Tagged: Banned books

Martha Thomases: School Daze

Fun Home

When I was a kid in Ohio, the school year would start the Wednesday after Labor Day. I can tell it’s Back to School time because I want to buy pens.

Originally, I thought about writing a column that was a curriculum guide for classes comic book characters might take. Interlac 101, Latvarian History, that kind of thing. Or perhaps I would suggest a class in California History for the newly-arrived DC crew.

That might have been funny. I reserve the right to use those ideas at a time and place to be negotiated.

Instead, I want to talk about graphic storytelling and its role in modern education. For real. When I was a kid (when we took class notes on papyrus), the conventional wisdom held that comics books were for stupid kids. Bringing one to school (and getting caught) meant a public humiliation and confiscation.

Now, comics are not just cool, but literary as well. They are part of an Ivy League education.

And there’s good reason for this. For one thing, it’s fun to read even the most pessimistic graphic novel. To quote the link: “Comics and graphic novels are a great source of entertainment, and that is, without a doubt, this medium’s most utilitarian strength. Modern education system thrives on selling grades, and completely ignores the love of learning.”

“The Love of Learning.” That’s what school should be about. Unfortunately, in these United States, it is not.

Nothing is simple anymore, and that includes treating graphic story as something worth reading. The politic divide that encourages textbooks like this encourages a fear of conflicting ideas that, in my opinion, is antithetical to a true education.

When the texts are comics, the battles look like this and like this, or like the protests at Duke over Fun Home. It’s interesting to note that, in the second link, the book was banned over the protests of the people who objected to it.

Education has become such a battlefield that the threat of possible controversy is enough to shut down any exchange of ideas at all. We aren’t talking about students hurling insults at each other, or teachers who flunk students for expressing a difference of opinion. We’re talking about books. In many cases, we’re talking about award-winning books that have been lauded in the public marketplace for decades.

I know there is a faction of people out there who would like it if children never questioned authority, who want kids to learn the lessons necessary to be good little workers who obey the bosses, the religious leaders, the cops and the president. Kids who can read enough to understand ads for products they don’t need, who are happy with watching a screen all day and drinking Budweiser.

To me, that’s a form of child abuse.

No one can read everything, of course. We all pick and choose. Even at Duke, Fun Home was on a suggested summer reading list, and not required. The fundamentalist Christians who felt it was an assault on their beliefs remain free to go through life wrapped in their sanctimonious ignorance.

I hope their parents think that’s worth the tuition money. They’re certainly shelling out a lot of dough to make the rest of us to suffer.

You might ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? A bunch of kids in an academic ivory tower are acting like spoiled brats. That’s what college is for. They’ll find out soon enough that the real world doesn’t have time for that kind of self-indulgence.” And I would agree that a lot of us (well, me anyway) who were self-righteously full of ourselves in college eventually found out that our ideals didn’t always translate into reality. I’d even argue that lessons learned that way stay with us longer than if we had gotten it right the first time. One of my favorite things that I learned in school was that life is more interesting and fulfilling when we know people who are different from ourselves and who will challenge our assumptions.

The alternative is to turn out people who all think and act the same way, who think that majority rule is more important than defending the rights of the minority. And if you think I’m exaggerating, check this out.

I bet they haven’t read Fun Home either.

Tweeks: The Graveyard Book Shouldn’t Get Buried (Week 4 #ChallengedChallenge)

It’s Week Four, which means we are at the half-way mark of the ComicMix Challenged Challenge. This week we take on The Graveyard Book Vol. 1, the graphic novel based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. This witty and compelling story was enhanced by P. Craig Russell’s graphic adaptation which includes amazing artwork by different artists in each chapter. We couldn’t help but love this book. We also couldn’t help but be confused as to why the CBLDF had to defend this touching book about a boy being raised by ghosts from being banned at a middle school. As middle schoolers ourselves, we don’t get it. We think maybe those who were so concerned with a few panels of blood missed the point of the story altogether.  Not to mention that for the genre and for our age group, this book is not in the least bit shocking. Watch our discussion about why this book deserves to be read by everyone who choses to do so.

Molly Jackson: Banned Books – Why, Oh Why?


ComicMix’s very own Tweeks announced their Summer Reading Challenge, reading banned and challenged graphic novels. It struck me as a fantastic idea and a great way to encourage people of all ages to try something new. But their challenge also brought up the fact that I never understood the concept of banning books.

I grew up in a house where everything was fair game. Nothing was off limits or banned, especially books. I could read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I read outside of my age range often and if I had questions, my parents were there to answer them or direct me to someone that could. When I went through my Chaim Potok phase, a member of my synagogue made time just to answer my questions. No one seemed to mind that I was reading books written for adults at the age of 12. They trusted me and my parents to make the correct decision for me.

In looking over the reading list, the week 1 book really caught my eye. Bone Vol. 1 by Jeff Smith, also known as a go-to book series for young readers was a challenged book. Not only did that surprise me, it finally gave me a reason to read it. (It had been on my reading list but that list is too long.) After reading it, I had a laundry list of talking points that completely agree with The Tweeks. In a nutshell, grownups are sheltering kids.

Adults often forget how much kids see, hear and experience from the world around them. Books are the least concern. The 6pm evening news is more graphic and offensive than Bone Vol. 1. And parents today forget that kids have access to the web; something they never did. Even with parental controls, kids can discover adult topics on the internet. They are going to find out about drugs, sex, alcohol and politics one way or another. By hiding it, a message is sent that it is wrong to explore the world. It would be so much better if they were met with guidance instead of shaming. Lack of knowledge is what hurts people the most.

Parents seem so concerned to keep their kids from discovering the different aspects of the world. Sometimes that is the right move. Not every book is for everyone. But I am glad no one made the decision for me.

Mindy Newell: 232.7° Celsius


“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” • Ray Bradbury’s opening words to his coda in the 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451

Good friend and fellow columnist Martha Thomases’ latest column made me remember an incident from my childhood, back when I was in grammar school at P.S. 29 on Staten Island, NY. But more on that in a bit.

The autoignition point of paper – autoignition being that temperature at which a substance will spontaneously burst into flames – is anywhere from 424 to 475º F (218 to 246º C), dependent on the type of paper, i.e., thickness, density, composition, and atmospheric conditions. It is also the source of the title of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, which takes place in a future American society in which books are not just banned, but outlawed. Those who are found to be harboring not only have their books taken and burned, but their homes, too, are set aflame by “firemen” whose job is to search out and destroy any type of literature.

In this bleak Tomorrowland, America is a land in which E Pluribus Unum has been replaced with Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies; those who live in this world are not individuals, but automatons, walking through life, but not living it, with no thoughts of their own.

What is both ironically amusing and extremely aggravating to me is that Fahrenheit itself has been subject to expurgation, censoring and banning. That’s right, a novel about the dangerous suppression of individuality was itself earmarked for the bonfire. Yes, I know, it is the height of absurdity, but it is true.

In 1967, at the height of the ‘60s social revolution, its publisher – Ballantine Books – released an edition for its high school books program which censored the words “hell,” “abortion,” and “damn,” altered at least 75 paragraphs, and changed character situations that were felt to be detrimental to the fragile minds of teenagers – a drunk man became a sick man, the cleaning of a belly button became cleaning ears.

Both censored and uncensored versions were available until 1973, when Ballantine decided that the public should read only the expurgated version. This continued until 1979, when Bradbury found out about it. Understandably, he went berserk:

 “Do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.”

Lucky for Bradbury, noted and brilliant science fiction editor Judy-Lynn del Rey had recently been brought in to revitalize their science fiction line, and stepped in here as well. So the novel, in all its dystopian glory, has been back on the bookshelves, available to all discerning and thinking readers for 36 years. And no one has complained.

Oh, yeah?

1987: Bay County School Board, Panama City, Florida. Superintendent Leonard Hall institutes a three-tier classification system. Fahrenheit 451 was assigned “third-tier” status, meaning that it was to be removed from the classroom for “a lot of vulgarity.”

1992: Venado Middle School, Irvine, California. Students were given Fahrenheit 451 to read. All the “bad” words were blacked out.

2006: Independent School District, Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas. A tenth grade student was assigned to read Fahrenheit 451 as part of Banned Books Week. She stopped reading it after only a few pages because of the “bad” words and the scene win which a Bible is burned. Her parents demanded to that the novel be banned – this during Banned Books Week, get it? – because they said it was violent, portrayed Christians as yahoos, and insulted firemen.

All these attempts to censor, purge, and ban Bradbury’s tour de force ultimately failed. But stay tuned. The other major theme of Fahrenheit 451 is the manipulation of society through mass media and technology.

On the other hand, don’t stay tuned.

•     •     •     •     •

 “Having the freedom to read and the freedom to choose is one of the best gifts my parents every gave me.” • Judy Blume

Although I didn’t consider myself to be so, apparently I was one of those super-bright, obnoxious kids who love to read and are reading waaaaaaay above their grade level that annoy the shit out of Marians the Librarians – well, at least we did in the olden days.

So, like I was saying, I was seven years old and attending P.S. 29 on Staten Island, New York. So one day I go to the school library to search the stacks for something to read. I discover The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. Being head-over-heels with anything that had to do with Equs caballus – or is that Equs caballi? – I wanted it. Only it was on the highest bookshelf. I took a chair from one of the tables, dragged it over, got up on the chair, stood on tiptoe, and clutched the book in my hot, greedy fingers. I got off the chair and walked over to the checkout desk.

Marian the Librarian wouldn’t let me have it.

I cried all the way home. I even cried when I got into my house.

My mom wanted to know what was wrong.

“Oh, yeah?” she said. “Don’t you worry, Mindy.”

The next day my mom walked me to school. Only she didn’t drop me off in the schoolyard, she walked into the school with me and right to Marian the Librarian’s office.

“I understand you wouldn’t let my daughter read the book she wanted,” she said.

“Well, you must understand, that book is for eighth-graders,” Marian said.


“Mindy is not in the eighth grade.”

“My daughter wants that book.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let her have it.”

“Don’t you ever tell my daughter she can’t read something. Ever.”

I was sent to class at that moment, so the rest of this is hearsay, but the way it’s been told at family dinners and gatherings over the years it seems that once I was out of the library my mother let Marian the Librarian have it. Stuff about Joe McCarthy and Nazis and book burnings and threats to go to court if she had to and a few choice “bad” words thrown in for good measure. Granted, the story has most likely been embellished since that day when Laura Newell, R.N. defended the Bill of Rights against one harried school librarian, but you get the idea – and of course I got the book…and any other book I wanted to read that was found in the library of P.S. 29 on Staten Island, New York.

My mother blew out a lit match that day.

Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I Sing the Body Electric, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Fog Horn, and Fahrenheit 451 – and so many other timeless classics – died on June 5, 2012 in Los Angeles.

Judy Blume is the author of the classic young adult novels Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, Freckleface, It’s Not The End Of The World, Forever, and so many other. Her first adult novel, Wifey, was published in 1978. Ms. Blume’s latest book is the adult novel In The Unlikely Event.


Martha Thomases: Stupid People and Irresistible Knowledge


Banning books is stupid.

I mean, you probably already oppose book banning. It violates the First Amendment. But I’m not talking about the law or morality. I’m talking about the stupid.

All summer, ComicMix and The Tweeks will be urging kids and parents to read graphic novels that are being banned from school libraries.

Here is my experience with being a kid and reading a banned book. I was in the fifth grade, ten years old, and my mom saw a feature on The Today Show about kids who were so smart that they read books written for adults, like John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage and To Kill a Mockingbird. Not to be outdone by any other mother in the world, she promptly went to the Youngstown, Ohio public library and took both books out for me to read.

I chose to read the novel. It was shorter, and it had a story.

At that time, we were allowed to bring our own books to school to read in free periods, if we finished our work. So I did. When my teacher, Miss Jones, saw what I was reading, she sent me home.

That event changed my life. My parents were so angry that they took me out of public school and sent me to the only non-parochial private school in town. From there, it was a short step to boarding school, an elitist liberal college, and a northeastern urban ivory tower existence.

Here’s the thing: I had no idea what Miss Jones was so upset about. The book was, in fact, a little bit advanced for me and I missed out on a lot of the main plot points, the racial themes, the attempted rape. When someone asked me what it was about, I said, “It’s about a girl who dresses up like a ham, and also there are Negroes.”

(In the early 1960s, that was the polite term.)

Banning a book makes it irresistible to a kid, especially a teenager. There were only a few things that could make me want to read something in high school:

1) The author was attractive

2) Cool people were reading it

3) Someone told me I couldn’t.

Those first two, actually, might still be part of my criteria. It certainly explains my devotion to Will Self.

Because they had been banned, I read books by Henry Miller, which I loved, and by Charles Bukowski, which I didn’t like much. I read radical books about women’s bodies and how they work. I read comics with character that not only didn’t have capes, but often didn’t have any clothes.

Parents who support book banning in school libraries say they are protecting their children from ideas with which they disagree. They think that, if their children don’t read those books, they won’t stray from their parents’ moral compass.

It doesn’t really work like that. Maybe those parents will get a few months of peace and quiet, but not much more.

My parents, civil libertarians that they were, didn’t stop me from reading what I wanted to read. I mean, they weren’t going to go out and get me hard-core porn or vivid depictions of slaughter (other than what was on the news every night), but they didn’t mind if I read things they didn’t like. We talked about it. That’s what the dinner table was for, talking about those things. That’s what we did on long car rides (besides playing “I Spy”). And while I don’t agree with everything my parents believed (nor did they necessarily agree with each other), I didn’t stray very far, and I respect those differences.

Even better, I know how to form an opinion myself.

There are some books on the list of banned graphic novels that might not be appropriate for every child to read, and parents should be responsible for protecting their children from those books. For example, I think that a five-year old would not grasp Maus, and might be upset by it.

You know what I would do if that happened? I would take the book away from him. I would tell him he could read it when he was older.

I wouldn’t stop anyone else from reading it. Nobody should.