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.

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