ANDERSON - Forty-two years after its initial release, the hardback version of Art Spiegelman's book “Maus” is sold out on Amazon. Nothing makes a book more appealing, it seems, than to have someone say it’s off limits. That someone, in this case, was a school board in McMinn County, Tennessee.
The book, the first and only graphic novel ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, features Spiegelman as a young man coaxing his aging father into sharing his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust. The book is illustrated with cartoons. Jews are depicted as mice. Nazis are cats. During an appearance on CNN, Spiegelman said he was struggling to understand the decision to remove his book from an eighth-grade language arts curriculum. “I moved past total bafflement to try to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis,” he said. “Maybe.”
School board members insisted they didn’t object to students learning about the Holocaust. They just didn't like those eight curse words and that one instance of “nakedness.”
The “nakedness” the board was concerned about is a drawing illustrating the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother. He described it as a “tiny image” showing his mother in a bath after she had cut her wrists.
And, again, she is depicted in the book as a mouse.
“You have to really, like, want to get your sexual kicks by projecting on it,” Spiegelman told CNN. “I think they’re so myopic in their focus and they’re so afraid of what’s implied and having to defend the decision to teach ‘Maus’ as part of the curriculum that it led to this kind of daffily myopic response.”
The vote to remove the book came Jan. 10. Minutes of the meeting offer a detailed account of the discussion.
Not everyone wanted to ban the book. Some seemed to think a little editing might do the trick, but others feared too much of that might land the school district afoul of copyright restrictions.
Among the book’s critics was a board member named Tony Allman. "We don't need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff,” he said. “It shows people hanging. It shows them killing kids. Why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy.”
Melasawn Knight, an instructional supervisor for the school district, defended the book. "People did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed,” she said. “Over 6 million were murdered.”
The coarse language, she said, was part of the story. "I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that,” she said. “He is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses ...”
She could have saved her breath. "I am not denying it was horrible, brutal and cruel,” Allman said. “It's like when you're watching TV and a cuss word or nude scene comes on. It would be the same movie without it. Well, this would be the same book without it."
Board member Mike Cochran backed him up. "I went to school here 13 years,” he said. “I learned math, English, reading and history. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. ... So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don't buy it."
In the end, the vote was unanimous. Board members said they hoped the school could find another book to teach students about the Holocaust.
Who knows? Maybe they can find one without all those nasty words. And all those awful drawings.
It'll still be the same story. Just not quite so scary.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.