The book ban is back. Texas State Rep. Matt Krause recently put more than 800 books on a watchlist, many of which deal with race and LGBTQ issues. Then an Oklahoma state senator filed an invoice to ban books dealing with “sexual perversion”, among other things, in school libraries. The McMinn County School Board in Tennessee just banned Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust. Officials noted that they did not object to teaching about genocide, but that the book’s blasphemy, nudity, violence, and depiction of suicide made it “too adult-oriented to be used in our schools”.
No one has yet figured out how to portray the Holocaust without ugliness, for the very obvious reason that it was one of the greatest crimes in human history. Maus details the cruelties Spiegelman’s father witnessed during World War II, including at Auschwitz, as well as the couple’s complicated relationship after the war. Some nudity shows Jews – depicted in the book as mice (their German oppressors are drawn as cats) – stripped naked before their murder. Hiding these images from children deliberately ignores the mechanized horror of the Holocaust. And MausThe removal of is not a side effect of an otherwise neutral attempt to keep classrooms sane. As I wrote in December, getting rid of books that highlight bigotry is the goal.
Books have been banned in America for over a century. Maus is not the first, nor the last, victim of an ideology which, in the name of protecting children, leaves them in the dark about the world as it often is. The next 14 books use difficult, sometimes overwhelming images to tell complicated stories. This approach has made it one of the most frequently challenged, if not outright banned, books in American schools; it also makes them perfect examples of what literature is meant to do. Please consider buying these for the students in your life and for yourself.
Kill a mockingbirdby Harper Lee
Lee’s 1960 novel about a white lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of rape in a remote Alabama town won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. The novel, long used in classrooms as a parable about American racism, has faced various controversies over the decades. Last week, it was removed from a Washington state school district’s required reading list for his racial slurs and for the perception of Atticus Finch as a white savior.
The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s popular dystopian story transforms the United States into a Christian theocracy called Gilead, where fertile women are stripped of their names and impregnated against their will. His sexual abuse and criticism of religion made him ripe for challenges in schools. The original book, its graphic novel adaptation, and its sequel, the wills, were taken out of circulation, then quickly restored, in a school district in Kansas in November.
The bluest eyeby Toni Morrison
Morrison’s first novel, The bluest eyehas been repeatedly listed on the American Library Association’s annual list of libraries disputed books. The classic, which launched Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning career, follows Pecola Breedlove, a black girl with a tragic family history and a deep desire to have blue eyes. In January, The bluest eye was removed from a Missouri School District Libraries to draw children away from painful scenes of sexual abuse and incest – which, in Morrison’s hands, become illustrations of the insidious psychological damage that racism inflicts on his characters.
fallen angelsby Walter Dean Myers
This Coretta Scott King Award winner, like many of Myers’ novels, follows a young black protagonist. In this story, 17-year-old Richie Perry leaves Harlem for Vietnam, where he faces the horror and banality of war. As with Myers’ 1999 book Monstersome deemed it too violent and profane for the students.
Heather has two momsby Leslea Newman
Newman’s 1989 Picture Book broke new ground by depicting exactly what its title says. A young girl named Heather has two lesbian mothers and realizes in the story that her family is different from the families of her classmates. She learns why she doesn’t have a father and that there are many types of families. Newman’s story may seem innocuous today, but the furor it caused in the 1990s, when it was the ninth most disputed book of the decade, has not weakened: heater has been removed from the shelves in a Pennsylvania school district in December.
Mausby Art Spiegelmann
The truth of the Holocaust is both abstracted and explicitly rendered in graphic memoir Mauswhich was banned in a Tennessee county last month by a unanimous vote. Spiegelman draws his Jewish family and protagonists as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Poles as pigs, but this style does not completely alleviate the horror of the victims’ suffering. Some of the subjects that caused the book to be banned, such as the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother, are key to rendering the effects of the war. Without them, it would be a whole different story.
Speakby Laurie Halse Anderson
This 1999 children’s book about a teenager struggling with the aftermath of a sexual assault was titled “soft porn” in a newspaper editorial that caught the eye of Anderson herself. Speakits protagonist’s honesty about the trauma and social avoidance she endures has made it a perennial classic– and a target for criticism.
Its dark materialsby Philippe Pullman
Pullman’s award-winning fantasy trilogy is populated by talking armored polar bears, soul-sucking specters and translucent angels. But ultimately, it’s a war on adolescence. The story’s villains, all affiliated with an allegorical version of the Catholic Church, are driven by an evil desire to keep children innocent, even by essentially lobotomizing them. In contrast, the heroes celebrate knowledge and fight to overthrow the religious hierarchy that threatens their world. Unsurprisingly, the books have been criticized for their supposed anti-Christian themes and storylines involving witchcraft.
looking for alaskaby John Green
Teenagers at Green’s Alabama boarding school drink, smoke, swear, and grope through life. These actions made the novel controversial for over a decade. Green, whose last book Blame it on our stars was extremely popular, repeatedly defended he – including what he calls his intentionally “Massively Non-Erotic” oral sex scene.
between the world and meby Ta-Nehisi Coates
This epistolary book by the famous Atlantic the writer reflects on the shadow cast by racism. Coates’ candid assessment of the effect of centuries of racial violence on contemporary black Americans has come under attack in some schools. between the world and me and Coates We were eight years in power also included on Rep. Krause’s list of books that “could cause students to experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender.”
The hate you giveby Angie Thomas
Thomas’ first young adult novel was a best-seller and was quickly adapted into a film. Starr, a black teenager, witnesses a white police officer kill her friend at a traffic stop. While navigating her grief, she gradually becomes a public advocate for racial justice. The hate you give has been challenged for its profanity and depiction of drug trafficking, but more vigorously for its thematic connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. A South Carolina police union objected to his inclusion on a high school reading list, calling him “almost an indoctrination of distrust of the police.”
Gender Queerby Maia Kobabe
Through illustrations and tender writing, this graphic memoir follows the non-binary author’s journey of self-discovery. Its exploration of sexuality and gender, particularly in illustrations depicting oral sex, has made its inclusion in school libraries a prime target for critical Last year.
In the dream houseby Carmen Maria Machado
Machado’s gripping and experimental memoir details his abusive relationship with another woman and his eventual escape. At a March 2021 school board meeting in Leander, Texas, a parent read aloud a sex scene from the book and held up a pink dildo as part of an effort to demand his removal from a book club. In December, the neighborhood deleted the permanent book of the Leander schools.
Not all boys are blueby George M. Johnson
The essays in this collection dismantle and examine black masculinity, queer sexuality, and Johnson’s own life. The book was removed from school libraries in several states and lambasted as “sexually explicit”, which the author called “dishonest for several reasons”.
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