The Maus Trap

As long as there have been books, there has been controversy about books. There have been six major book-burnings in the US (yes, America) over Harry Potter, because some people believe a little too much in witches, though, personally, if I believed that strongly in witches, I might just not want to anger them.

But logic doesn’t exist in book burnings, or bannings.

In 1948, in Binghamton, New York , people went door to door gathering and burning comic books, to save youth from their moral depravity. It sparked a nationwide comic-book burning spree, including here in Connecticut.

This year’s book fiasco (and this happened on January 10), has been the McMinn County (Tennessee) School Board voting 10-0 to remove the graphic novel Maus from their curriculum, over the use of 8 curse words (the most objectioned being – forgive me if you will, God damn), and the depiction of a naked mouse in a bathtub, with a breast showing. A mouse-breast. 

Maus is not drawn as graphic realism; with its heavy line style, it could be cut and printed in woodblocks and look the same.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is the winner of a 1992 Pulitzer Prize, the only graphic novel ever to do so. In it (sometimes found in two volumes, sometimes as one combined), Spielman interviews his father, a Polish Jew, as to what it was like to survive the Concentration Camps – his father spent time in both Auschwitz and Dachau, and his mother in Auschwitz. Nazis are portrayed by cats, Jews by mice, Americans by dogs, French by frogs, British as fish, and Swedes as deer.  

Spiegelman has a lot of anger toward his father that comes out now and then in the story. His father was, understandably, damaged by the war and not necessarily an empathetic father. Spiegelman’s mother couldn’t rid herself of the experience, and committed suicide when he was 20 (the unfortunate mouse in the bathtub). It’s a true story, an honest story, and Spiegelman’s struggle to make sense of it and his place in the narrative is the struggle we all face trying to understand the Nazi rise to power and the unimaginable atrocities they carried out – atrocities so horrific, the experiences threw open the study of epigenetics on the belief that the DNA of survivors’ children had been altered by the experiences of the parents, though some studies are undecided.

Tennessee withdrew the book from the curriculum just three days before Holocaust remembrance day, citing moral issues that included violence and showing dead mouse children, language, and that naked mouse breast in one panel. 

Maus is now the top-selling book in America, thanks to Tennessee’s decision that thirteen year olds learning about the Holocaust in graphic form and seeing mild curse words in print might damage them. Good thing they never saw the photo novel my father, a historian, has of World War II, which is nothing but photographs of the war, including too many horrific images from the various camps, a book which has haunted me since childhood.

The internet, while not reliable for many things, had the best quote: If it was okay for 13 year old Anne Frank to live through it, why is it too disturbing for 13 year old Tennessee children to learn about it? 

There are many reasons some books may be objectionable, outside of really bad prose, and yes, it is not unreasonable that some books should have an age limit – after all, movies and video games do. I would not recommend reading “The Exorcist” to a ten year old, even a literate one. The thing to remember is that not everyone can agree on what or why something should be limited, or worse, banned. Always, always, read the banned book, find out what information someone is trying to suppress, why, and then talk about it. If you still find the material objectionable, that’s fine, but you don’t have the right to control its availability to others.

Decide for yourself. Maus is currently sold out on Amazon, but you can join the wait list for the library’s copy here. Meanwhile, check out these commonly banned books – most of which the rest of America considers classics (1984 by Orwell is the #1 banned book in America).

Celebrate the Freedom to Read with Challenged Children’s and Young Adult Titles

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read anything and everything that catches our fancy. This usually happens during the last week of September, and this year it runs from September 27 through October 3 2015. For more information on banned books weeks and challenged books in general, you might want to check out the American Library Association’s dedicated pages on the subject here.

banned1Banned Books Week brings together everyone who loves books, reading, and readers. This includes librarians, book sellers, teachers, and readers of all ages who support the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those that might be uncomfortable or unpopular. To celebrate banned books this year, I am going to read as many of the children’s and young adult books that have faced challenges that I can. This will mean rereading some of my favorites, and reading some books for the first time. I have noted after each book whether it is a young adult book (YA), children’s chapter or poetry book (CB), or picture book (PB). How many of these challenged books have you read and are you surprised by the number of books many consider classics or favorites are on the list?

banned2The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA)

The Witches by Roald Dahl (CB)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (PB)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (YA)

banned10Blubber by Judy Blume (CB)

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (PB)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (YA)

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (CB)

1984 by George Orwell (YA)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (YA)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and the rest of the series) by J.K. Rowling (CB)banned14

For even more reading you might want to check out other challenged titles: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (YA), The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (CB), Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (YA), Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (CB), Deenie by Judy Blume (YA), Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (YA), James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (CB), Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (CB), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (CB), Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA), Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (YA), Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher (YA), and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (YA). This is just the tip of the iceberg! For further lists of challenged books, and why they have been challenged visit the ALA’s page of Frequently Challenged Books.

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