JTA – The book Maus by Art Spiegelman, as well as six books on the Holocaust aimed at young people, are among the hundreds of books that some school districts in Missouri have removed from their shelves since the beginning of the school year.
The list of books taken off the shelves was released Wednesday by the literary freedom group PEN America, along with a protest letter signed by Spiegelman and other authors.
“This is what happens when we operate in a climate of fear,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education programs at PEN America, said at a virtual press conference on Wednesday for report these results.
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The books were taken down due to an amendment to a new Missouri state law, primarily dealing with child trafficking and sexual abuse, which also provides a criminal penalty for providing “sexually explicit material.” ” students. The law provides for a possible prison sentence for any educator in violation.
Politically motivated schoolbook bans are on the rise nationwide, often driven by right-wing parent groups and school board members, with the majority of bans targeting books with racial and LGBTQ. These bans have drawn the attention of Jewish groups, as books on Judaism and the Holocaust have been affected by these measures. The withdrawal of Maus of the Holocaust education program by a school district in Tennessee and the withdrawal momentary by a Texas school district of a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary both faced strong opposition from Jewish groups earlier this year.
This time, Maus by Spiegelman was banned in two different school districts: Wentzville School District and Ritenour School District, both located in the St. Louis area. The Wentzville ban is categorized by PEN America as “banned pending investigation,” while the Ritenour ban is categorized as “banned from libraries.”
The vast majority of the affected books come from a single school district: Louis, which, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatchordered its librarians to remove more than 200 books from its shelves at the start of the semester and place them under surveillance.
The literary purge in Wentzville included Maus and several Holocaust history books published for young readers by ReferencePoint Press: Holocaust Camps and Killing Centers, Holocaust Rescue and Liberation and Holocaust Resistance by Craig Blohm; Hitler’s Final Answers by John Allen; and Life in a Nazi Concentration Camp by Don Nardo. A history book by the production company Time-Life on the Holocaust, Apparatus of Death – The Third Reich by Thomas Flaherty, was also banned.
Other books banned in Wentzville include Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob, which chronicles discussions between the author, her Jewish husband and her mixed-race son on Jews and politics, as well as several books on photographers and artists of Jewish origin, including André Kertész, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani.
Additionally, Lindbergh Schools in St. Louis has banned A Dangerous Woman, a graphic biography of Jewish socialist radical Emma Goldman by Jewish writer and artist Sharon Rudahl. And the school district of Kirkwood, in suburban St. Louis, banned Womena photo book by Jewish photographer Annie Leibovitz with text by renowned Jewish writer Susan Sontag, as well as another book by Leibovitz, and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generationa collection of essays edited by LGBTQ Jewish writers Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman.
The text of the amendment states that “a person commits the offense of providing sexually explicit material to a student if he is affiliated with a public or private primary or secondary school in an official capacity and, knowing its content and its character, provides, assigns, distributes, lends or coerces to accept or approve the provision of sexually explicit material to a student or possesses for the purpose of providing, assigns, provides, distributes, lends or coerces to accept or approve providing explicit sexual content to a student. »
According to Friedman, due to the wording of the law, school districts in Missouri, and in particular Wentzville, were on the lookout for graphic novels and picture books that might contain offensive imagery. According to PEN America’s analysis, Holocaust books have been labeled as “sexually explicit” by parents or educators because they contain disturbing historical imagery.
“It’s these images, essentially, that we’re told are the reasons why these books aren’t on the shelves,” Friedman said.
The Wentzville, Ritenour and Kirkwood school districts did not respond to requests for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. A representative for Kirkwood previously told the Post Dispatch that “the unfortunate reality of Senate Bill 775 is that, now in effect, it includes criminal penalties for individual educators. We are not prepared to risk these potential consequences and we will err on the side of caution on behalf of those who serve our students. »
A spokesperson for Lindbergh Schools told JTA in a statement that “Lindbergh has taken steps to ensure compliance with state law by carefully reviewing library and classroom resources, and removing student access items if they contain visual images that meet the requirements set forth in SB 775.”
Last spring, a group of students and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Wentzville District over another group of book bans, including The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; some of these books were put back on the shelves after the complaint was filed.
If the books were indeed removed due to images classified as sexually explicit, Missouri’s bans would follow a similar pattern to school districts in Tennessee and Texas that removed Maus and the Anne Frank adaptation earlier this year. In both of these districts, the parties had also objected to illustrated images in books that they deemed to be sexually explicit.
The banning of Jewish-themed and Holocaust-themed books occurred alongside the banning of many other books that did not have a Jewish theme, including a graphic novel adaptation of 1984“ watch men by Alan Moore, the Children’s Bible, graphic novel adaptations of macbeth of Shakespeare, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Giver by Lois Lowry, as well as how-to books on oil and watercolor painting.
Earlier this year, the governor of Missouri signed a statewide Holocaust education law into law.
“We are grateful that Missouri as a state has made it clear that it prioritizes Holocaust education,” Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Council on Community Relations, told JTA. Jewess of Saint-Louis. But, she added, “I feel like banning these books goes against, not the law per se, but the spirit of the law.”
“Such overzealousness in banning books is going to do more harm than good. Book bans limit opportunities for students to see themselves in literature and develop empathy for experiences different from their own,” reads an open letter opposing the bans, signed by Spiegelman and d. other authors including Lowry and Laurie Halse Anderson.
“Missouri students are being denied these educational opportunities.”