Alice Walkerâ€™s The Color Purple, Arthur Millerâ€™s The Crucible and Khaled Hosseiniâ€™s The Kite Runner are among a list of 35 books a group of five vandals have been ordered to read, after they were found guilty of covering a historic African American schoolhouse with racist, antisemitic and obscene graffiti.
A judge sentenced the teenagers to read the books, as well as watching 14 films, visiting two museums and writing a research paper to encourage â€œa greater appreciation for gender, race, religion, and bigotryâ€ (sic) after they were caught vandalising the Ashburn Colored School in Virginia, broadcaster WUSA reported.
County prosecutor Alex Rueda said she had taken the step because the five were â€œdumb teenagersâ€. â€œNone of the boys had any prior record. They had never been in trouble. And it was obvious that this was not racially motivated. It was more of them being stupid and not understanding the seriousness of what they had done,â€ she told the TV station.
The daughter of a librarian, Rueda said that she hoped the sentence would teach the teenagers involved in the attack, and help the community. The boys had drawn swastikas, dinosaurs and sexually explicit pictures, and wrote â€œwhite powerâ€ and â€œbrown powerâ€ on the school, which opened in 1892, 30 years after the US civil war ended, to provide black children with an education.
The county prosecutor said she thought the teenagers, who claimed they thought the schoolhouse was a shed, had reached a â€œteachable momentâ€. All 35 books on the list tackle issues of racism, gender equality, religion or war, with three books by Leon Uris, Chaim Potokâ€™s My Name Is Asher Lev, Ta-Nehisi Coatesâ€™s The Beautiful Struggle and Margaret Atwoodâ€™s The Handmaidâ€™s Tale on the list. The films chosen to educate the boys include Oscar winners 12 Years a Slave and Lincoln.
Each month, the teenagers must file either a book report or substitute three of the books for a film review. They also have to write a paper to explain the message that swastikas and white-power symbols send and visit the Holocaust museum and the American history museum to see an exhibition about the internment of Japanese people during the second world war. â€œHopefully, what they get out of this year is a greater appreciation for gender, race, religion, bigotry. And then when they go out in to the world, they are teachers,â€ the judge said.
It is not the first time a judge has used a list of mandatory reading to punish a defendant. Last September, an Italian judge sentenced a 15-year-old girl to read 30 feminist books to â€œunderstand the damage that had been done to her as a woman, instilling feminist valuesâ€, after she was found to be part of a child prostitution ring. A 35-year-old man who was caught paying the girl for sex was sentenced to two years in prison, but not required to read any of the books. Adriana Cavarero, whose book Notwithstanding Plato was on the list, said it would have been better if the criminal had been ordered to read the literature instead.
The list of books
1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
2. Native Son by Richard Wright
3. Exodus by Leon Uris
4. Mitla 18 by Leon Uris
5. Trinity by Leon Uris
6. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
7. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
8. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
9. Night by Elie Wiesel
10. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
12. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
13. Things Falls Apart by Chinua Achebe
14. The Handmaidâ€™s Tale by Margaret Atwood
15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
17. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
18. Calebâ€™s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
19. Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle
20. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
21. A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind
22. Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
23. Black Boy by Richard Wright
24. The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
25. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
26. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
27. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
28. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
29. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
30. The Orphan Masterâ€™s Son by Adam Johnson
31. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
32. Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
33. Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton
34. A Dry White Season by Andre Brink
35. Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides