another hearing on the subject in a couple of weeks.)

Intellectual freedom and students’ rights aside, book banning is just a bad idea. Joseph Bathanti, poet laureate of North Carolina, agrees, and sent a letter in support of the book to the board of education. Here are a few choice paragraphs from that letter:

Isabel Allende’s novel The House of Spirits is quite simply a magnificent piece of literature – because of its inimitable use of language, imagery, sweeping narrative, vision, its fundamental belief in the sacrosanctity of love and family, its belief that the human spirit in inextinguishable, and because it takes head-on and clear-eyed what William Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Books, like The House of Spirits, are also magnificent precisely because they wrestle with difficult topics – which have been cited as reasons to discontinue it in the curriculum. The House of Spirits transforms, through language, through the art of its author – in this case one of the world’s acknowledged masters – what is ugly into beautiful acts of survival, everlasting love and even spirituality. 

As a culture, we habitually discuss the safety of our children. Nothing is more important. As a teacher, I take very seriously the safety of my students inside and outside the classroom – as seriously as I take the safety and well being of my own beloved children. Prohibiting access to life-enhancing texts like The House of Spirits impinges, in a sense, on their safety. Our students’ intellectual safety is crucial not only to their lives, but to Watauga County, to the great state of North Carolina, and well beyond. We must keep them safe by permitting them – under the guidance of expert teachers and citizens like Mrs. Whitaker – democratic access to literature like The House of Spirits.

Well said, Mr Bathanti, and big kudos to Mary Kent Whitaker for teaching The House of Spirits. Let’s hope she gets to keep on teaching books of her choice. Alternative books are available to students, so a ban of one book seems to me like you’re just asking for more attention. Maybe the parents at the school really just want more people to know about The House of the Spirits? Here’s an article with more on this story.

P.S. Here you go kids, a link just for you with an excerpt from The House of the Spirits. Also have a look at this article from High Country Press, sales of the book are soaring!

16 Responses to Dear North Carolina,

  1. turquoisebolo May 13, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I read The House of the Spirits when I was 16, in AP English. In the only class I took where there was opportunity to read life-changing books at a rapid pace, it stood out and changed my perspective on many things. I have never felt like it was an inappropriate book for teenagers, in fact, it’s perfect. The shifting perspectives of the characters, and the development of different aspects of humanity throughout the course of the book touch on many things that a teenager can identify with. It made me, personally, realize that I was not necessarily a “weirdo”, but a different face of humanity, and that I could fit somewhere and be something to someone.

  2. Lynn Schlenker February 4, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    As a parent who has four teenagers at Watauga High School, the school in question, I want to thank you for writing about this book challenge. Three of my children have had the privilege to take Mrs. Whitaker’s class and my last is in her class now. She is a fantastic teacher. My daughters read “The House of the Spirits” last year in this advanced, elective course and I am fighting to keep it in the curriculum for my son’s class. As with any community, even in North Carolina, there are those of us who will not tolerate censorship in our schools. If there is a bright side, it would be that we have a new generation of students learning how to stand up for their rights. Please support us and like our facebook page: “WHS Students’ Right to Read” to support keeping THOTS in our English 205 classes and all books selected by our English Department that challenge students to think, react, and reflect.

  3. James February 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Would you be saying the same thing if they took a book of the Bible to discuss in a class?

    • Carrie February 4, 2014 at 3:43 am #

      News flash there James, they discuss the Bible in the context of allusions and references. I live in Boone, NC and my daughter is one of the ones from last year who got to read it. It is a great work and I hope that this rather small group of parents who are doing this will soon realize the disservice that they are doing to their children.

    • Emma February 4, 2014 at 3:50 am #

      I’m a student from Watauga-yes we do read the bible and discus it in class. How that isn’t mor graphic than House of the Spirits, I’ll never know.

    • Bob Goddard February 4, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

      James – have you ever read the Old Testament? The killings of whole populations, the stealing of another man’s wife (David), and on and on. Shouldn’t the O.T. be banned for its immorality?

  4. Claudia Montalvo Butler February 3, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Now I want to read it even more!

  5. Leo B February 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    Not surprised by this unfortunate action. America continues its downward spiral to complete ignorance due to the growing influence of ignorant but powerful fundamentalists.

  6. Yolanda Arce February 3, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    As an attorney, I find it shameful that young citizens of this country would be forbidden from reading something in school. What oppressive and judgemental message are we putting forth? What next? Book burnings?

  7. Ana February 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    This book is part of history of our country Chile (1973), but didn’t teach politic. Would be very good those parents read it Firts. Anyway, they have right to forbid it, for now, then the teenager will read it anyway.

  8. Carlos Solorzano February 3, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    It is very unfortunate that in these times we have people with middle ages attitudes. The same thing is going on in Texas with schools trying to change history of the Latino participation, including Cesar Chavez history. We need to support the freedom of expression and teach proper history, we need to support reading of this type of books to enhance their minds. This is one of my favorite books of Isabel Allende, I have it in English and Spanish. We need to contact our representatives and urge them to support the education and value of diversity reading. Thank you for writing about this.

    • Annelisa Posen February 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      The House of the Spirits is a magnificent book that everyone should read…….I dont understand the narrow minded thinking of individuals who call them self educators.

      • SassyfromBoone February 4, 2014 at 5:33 am #

        It wasn’t an educator, but a parent who started this. She was provided an alternative for her child to read, but instead tried to ban Allende’s book for everyone at the school. Truly closed minded behavior .

      • Lynn Schlenker February 4, 2014 at 10:24 am #

        Please note this book challenge comes from a parent, not our teachers. Our teachers selected and are defending use of “The House of the Spirits” for this advanced, elective English class.


  1. “And When I Issued the Books, the Students Applauded” - Literacy & NCTE - December 8, 2015

    […] a joke.”), radio interviews, news articles, a teach-in at the local college.  Isabel Allende weighed in.  And finally in April, the school board voted to retain the […]

  2. Fate of House of Spirits to Be Decided This Week | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund - February 26, 2014

    […] in on the side of removing it. Allende herself has also weighed in on the subject, advocating publicly in defense of the book and its teacher, Mary Kent Whitaker, who is coincidentally also Watauga […]

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