Over the last few weeks, books have gotten banned all across not only the USA, but much of the world. In the news in the USA, Art Spiegelman’s Maus was banned by a unanimous school board vote in a county in Tennessee for being “age-inappropriate”—and similar fates are befalling many first-person accounts of the Holocaust, from Elie Weisel’s Night to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.
Gwen Katz, an author of young-adult and sci-fi novels, calls this the “pajamafication” of education, as books like those above are replaced by kinder, gentler books like the fictional The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which, instead of being narrated by Jews in concentration camps, is instead told from the point of view of a German child—which not only erases the Jewish experience in the narrative, but also leads the reader to a place of comfort. But Maus and Night are uncomfortable because the Holocaust should make you, as a human being, feel uncomfortable and terrible and lead you to do everything you can so there’s never another Holocaust, and that’s an important lesson for students (and adults too).
That’s not a lesson some people want children to learn, though: one Texas representative asked schools to report if their libraries contained any of 850 titles that he said “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” Books like Anne Frank and Maus and Night aren’t “nice,” so they’re deemed “age-inappropriate”—and banned.
As an author, banning books enrages me. Art often makes readers and viewers uncomfortable. Art can grapple with big moral questions, and history is full of injustice—and regular people who stood by and did nothing.
Go read Gwen Katz’s excellent Twitter-hosted narrative on pajamafication. Go read Maus and Night and Anne Frank—and while you’re at it, Twelve Years a Slave, The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, and other difficult, uncomfortable first-person narratives. These books are important, and the authors’ voices should not be silenced.
The Fenway Stevenson Mysteries are banned in China, by the way—for the crime of having LGBT characters (or at least that’s what I’m told). While the Fenway books are nowhere near the quality or importance of the books I’ve mentioned above, censorship has an effect more far-reaching that what you see in the news.