The school board in McMinn County, Tennessee, voted 10-0 on Wednesday to bar schools from teaching Maus, a Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, a graphic novel about the Holocaust written by Art Spiegelman, and ban it from school libraries. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the only graphic novel to earn that honor.
Spiegelman spent 13 years putting together Maus, which recalls the experiences of his Auschwitz-survivor father, Vladek, and mother, Anja, depicting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. "By using talking animals, Spiegelman allows his readers just enough emotional-safety distance to be able to follow a story that takes place during the Holocaust," Jeff Smith, creator of Bone, told The Washington Post in 2016. Acclaimed cartoonist Chris Ware told the Post that Maus continues "to be the greatest graphic novel ever written."
McMinn County school board members objected to the book's use of the phrase "God damn" and "naked pictures" of cartoon mice, The Tennessee Holler reports. One board member also said he "thought the end was stupid" and did not like the son "cussing out the father" and treating "his father like he was the victim." After discussing censoring just the eight objectionable words and cartoon of the naked female mouse the board decided it would be easier to ban it.
They voted to ban the graphic novel, The Daily Beast notes, "the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day."
Hours after the school board pulled the book, the U.S. Holocaust Museum tweeted that "Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors."
2/2 Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today. For those looking to teach about the Holocaust, find lesson plans and resources here: https://t.co/CNgiVIzUMP
— US Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum) January 27, 2022
"I'm kind of baffled by this," Spiegelman told CNBC. "It's leaving me with my jaw open, like, 'What?'" He said he suspects the school board's "Orwellian" action was prompted more by discomfort with the Holocaust than the mild curse words and depiction of his mother as a naked mouse. Board members said their objections weren't about the Holocaust.
As public education becomes an ever-hotter political issue, some governors and school boards have begun banning books and curricula that some concerned citizens find objectionable or believe may cause parents or students discomfort.