ST. LOUIS – Art Spiegelman’s Maus, along with six Holocaust books for young readers, are among hundreds of books a handful of Missouri school districts have reportedly pulled from their shelves since the start of this school year.
The list of books removed from the shelves was released Nov. 16 by the literary freedom advocacy group PEN America, along with a protest letter signed by Spiegelman and other authors.
“That’s what happens when we operate in a climate of fear,” Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s freedom of speech and education programs, told reporters during a virtual press briefing today. last week, sharing the results.
The books were removed due to an amendment to a new Missouri state law, largely dealing with child trafficking and sexual abuse, which also establishes a criminal penalty for providing “explicit sexual material ” to students.
The law mandates a possible jail term for any educator found guilty of an offence.
The text of the notable amendment to Missouri SB 775 reads:
“A person commits the offense of providing sexually explicit material to a student if that person is affiliated with a public or private primary or secondary school in an official capacity and, knowing its content and nature, that person provides, assigns, provides, distributes, lends or coerces acceptance or approval of the supply of sexually explicit material to a student or possesses for the purpose of furnishing, assigning, supplying, distributing, lending or coercing the acceptance or approval of the supply of explicit sexual material to a student. »
SSchool book bans are on the rise nationwide and have drawn the attention of Jewish groups as Holocaust books have been caught up in the purges.
The removal of a Tennessee school district from Maus of its Holocaust studies curriculum and a Texas school district’s brief withdrawal of a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary were both opposed by many Jewish groups earlier this year.
This time, Spiegelman Maus was banned from two different school districts: Wentzville School District and Ritenour School District, both located in the St. Louis area.
Wentzville’s ban is listed by PEN America as “banned pending investigation”, while Ritenour’s is listed as “banned from libraries”.
The vast majority of books affected came from a single school district: Wentzville, a suburb of St. Louis.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the district ordered its librarians to remove more than 200 books from its shelves at the start of the semester and place them under review.
Included in the Wentzville purge was Maus and several Holocaust history books published for young readers by ReferencePoint Press: Holocaust killing camps and centers, Holocaust rescue and liberation, and Holocaust resistance by Craig Blohm; Hitler’s Final Solution by John Allen; and Life in a Nazi Concentration Camp by Don Nardo.
A Time-Life History Book on the Holocaust, Device of Death – The Third Reich by Thomas Flaherty, was also banned.
Other books banned by Wentzville included Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob, which relays discussions with the author’s Jewish husband and biracial son about Jews and politics, and several books on photographers and artists of Jewish descent, including André Kertész, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray , Irving Penn, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani.
Lindbergh schools in St. Louis banned A dangerous womana graphic biography of Jewish socialist radical Emma Goldman by Jewish writer and artist Sharon Rudahl.
Kirkwood School District in a St. Louis suburb prohibits Women, a book of photographs by Jewish photographer Annie Leibovitz with text by Jewish writer Susan Sontag, as well as another book by Leibovitz; and Gender Outlaw: The Next Generationedited by Jewish writers Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman.
Because of Missosuri’s law prohibiting sexually explicit material, PEN’s Friedman said, school districts in Missouri — especially Wentzville — were on guard for graphic novels and picture books that might contain objectionable imagery.
Books about the Holocaust have been referred to by parents or educators as “sexually explicit” for containing disturbing historical imagery, according to PEN America’s analysis.
“It’s these images, essentially, that tell us here are the reasons why these books aren’t on the shelves,” Friedman said.
Wentzville, Ritenour and Kirkwood school districts did not return requests for comment.
A representative for Kirkwood previously told the Post-shipment, “The sad reality of Senate Bill 775 is that, now in effect, it includes criminal penalties for individual educators. We are unwilling to risk these potential consequences and will err on the side of caution on behalf of those who serve our students. »
A Lindbergh Schools spokesperson said, “Lindbergh has taken the necessary steps to ensure compliance with state law by carefully reviewing library and classroom resources and removing items from the student access if they contain visual images that meet the requirements set forth in SB 775.”
A student group and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Wentzville District last spring over another group of book bans, including Toni Morrison’s. The bluest eye; some of these books were restored to shelves after the lawsuit was filed.
If books were removed for images classified as sexually explicit, Missouri’s bans would follow a pattern similar to school districts in Tennessee and Texas that removed Maus and the graphic adaptation of Anne Frank earlier this year. Parties in both districts had also objected to images shown in books that they said were sexually explicit.
Bans on Jewish and Holocaust-themed books occurred alongside dozens of other books that were not Jewish-themed, including a 1984 graphic novel adaptation; by Alan Moore watchmen; the children’s bible; graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, by Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale and Lois Lowry The donor; and how-to books on oil and watercolor painting.
MThe governor of Issouri signed a statewide Holocaust education mandate earlier this year.
“We are grateful that Missouri, as a state, has made it clear that it prioritizes Holocaust education,” said Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, at JTA.
But “it feels like banning these books is against it, even if it’s not the letter of the law, the spirit of the law.”
“Such an overzealous book ban 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- on in an open letter opposing the bans signed by Spiegelman and other authors, including Lowry and Laurie Halse Anderson.
“Missouri students are being denied these educational opportunities.”