There’s only one thing I do in China more than get Covid nose jabs. Read. Book clubs acquaint me with authors I never would have met at Costco. Students challenge me with characters such as Sun Wukong. Even a twenty-hour bus ride through Cambodia becomes a mobile book club.
So of course, I’ve been reading about the banning of Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the Holocaust.
A novel that is being banned in McMinn County, Tennessee.
A novel that is in my classroom in Kunming, China.
This graphic novel portrays Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, Brits as fish, French as frogs, and Swedes as deer. And now, McMinn County school board members are ostriches with their heads buried in the sand.
According to Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus, there are two reasons his book is being banned. First, it contained the word damn. The second deadly sin of his book is nudity. What? Rodent Nudity?
Wait till the school board gets their eyes on Cat in a Hat.
Upon learning of this absurdity, I looked up McMinn County’s school’s academic ranking, curious about their students’ reading scores. You can view their test scores here. McMinn County’s latest ranking for reading is 33%, meaning, the school is in the lowest 33% percentile of the country.
Uh…do you really want to pull any reading material out of your students’ hands?
There is only one book that I would ban from school and no, it’s not Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It’s Copper Toe Boots by Marguerite de Angeli.
Let me rewind to the days when I was obsessed with the color orange and was in dire need of a haircut.
This was right around the time men were going to the moon thanks to formulas computed on slide rules. My parents recently broke up, and I moved to Lapeer, Michigan, the birthplace of Marguerite de Angeli and dwelling of my mom’s oldest sister, with her infamous salmon patties with pea gravy.
One day, between tater tot lunches and clicking clacker balls at recess, Miss Van Kleek, my fourth-grade teacher announced a real live author was coming to town. Her name was Marguerite de Angeli and no, she did not know Dr. Seuss or Laura Ingalls Wilder, but she would be at the public library the following day. We would have the opportunity to meet Marguerite, and purchase her book, Copper Toed Boots, which she would personally sign.
Now, I didn’t have the money to purchase a book. Heck, I didn’t even have money for a comb. I decided to go to the library and bring my own book for her to sign, that being a book I was awarded in the third grade for my expertise in reading. The book was hard-covered and pink, wrapped in a paper jacket featuring an illustrated mouse wearing a pirate hat. It was gifted to me by Mrs. Vilas with her bulging frog eyes and wobbly arms, around the same time that Dick Renolds, a kid on the spectrum, drank the water from the fish tank.
So the next day after school, I pedaled my Schwinn to the library and stood in line forever to meet her this real live author, scooting past towers of books that rivaled the Empire State building. When I finally reached Marge, she looked at my book and sneered.
No autograph for you, kid. I didn’t write this.
I was crushed.
Well, Michael Jordan didn’t make the box of Wheaties he signed for me and Telly Savalas didn’t make the napkin he signed for my mother in Las Vegas, either. However, Tusko Heath, a lizard lounge musician, did perform on the LP he signed for me, but I didn’t really want his autograph or his album. I got it for my dad.
I’m sure Copper Toe Boots is less racy than Maus but if a book doesn’t make you think, why read it?
As for me? I’ll pass it up to finish To Kill a Mockingbird, which I’m reading with my seventh graders (who rank a lot higher than thirty-three percent by the way)—a book also popularly banned in the USA.
As I read more headlines trying to discern what is fake news and what is not, I can’t help but think, maybe schools don’t need metal detectors, but book detectors, to ensure kids are actually reading something.
And not just for the students, but for the school board members we entrust to guide them. If your school’s reading scores are in the bottom 33%, you shouldn’t be banning books, you should do whatever it takes to get your students to read.
Any book worth banning
is a book worth reading