Banned Books: Steps Away from Book Burning

Each fall the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books and advocates for literacy freedom. This year September 22-28 (this week) the focus is on graphic novels. Please check out their site (here)  which includes links to frequently challenged books

9780374317911 dirty cowboy

When THE DIRTY COWBOY (written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex) released in 2012 I wrote a post about it (here), which included this:

This is a cleverly written and illustrated story about a cowboy whose filth level eventually triggers the need for a bath. He instructs his faithful dog to guard his clothes while he bathes in the river, but when he returns for them the dog doesn’t recognize him- no trail smells! The ensuing battle for the clothes restores sufficient natural odors to allow recognition, but by then the clothes are ripped to shreds. Boots and hat are his only garb on the trip home.
The intricate language and visual detail combined with the remarkable “fig leaf” artistic strategies to engage and entertain readers of any age.

For a taste of the lively online debate that raged last spring about this title, search “censor Dirty Cowboy”. One article is here.

During this release-timed debate I checked it out of the local public library. I found it to be witty, hilarious, and entirely suited to even the youngest readers. The shocking surprise in this book was not the content, but the fact that someone had managed to check this book out of the library in the first days of circulation and carefully razor-cut-out one of its pages.

Care to guess what I did? 

I went out to a bookstore and checked to see what the “offensive” page really looked like. To this day I can’t figure out how it was any different from the others. The issue is that it was in the final pages and the missing page rendered the conclusion confusing.

When I returned the book to the library I pointed out the damage. I urged them to find the prior user, charge them the full price, and replace the book with an undamaged copy.

9780375842207book thief

So why do I feel the need to discuss THE DIRTY COWBOY here, on a site intended for older readers? Because my ongoing research about the German occupation of Norway deals with censorship. Most are aware that the Nazis practiced book burning on a massive scale. If you haven’t read THE BOOK THIEF (or seen the movie, which I’ve been told does the book justice), please do one or the other IMMEDIATELY! You can come back and finish reading this post later.

After the first year of Norway’s occupation, German forces realized that very few Norsemen were buying their false claim of brotherhood and kinship. Many more direct and extreme steps were instituted to remove any evidence of “Norway”, its history and heritage, replacing it with the Nazi version of “NEW NORWAY”. A major step in that process was to remove historically- and culturally-referenced books from schools, libraries, and homes.

Where “persuasion”, even coercion, had failed, the “THOUGHT POLICE” took over. 

When someone in the public attempts to have books banned, they’ve already moved into the “THOUGHT POLICE” mode. The next step (a very short one) is actually destroying public property, whether with a razor cut or a bonfire. 

The typical chant/rant is “This is not a good book for children.” 

Inserting a single word in that thesis makes it legitimate and defensible claim: 

“This is not a good book for MY children.”



Let’s all make decisions for ourselves and those for whom we have the authority to do so. Beyond that, we can agree to disagree, not strap on our THOUGHT POLICE badges.

‘Nuff said.

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