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• • • Censorship Page Index • • •
  1. Entry page
  2. Religion, Harry Potter, and the Taliban
  3. The Vatican weighs in on Harry Potter
  4. 'Forbidden fruit' concept in censorship
  5. Banning 'Bridge to Terabithia'
  6. Censoring Red Riding Hood's grandma
  7. Censoring Thomas Merton, Judy Blume, — even Bill Martin Jr.
  8. The Great Textbook War
  1. Book-lynching in Indianapolis High School
  2. Saving us from 'Private Ryan'
  3. Censorship and hysteria: McCarthyism, Walter Cronkite, and a smear victim
  4. Picking the censors: William Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, or Murdoch's Fox Network?
  5. Test and textbook censors
  6. Capt. Underpants and Junie B. Jones
  7. When is it 'inappropriate'?

 

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By Jim Trelease
© 2001, 2007 Jim Trelease / u
pdated: 7/11/13

The Camel's Nose in the Book

img=camelimg=camelspacer

"T"he censor's initial concern with saving souls too often becomes the "camel's nose in the tent"—or book. Once its nose is in there, it's just a matter of time before it tries to take over your tent. Here are two such cases, one involving an adult memoir and the other a children's novel.

Robert Giroux (New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1998, p. 35) recalls that when the young Trappist monk Thomas Merton finished his manuscript of The Seven Storey Mountain, it was passed through religious channels for approval. Finally it reached a censor who thought its "colloquial prose style" unbefitting a monk and ruled it should be put aside until its author "learned to write decent English."

Only Merton's personal appeal to the Abbot General in France won a stay of execution. When the book became a bestseller in 1949, The New York Times refused to include it on its list because of the book's religious nature. Today its hardcover and paperback copies rank in the millions, ranking it one of the most acclaimed religious books published in the 20th century, despite one disgruntled, if not obsessive-compulsive, monk-censor.

Judy Blume, Wagner and T. S. Eliot

The other case involves a national religious organization that had promoted my work and book for a decade. Then one day they noticed that the Treasury at the back of The Read-Aloud Handbook included a recommendation for Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and its sequels. Soon came a phone call from their headquarters, noting that a national rebroadcast of my interview was due to be scheduled but one thing was holding it up: the Judy Blume recommended listing.

 "What do you find objectionable about Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing?" I asked, knowing fully well where their angst lay.

   "Nothing," the man replied, "it's Judy Blume's other books that we find offensive," meaning her more sexually oriented books for young adults.

I knew that if I caved in, it would be just a matter of time before they were back . . .

 "I'm aware of those, but this book I recommend is for very young children. I don't even mention her other books, which would be inappropriate for reading aloud anyway," I said.

   "Yes, but if they get started with her books as youngsters, they'll start to read the others when they get older," he explained.

   "I certainly understand your concerns, but Judy Blume has been around for 30 years. Has your organization ever done any research connecting the reading of her young adult books in a given community with the teenage pregnancy rate in that community? If there's a connection between reading those books and subsequent lascivious behavior, it would show up in 30 years. Any research?" Of course, the answer was no.

   "As far as banning all her work because one objects to some," I continued, "would that also apply to Ricvhard Wagner or T. S. Eliot—both being anti-Semites? Can't we separate Wagner's music and Eliot's poetry from their politics?"

n the end, the suggestion was made by my caller that unless I removed any and all Judy Blume books from my list, there would be no rebroadcast of the interview. The opportunity to overrule the censor (to say nothing of pushing the camel's nose out of my book/tent) was more important to me than selling some books, so Blume stayed on my list. (To my astonishment, the organization was back a few years later, oblivious to the earlier threats, wishing to rebroadcast the interview. I reminded them of the previous confrontation and refused to renew the relationship.)

I knew that if I had caved in, it would be just a matter of time before they were back—this time to remove all of Shel Silverstein's books because he once worked for Playboy; then the novel Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards would have to go because the author/actress once bared her chest in an R-rated movie; and then Johnny on the Spot by Edward Sorel would have to go because of the illustrator's fiercely liberal editorial cartoons in the "leftist" media. The nose in the tent would be just the beginning.

Now, you may ask, what's the name of the organization? If I named them, I'd be guilty of the same errors they are. Just because they did one stupid thing and exceeded their boundaries, doesn't mean everything the organization does is wrong. In fact, they do much good. They, like the monk-censor, just get a little carried away with their power and influence. By naming them, it would be too easy to paint their entire organization with a broad brush and that I refuse to do. Nonetheless, they serve as a potent reminder of the need to remain on guard against those whose fierce sense of self righteousness would obliterate the personal freedoms of others.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear — do you see a Marxist? Oooops.


By TRACI SHURLEY, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, © 2010 The Associated Press, Jan. 25, 2010

FORT WORTH, Texas — What do the authors of the children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" and a 2008 book called "Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation" have in common?

Both are named Bill Martin and, for now, neither is being added to Texas schoolbooks. In their haste to sort out the state's social studies curriculum standards last week, the State Board of Education tossed children's author Martin, who died in 2004, from a proposal for the third-grade section. Board member Pat Hardy, who made the motion, cited books he had written for adults that contain "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."

Trouble is, the Bill Martin Jr. who wrote the "Brown Bear" series never wrote anything political, unless you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, his friends said this week. The book on Marxism was written by Bill Martin, a philosophy professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Bill Martin Jr.'s name would have been included on a list with author Laura Ingalls Wilder and artist Carmen Lomas Garza as examples of individuals who would be studied for their cultural contributions.

Confusion bars children's author from curriculum

Hardy said she was trusting the research of another board member, Terri Leo, when she made her motion and comments about Martin's writing. Leo had sent her an e-mail earlier in the week, alerting her to Bill Martin Jr.'s listing on the Borders.com Web site as the author of "Ethical Marxism." Leo's note, however, also said she hadn't read the book.

"She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: 'Fine with me. It's a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone,'" said Hardy, who has complained vehemently about the volume of names being added to the curriculum standards.

In an e-mail exchange, Leo said she planned to make a motion to replace Bill Martin and sent Hardy a list of possible alternatives. Hardy said she thought she was doing what Leo wanted when she made the motion.
Leo, however, said she wasn't asking Hardy to make any motions. She said she didn't do any "research."
"Since I didn't check it out, I wasn't about to make the motion," Leo said, adding that she never meant for her "FYI" e-mail to Hardy to be spoken about in a public forum. Hardy said that her interest was in paring down that list and that she didn't mean to offend anyone.

For some, however, the mix-up is an indicator of a larger problem with the way the elected board members have approached the update of state curriculum standards, also known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Board members will take up social studies standards again in March. They plan to take a final vote on updates in May.

Hardy's motion is "a new low in terms of the group that's supposed to represent education having such faulty research and making such a false leap without substantiating what they're doing," said Michael Sampson, Martin's co-author on 30 children's books. Sampson is a professor of early childhood education at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, Fla., but he used to work in Texas. He and Martin also traveled the country putting on educational conferences for teachers and children.

The social studies standards update, which started last spring when groups of educators met to suggest revisions, has brought criticism from the right and the left about politicizing the process. As trustees worked their way through a draft last week, political ideas like imperialism, communism and free enterprise were at the heart of some of the changes. For example, member Don McLeroy, the board's conservative former chairman, suggested taking out mention of the first Red Scare, an anti-communism movement after World War I. He argued that it was short-lived, but Hardy appealed to him to realize the importance of the event, and it was kept in.

Hardy, who represents part of Tarrant County and Ellis, Johnson and Parker counties, clashed with her Republican colleagues in several areas. But she said she had never heard of Bill Martin Jr.'s work before receiving an e-mail from Leo. A quick look on the Internet might add to the confusion. The online bookseller Amazon.com links the names of the authors. However, a quick scroll down on the Ethical Marxism page on Amazon gives a brief description of the
philosophy professor.

That Bill Martin was surprised to hear that his name had come up at the meeting in Austin. "My own books don't seem to get out there in the world nearly as much as I'd like, so it is amusing that a trustee involved in this discussion in the Texas State Board of Education would even be aware of them," he said in an e-mail. "But I imagine this trustee applied the same level of care in her inquiry on this question as she brings to the idea that young people cannot be exposed to criticisms of the capitalist system. So, a fine example for our youth," he wrote.

Tommy Thomason, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism at Texas Christian University, also wasn't pleased. He read about Hardy's discussion in the Star-Telegram and contacted the paper for clarification. He also worked with Martin and considers it a tragedy his friend's name is being "besmirched." He said Martin's only political agenda would be "supporting children and giving them wonderful literature they love to read."

 

BACK     • Censor subject index     • NEXT— Who will pick the censors?

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