Amid rising attempts to ban books from school libraries and curriculums, the McMinn County school board in Tennessee has voted to remove Maus from the school library by a 10-0 vote. The book was to be used as part of an eighth grade language arts curriculum.
Maus, the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, depicts the Holocaust through the story of creator Art Spiegelman’s parents, and depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Spigelman’s parents survived the extermination camps but continued to struggle with what we would now call PTSD.
The school board objected to language (“god damn”) and a single panel of a naked mouse-headed woman which showed Spiegleman’s mother after committing suicide in her bathtub.
In addition to being one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of all time, Maus has become one of the primary texts used to educate children and adults about the Holocaust, as many public figures and institutions tweeted after the story broke.
Once again, this book was intended for 8th graders – 13 years old, an age by which many have heard curse words and are aware of human anatomy…but possibly not the Holocaust.
As the story has been picked up by all major media, Spiegelman has been making the media rounds, On CNBC, he professed himself baffled by the move.
Spiegelman also said he suspected that its members were motivated less about some mild curse words and more by the subject of the book, which tells the story of his Jewish parents’ time in Nazi concentration camps, the mass murder of other Jews by Nazis, his mother’s suicide when he was just 20 and his relationship with his father.
“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” said Spiegelman about “Maus.” The image in the book that drew objections from the board was of his mother.
The vote took place on January 10th but was reported yesterday by Tennessee Holler. The minutes of the school board meeting are available online and suggest that the baord found a few curse words more upsetting than a story about the extermination of six million Jews, and several million more Poles, Russians, Roma, disabled and LGBTQ people.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, the the US Holocaust Museum (among many others) tweeted their support of Maus as an educational tool.
1/ Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors. On the eve of International #HolocaustRemembranceDay, it is more important than ever for students to learn this history.
— US Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum) January 27, 2022
Retailers and public figures have offered to supply copies of Maus to anyone in McMinn county who wants one, and an online course is also being offered.
The McMinn Co., TN, School Board banned Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, so I am offering this free on-line course for any McMinn County high school students interested in reading these books with me. Registration details for those students coming soon.https://t.co/FSmE0BJHQk pic.twitter.com/0TWA2JsBMg
— German at Davidson (@GerDavidson) January 27, 2022
The story highlights the growing grassroots movement to remove books that are about the non-white American experience, LGBTQ+ themes and many other facts of life from libraries and school curriculums. For obvious reasons, illustrated graphic novels are often easy targets for this movement.