Monday, January 31, 2022

My letter to the Tennessee school board that banned “Maus”

News broke on 1/27/22 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) that the 10-person school board of McMinn County, Tennessee, unanimously banned the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir Maus by Art Spiegelman because it contains “rough language” and nudity that the board considers inappropriate for 8th graders. 

Of course, the book also contains the Holocaust, which calls into question if the reasons the school board have stated are the only reasons. 

In any case, banning books was deplorable when the Nazis did it, and it’s deplorable today. 

I joined the international chorus of individuals and organizations condemning this decision by contacting Lee Parkison, the director of schools, at, and each of the board members (one by one) via this form.

I didn’t set out to write an open letter, but sharing is caring:


Mr. Parkison and the McMinn County School Board,

“Remember that whenever you’re in a position to help someone, be glad and always do it because that’s the Universe answering someone else’s prayers through you.”

I hope you and your families are well.

I’m a Maryland author of books for young readers. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to kids of all ages/backgrounds in 30+ states (including Tennessee) and a dozen countries.

Therefore, you and I are in the same business: trying to do what’s best for future generations.

But I don’t write to you as a writer. Rather I reach out as a parent, a fellow adult, and a Jew to encourage you to reverse your decision to ban Maus.

No matter where I am, the kids are smarter and more capable than many adults give them credit for. I’m sure you see this in your community.

Maus is a difficult book, yes—which is a reason why it is important.

Hiding unpleasant truths can harm kids more than talk of unpleasantness. Helping them understand those truths equips them for life. If we share only what we consider good, kids will be blindsided when they grow up and realize they were not taught how to handle the bad.

I know you banned this book not because it addresses genocide but because it includes objectionable language and an image of nudity.

We all know that every middle schooler in your district—in every district, throughout history—has already seen nudity and heard curse words. So did we, when we were young. We carried on.

But some middle schoolers may not be aware of the devastating scope of the Holocaust, and may not pay attention if it’s covered in class, and may never hear a word of it at home…but may pick up a graphic novel about it.

If we banned every book that offended someone, we’d ban every book. Like everything in life, America is imperfect, yet despite its problems, it remains a place where freedom of expression is a right. Live and let live.

Read and let read.

Future leaders in your community need this book. Please give them access to it.

Thank you for your time.

P.S. Did you agree with that quotation at the top? It’s from a 1/16/22 Facebook post by Donna Casteel. 

(Donna Casteel is one of the school board members.)

Believe it or not, that is me trying to keep it short.

All the more reason to reinstate this book.

Friday, January 14, 2022

First work flight since March 2020: howdy San Antonio

When I flew back from a school visit in Ohio on 3/13/20, little did I know it would be the last such trip for a while. Like the rest of the world, I was about to enter virtual reality.

I would not present in person again until June 2021, and that was to teach creative writing camps at schools near me—so not my traditional assembly talk (and no flight required, and masked). 

My first pandemic assembly was at my daughter’s school in Germany in August 2021. Though I did fly to get there, I’d gone for other reasons and this opportunity came up last minute; plus it was pro bono. In other words, not yet a true return to form (though a huge pleasure). I was on a stage, socially distanced from the audience, and this was during the golden (yet brief) period when vaccinated people felt safe without a mask in certain situations. 

My next in-person was in October 2021, but close to home and pro bono. It was my first outdoors school visit. It was at the point when the Delta surge was in the rear view and Omicron had yet to rear its ugly droplet, so I did not wear a mask while presenting (and did not go near the students till I put one on).

My first paid in-person school visit since COVID began was in December 2021, in Delaware (driving distance from me). Boosted, and with Omicron still not a confirmed threat in the U.S., the school allowed me to present without a mask (again, I still kept at least six feet from students). 

The first more complete taste of school visit life pre-COVID came this week, when I flew to San Antonio, TX, to present at five elementary schools (four in NISD and one in NBISD). But, of course, changes abounded. Every morning before leaving the hotel, I took a rapid test. Though one of the schools said I did not need to keep my mask on while speaking, and though many students and teachers in some of the schools did not wear masks, I kept my N95 on the whole time (except for the brief Q&A at one school, since I was far from the kids). 

Thank you Tammy, Karen, Angela, Elizabeth, and Michelle for making this possible!

I’ve done virtual talks throughout the pandemic, which involved a learning curve but a welcome one. So while that kept up my muscle memory for presenting, this Texas trip threw me back into the headspace of the logistics of traveling…things you wouldn’t think you’d forget but can become hazy with disuse. Things like arranging a rental car and smart packing for a school visit.

If nature cooperates, I will be flying to speak in North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, and Michigan before the two-year anniversary of the official start of the pandemic. 

Nature…please cooperate. I’ve missed this. 

Except the part about renting cars.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Weirdo nerd hyper obsession

From a Twitter thread mentioning Batman & Bill:

I would’ve said “weirdo geek,” but all interpretations welcome.