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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Censorship, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Bone gives Shades of Grey a run as one of the 10 Most Banned Books of 2013

If you were to guess what the 10 most banned or challenged books in the US in 2013 were, you might guess 50 Shades of Grey for its class-consciousness tinged bondage romance; or John Green’s Looking for Alaska with its classic themes of coming of age and the required drugs and sexuality. And yes both those books are on the list, released today by the American LIbrary Association. But also on the list? Jeff Smith’s Bone series, which we’re told by the CBLDF, has been cited for “Political viewpoint, racism, violence.”

Racism? Is this that anti-Rat Creature party we’ve been hearing about? Or the Rockjaw Defense League?

While Bone is a bit of a shock to be on the list, the first one is also odd because it’s so clearly a kids book: Captain Underpants. I mean sure kids shouldn’t be exposed to underpants, unless they are being told to put on a clean pair because it’s Tuesday already, but…honestly don’t the censors of America have better things to do?

Here’s the complete Top Ten:

1) Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.)
2) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.)
3) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
4) Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James (Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.)
6) A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit.)
7) Looking for Alaska, by John Green (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
9) Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya (Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
10) Bone (series), by Jeff Smith (Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence.)

According to the CBLDF,

This is Bone’s first appearance on ALA’s annual list of challenged books, but it isn’t the first time it’s run affoul of censors. In 2012, it was banned in Texas at Crestview Elementary and moved to the junior high library because it was deemed unsuited to the age group. In April of 2010, a Minnesota parentpetitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library, when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and CBLDF.

6 Comments on Bone gives Shades of Grey a run as one of the 10 Most Banned Books of 2013, last added: 4/17/2014
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2. Dav Pilkey, Toni Morrison & Sherman Alexie Lead ALA’s Frequently Challenged Books List

captainunderpantsCaptain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie led the  most challenged books of the year list this year.

This is according to the Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books, compiled annually by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). The list explores books that have received the most complaints. Check it out:

The OIF collects reports on book challenges from librarians, teachers, concerned individuals and press reports. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness. In 2013, the OIF received hundreds of reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves.

We’ve got the whole list after the jump. continued…

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3. ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ Banned in Idaho School District

truediaryThe Meridian School District in Idaho has voted to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from a 10th grade English reading list.

The controversial book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007. The Idaho Statesman has the story about why the book was banned. Check it out:

Trustees say they want school officials to look for a book covering Native American cultural issues, but written at a higher reading level than Alexie’s book. They also want the district to review its curriculum on cultural diversity, which has included the book. Alexie’s novel tells the story of a Native American who ends up going to high school at a mostly white urban school and faces bullying and other problems. The book makes reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian.

According to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, book censorship in school districts across the U.S. rose last year.

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4. Reddit Admits Book Banning Was April Fool’s Day Joke

reddit304Last week Reddit said that it was updating its policy and banning discussions of classic books from the subreddit discussion of books. The site has now come clean and admitted that this was just an April Fool’s Day joke.

“Well, you probably guessed it. We’re not actually going to ban any books from discussion in /r/Books,” explains the site. ”It was our hope that our early prank would foster discussion about popular books, other literary subreddits, and how bad it is to ban books. Happily, it was a success!”

The joke wasn’t all in vain though. The moderators did admit that they want to idea to get across that readers should expand their discussions beyond  very popular books. “It has always been the largest complaint about /r/Books that we bring up the same books over and over,” reads the site. “But, to defend that, of course the most popular books are going to be brought up the most. It’s a difficult issue to address in a large subreddit, and we are happy that it was discussed so much this weekend.”

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5. Authors Fight Ban on Books in UK Prisons

photoBritish authors Phillip Pullman and Mark Haddon are among many that have spoken out to stop new rules that restrict access to books among prisoners in the UK.

“Any government worth having would countermand this loathsome and revolting decision at once, sack the man responsible, and withdraw the whip from him,” Pullman told The Guardian.

Mary Sweeney launched a Change.org petition today urging Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling MP to “review and amend” the new rules. The petition has already generated more than 5,000 signatures. Here is an excerpt from the petition: “Access to books can be crucial for education and rehabilitation. Access to family items are important for continued family connection, and should not additionally punish children of prisoners who need contact.” (Via The Guardian).

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6. Moving moment No. 6

Jake 375x500 Moving moment No. 6Ooh, who remembers this one? In 1982, the library systems of Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco banned Margot Zemach’s Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven from their collections (Chicago, from where I followed the whole story avidly, did include it in its two regional research libraries). Unlike the headlines, still popular today, that too-loosely use the term “censorship” to describe any effort to remove a book from a library (it ain’t censorship unless the effort succeeds), this was the real thing: local governments, through their libraries, actively refusing to stock a book because of “partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” This was the book that made me realize that librarians could be their own worst enemies: I recall one librarian interviewed in an NPR story about the flap who actually said, “when WE do it, it’s selection, not censorship.” That is exactly backwards.

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The post Moving moment No. 6 appeared first on The Horn Book.

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7. Iran to Review Book Censorship

iranThe Iranian cultural minister Ali Jannati has said that the government will reconsider allowing books that had previously been censored in the country. According to a report in The Guardian, Jannati said that “books subjected to censorship or denied permission to be published in the past will be reviewed again.”

The move comes as a new president has taken power in Iran. Here is more from The Guardian: “The new move come under The minister’s words suggested an opening-up of the country’s publishing industry under new president Hassan Rouhani, who has already signalled his willingness to make changes by agreeing to the first presidential telephone conversation with America since the 1979 revolution.

Under the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran censored many books including Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

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8. Top 10 Banned Books Picked by Mensa Members

mensaAmerican Mensa created a list of the top 10 banned books, polling its highly intelligent members. To join American Mensa, you must score in among the top two percent of on “an accepted standardized intelligence test.”

We’ve collected the complete list below–how many have you read? The members consulted a list of banned books created by Uprise Books Project founder Justin Stanley. Here’s more about the selection process:

Mensa members were asked to rank them in order of importance. Big Brother, a teenage girl and a compassionate lawyer made the list. Comments about the overall winner included references about the author himself (“Orwell’s insight into the malleability of human thought and behavior is a timeless incentive to personal awareness of the consequences of action and inaction”) to it’s impact on society (“1984 is one of those books that has become a cultural cornerstone”).


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9. Neil Gaiman Book Removed From High School Reading List in New Mexico


Educators of Alamogordo High School have removed a Neil Gaiman novel, Evermore, off of their required reading list. The author sent a message out on Twitter and asked, “is anyone fighting back?”

According to The Guardian, this New Mexico school removed the book after one student’s mother complained that the book contains “sexual innuendos and harsh language.”

Gaiman recently delivered a lecture at the Reading Agency on the importance of libraries, reading, and daydreaming. During one portion of his speech, he denounces censorship and declares that “there are no bad authors for children.”


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10. Alice Munro on the Slippery Slope of Censorship

Back in 1979, Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro responded to “pressure groups” trying to remove The Lives of Girls and Women from school reading lists. We’ve embedded the complete CBC TV interview above.

She explored the slippery slope of censorship–how these groups could move from book challenges to book banning. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

As soon as one step is taken, you have to start resisting because that makes the next step easier. The people who are concerned say they are not interested in taking books out of libraries or bookstores. I wonder if it is that they are not at this point interested in doing that. Because they are actually removing books from school reading lists which their children do not have to read. So they are taking away from other children.


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11. Sample the Most Frequently Challenged Books of the Year


It is Banned Books Week from September 22 until 28, and readers around the country are celebrating their favorite challenged books. You can also recognize Banned Books Week Heroes, join the Twitter Party or participate in the Virtual Read-Out.

Below, we’ve linked to free samples of all the books on the American Library Association (ALA)’s annual list of the most frequently challenged library books–follow the links below to read these controversial books yourself.

Follow this link for a list of “all the books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned in 2012 and 2013.”


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12. The annual banned books week roundup for 2013

salinger's 60 years later, banned in the US

For some reason last year I didn’t do my annual roundup of Banned Books Week websites. Here is a link to the source of the image above which is from the New Yorker’s article about the JD Salinger-evocative book 60 Years Later, Coming Through the Rye which is illegal to sell in the US. You can find more news articles about that situation at the author’s small Wikipedia page. You can look at past posts on this topic by checking out the bannedbooksweek tag here or here is a list of the annual posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. I skipped 2005 and 2012.

As usual, you get a neat real-time look at what’s going on by following the Twitter hashtag. Do NOT look at the bbw twitter hashtag as I mistakenly did last night. As usual there are two “main” sites the ALA site at ala.org/bbooks and the bannedbooksweek.org site which is really nice looking this year. The BannedBooksWeek Twitter account is still moribund which is a damned shame. The Virtual Read Out doesn’t seem to have any new videos this year… yet?

Please remember if you are a librarian who has a book that is challenged, report it to the ALA so they can keep track of it.

Here is the list of organizations who are co-sponsors. Let’s look at their websites.

  • PEN American Center – has this post outlining what they’re up to this week and they appear to be extended their activities for a full month and this blog post (some reflections by Nick Burd, an author whose book had been challenged) is a well-written little capsule piece.
  • The language of the censor is the language of the tyrant, the absolutist, the one with no vision. It is the antithesis of art because it assumes that there is only one perspective, one reality, and that anything that fails to rhyme with it is a sin against nature. But the real sin against nature is to suffocate personal truths and experiences with wobbly doctrine and to disguise it as morally just. Art— particularly literature—exists to show us there are as many worlds as there are people. Each of these worlds come with its own laws. These laws vary from person to person, but if there is one that they have in common it is to share your truth. We owe it to our humanity and our short time among other humans to respect the truths that are shared with us. – Nick Burd

    Websites are working and the word is getting out. I was pleased with this year’s collections of content. What I’m concerned about, as per usual, are challenges and censorship that don’t even reach the physical items on the library shelves. What about this Salinger book? Worldcat shows 40 copies of it, a handful of which are in the US, and the reviews of it haven’t been so great anyhow. But the idea that the book wasn’t obtained and removed, it was never obtained in the first place (as we see with so much born-digital content that we can’t even get in lendable format) opens a door to all new ways that libraries can not get books. The old challenges (dirty cowboy? really? do not google that) remain and new ones appear.

    3 Comments on The annual banned books week roundup for 2013, last added: 9/25/2013
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    13. On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    As the first of several “Comic Book Roundtable” events to be held at the Soho Gallery of Digital Art under the auspices of gallery owner John Ordover and former Marvel editor, author, and educator Danny Fingeroth, this event exploring the life and legacy of Dr. Frederic Wertham was planned for the occasion of Wertham’s 118th birthday, but in the lead up to the event, recent developments in scholarship about the controversial comic reformer shed new light on the evening’s subject matter. In February 2013 Librarian, professor, and scholar Carol Tilley discovered, after examining Wertham’s papers held by the Library of Congress, that some of Wertham’s methods and reports were questionable, sparking debate in comics scholarship and among comics fans.

    IMG 4708 225x300 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    “Surely You’re Joking Dr. Wertham” hit the controversy head-on by bringing together a distinguished panel for discussion, including Tilley, comics writer, editor, and educator Denny O’Neil, author and educator David Hajdu, practising physician, psychiatrist, and author Sharon Packer, and author, editor, art director, and cartoonist Craig Yoe. The Soho Gallery provided excellent accompaniment to the event in the form of Wertham-related images and quotes displayed as a digital exhibit, and hosting a reception afterward.

    IMG 4709 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    The evening opened to a thoroughly packed-in audience, among whom were many scholars and authors who have shown a public interest in Wertham’s career and legacy, including James Reibman, the official Frederick Wertham biographer designated by Wertham’s estate. Host and moderator Danny Fingeroth provided an introduction to Wertham in the form of slides including pictures of Wertham in and out of official capacity as a clinical psychiatrist working with children, and also reminded the audience of the other books Wertham authored aside from his now legendary Seduction of the Innocent, a critique on the “influence of comic books on today’s youth”, published in 1954. This placed Wertham within the context of other cultural reactions of the time that questioned the sex and violence being depicted in comics as appropriate for young readers.

    IMG 4712 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Tilley started off the panel discussion by explaining exactly what her recent research has uncovered about Wertham’s work. While her original intention was to locate materials relevant children’s education, she found “other things” that she didn’t expect to find among Wertham’s documents which she found “well-organized” in a “couple of dozen plus boxes” at the Library of Congress. The documents included copies of Wertham’s other research papers and speeches spanning his career, among which she found “discrepancies” and “some indication that he did things like combine the testimony of kids” or “broke apart” the testimony of one child “into four or five” in order to use quotes. This practice also resulted in evidence of “deleted or added” phrases from the children’s testimony that Wertham presented in Seduction of the Innocent and other works. This resulted, Tilley said, in a general “perception” of evidence in Wertham’s book that was “not the same as the actual case” of his research materials. When questioned about whether these changes were negligible or whether they altered the meaning of the children’s testimony, she confirmed that these “additions and word changes did change the meaning of testimony”. While Wertham’s book has often been criticized for its “lack of attribution” in footnotes or bibliography, Tilley feels that she has “seen personally” that his use of sources was not exacting enough. For those interested in Wertham’s legacy, this was something of a bombshell, though Tilley has been public about some of these findings previous to the evening’s discussion.

    IMG 4717 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Hajdu then commented on Wertham as a figure, reminding the audience that Wertham is  often a “handy symbol” of a wider movement against comic book excesses, and even a “personification” of the “cynicism toward comics in the late 40’s and 50’s”, even though he didn’t start this trend personally. Hajdu explained that even “newspaper comics incited criticism” prior to Wertham’s career and were often perceived as “crude, anti-literate” and examples of “defiant behavior” that raised public concern. The Catholic Church, particular, he noted, were active in inspiring state legislation against comics, due to their belief in the “power of aesthetics and the power of art” for both positive and negative influences on human behavior.

    IMG 4718 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    [Packer, Yoe, and Fingeroth]

    O’Neil, himself raised Catholic, confirmed that his “first encounter with the (comic) witch hunters was in the pages of The Catholic Digest” and that he, as a young person “read and believed” that superhero comics, particularly, were potentially harmful. He related, to the audience’s amusement, that former Marvel editor Roy Thomas “as a kid” had participated in a book burning in Missouri where he “burned comics he was not interested in”, but rescued others he liked. Tilley briefly added that she had discovered evidence that librarians, too, had participated in comic burning and attempted to keep them out of libraries during this period because they were seen as “disruptive”.

    IMG 4719 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Packer suggested that Wertham’s book title, Seduction of the Innocent, might have spoken particularly to a Christian demographic because of its suggestion of the massacre of the innocents by King Herod related in the New Testament of the Bible. This led to a reassessment among the panellists of Wertham’s title, since its original version was “All Our Innocents”. Fingeroth pointed out that this change made the title “very pulp sounding” and therefore more sensational.

    Yoe’s background on the subject of juvenile delinquency as an author, and also his discovery of the “fetish art” of Joe Shuster confirmed that there were real-life implications for the more violent aspects of comic art, such as the case of the Brooklyn Thrill Killers who killed indigent people and molested women and when interviewed by Wertham as an expert witness, confessed to being inspired in their deeds by Shuster’s artwork. Yoe, however, prompted a wide-ranging and at times heated discussion on the subject of exactly how and when Wertham’s papers at the Library of Congress had been made available for research purposes. Both Yoe and Hajdu, upon requesting access in the past, had been denied use of the papers since they were “sealed” until the children who participated in the studies had passed away. “In many ways, I respect Dr. Wertham”, Yoe said, but “the Library of Congress is our library” and its contents “should be seen” regardless of the circumstances behind their compilation. Outspoken attendee and Wertham biographer Reibman, who was granted access to the papers at a much earlier date in order to work on his book, disagreed with Yoe’s statement in favor of “freedom of information”, arguing that sealing Wertham’s papers at the library was part of the “terms of the gift” to the library. Reibman’s frequent interjections on behalf of Wertham during the event contributed to a rather heated atmosphere.

    IMG 4723 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Yoe questioned further why some individuals, and not others, were then granted access despite the terms of the gift. Hajdu chimed in that he had requested access “dozens of times” but had been denied despite his academic credentials. Yoe asked Tilley if, based on her experience as a librarian, this discrepancy was “unusual” or not. Tilley confirmed that in her experience, the sealing of the papers while at the Library of Congress and then granting access to only those individuals sanctioned by the estate of the deceased, was indeed “unusual”.  Attendee Karen Green, Graphic Novels Librarian at Columbia University, also commented that while “archives can be restricted”, for public documents this practice is “not usual”. Tilley provided further information about the situation by explaining that she was obliged to sign an agreement with the Library of Congress about the materials she accessed, even though a large portion of the Wertham papers consisted of “newspaper clippings” which “shouldn’t be restricted” anyway. Yoe brought some levity to the rapid fire questioning and often terse dialogue between he and Reibman by pointing out that Hajdu closely resembled a young Frederic Wertham and ought to have just turned up at the library, saying “I am here to see my papers”. Though Hajdu found the comparison amusing, he said “That’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard”.

    IMG 4722 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    [O'Neil and Hajdu]

    Fingeroth then gathered the reigns of the discussion as moderator to direct attention back to the panelists and away from the discursive arguments breaking out among audience members. Fingeroth asked O’Neil, specifically, if he had felt any “lingering hesitation” about comics after his experience with The Catholic Revue in childhood. O’Neil related that Wertham’s legacy, but particularly the Comics Code had impacted his career in comics.  He was involved in “several public arguments” with administrators at comics publishing companies, wherein comics supporters felt the need to argue “comics are good, not evil anymore”. O’Neil’s personal feeling has always been, and still is, he said, that “If it’s censorship, it’s bad”, and often felt frustrated by the “vagueness of the language” in the Code itself, often leading comics creators to create elaborate avenues to get around the letter of the Code. He related a particularly frustrating incident where an IRONMAN story involving a “six story tall monster” crushing a police car was censored because it “showed disrespect to the police car” even though it also showed policemen being very brave in their fight against the monster. This kind of “idiocy” in the Code he particularly objected to, and added his motto that “blind worship of authority figures whether or not authority figures had any authority” should never be supported.

    432427 orig 300x210 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    At this point, it was relevant to clarify that Wertham was not the founder of the Comics Code, though his work certainly paved the way for its development. Yoe reminded the audience that Wertham was, in fact, a progressive who was in support of the freedom of the press. It was more that Wertham “created the climate”, O’Neil supplied, which led to the Senate hearings, which led to the drafting of the Code. Both Yoe and O’Neil agreed that comics publishing was, in fact, in a very low economic position at the time of the Senate hearings anyway, due to the rise of paperback novel sales and TV watching. Yoe and O’Neil continued to discuss whether a “rating system” couldn’t have been created, rather than the unilateral Comics Code, in order to steer children away from more disturbing comics. Hajdu pointed out that the rating system was not in effect in Hollywood, by comparison, until the 1960’s, so there was not a particularly clear model to instate for comics at the time.

    3972681537 8941af2740 z 187x300 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Fingeroth asked the panelists, and in particular, Packer, whether Wertham’s research was purely “anecdotal” or whether he furnished “hard statistics” when working with children. Packer provided some context as a clinical psychiatrists about the methods of the time during Wertham’s career. She compared Wertham to Sigmund Freud and pointed out that though “Freud was celebrated at that time”, “much of his original psychological literature” was “just as baseless” as Wertham’s methods. Tilley added that her survey of Wertham’s papers revealed that his “data was rich”, but it was just “how he used it rhetorically” that was “questionable”. Yoe commented that even though his rhetorical use of his data might lead us to view Wertham with increased suspicion, in the big picture, Wertham made a “pretty good case. Many comic books were not good for young children” in term of their content.

    IMG 4721 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    [Tilley and Packer]

    Fingeroth took the question to a finer point. Did Wertham, he asked, in the opinion of the panelists, “take too many liberties” or not? Tilley stood her ground by asserting that “scientific investigation” requires accuracy, and a failure of accuracy is troubling from a scientist. Tilley added that her “personal sense” from working with the papers is that Wertham “cared more about getting rid of the comic book industry” than about his public cause of helping children develop in a psychologically  healthy atmosphere. Though he certainly “cared for kids”, she reminded, she still felt that Wertham used children as “leverage” to achieve this greater goal of attacking the comics industry. One of the things that gave her a less than sterling impression of Wertham’s personality was discovering detailed transcripts that he “noted meticulously” of phone conversations that contained potentially harmful gossip about people who he saw as enemies in his career. He “collected information”, she said, “looking for weak spots” in the lives of people he wanted to undermine, particularly people who acted as “consultants for the comic book industry”.

    693912 wertham foto large 215x300 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Fingeroth asked about Wertham’s movement, in his later career, toward criticism of the film industry and whether Wertham might have seen “comics as a stepping stone to a higher agenda” as a “career path”, but the general consensus among panelists seemed to be that comics were more easily attacked as a less profitable industry early in Wertham’s career, and that the tide of criticism had generally turned toward film around the time of Wertham’s developing interest in film. Film itself had, by the mid to late 60’s, become more overtly violent with works like Bonnie and Clyde.

    Fredric Wertham on Mike Douglas 1967 300x227 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    The rather charged atmosphere during the panel discussion gave way to an extensive question and answer period involving the audience and spanned a number of subjects. Did the distaste the comic book industry came to feel for Dr. Wertham result in a generally negative portrayal of psychiatry within comics? Yoe agreed that there are certainly plenty of “sinister psychiatrists” portrayed in comics tradition, and Packer supplied examples from Batman mythology including the Arkham family. O’Neil added that the character Harley Quinn was originally assigned to “cure” the Joker of his madness and instead was “driven nuts” herself. A more pointed question was posed about whether the possibility that Wertham skewed his evidence really made the questions he was asking about the role of comics at the time irrelevant. Hajdu fielded this question by commenting that the “weakest criticism of Wertham is that comics can’t affect minds and hearts”. As an art form, Hajdu argued, comics certainly do have impact and can “transform people”. “Comics have that power”, he reminded.

    IMG 4715 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    O’Neil weighed the issue by confessing that as a comics creator “You launch a given work and you have no way of knowing how it’ll bounce” and he often worried during his early career what impact particular comic stories might have on “kids already imbalanced”. O’Neil gave and example of his decision-making when he declined to include a “martial arts move” in one of his comics because it was “simple and damaging” and judged that kids might too easily learn to implement it. The audience, of course, immediately wanted O’Neil to demonstrate the deadly move, but he refrained in the interest of safety. For the same reason, O’Neil never allowed Molotov cocktails in his works, sure that it was too much of a “temptation” for kids to “see if it would work” building their own.

    IMG 4716 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald asked a rather burning question from the floor, one that continues to puzzle readers and comics historians alike: “Why do you think he attacked comics specifically? What did he hope to get out of it?”. The panelists answered in various ways. Yoe felt pretty strongly that Wertham was, in fact, motivated primarily by the fact that he “cared about kids” and was worried about the impact of comics. Packer analyzed Wertham a little by pointing out that Wertham himself, despite being married for many years, had no children of his own and this might have created a kind of “displacement” of concern for children that drove him to extremes. Hajdu simply stated that he felt Wertham to be “attracted to sensationalist cases” whether as an expert witness in extreme criminal cases or his research. He was, Hajdu said, a “publicity hound” at heart. Even Yoe added the admission that without a doubt Wertham had a “raging ego” driving his career.

    IMG 4720 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    Questions continued to circle back to the central role of Tilley’s new research on Wertham’s inconsistencies. How do we reassess Wertham based on the incorrectly conveyed details of his research, which clearly skewed his information in order to more sensationally and fundamentally support his thesis, when the “big picture” of his message, that extreme violence and sex in comics can be inappropriate for child readers, does seem sensible? Fingeroth presented a list of Wertham’s more “progressive” tendencies, stating that it’s possible to “go through a checklist of Wertham’s beliefs and agree except for comics” and respect many of his social contributions.

    The final assessment of the panelists revealed some consensus out of a wide-ranging interrogation of Wertham’s method and legacy. O’Neil reminded the audience that Wertham was certainly not the “black-hearted villain” that many comics fans feel him to be, but he did detrimentally present those working in comics, “demonizing” them and making them out to be the “seducers and corruptors” of society, a crusade that damaged comics for decades to come. Yoe felt that the fundamental problem with Wertham’s whole approach to his subject was not necessarily the assumption that comics could be damaging to young minds, but that he “didn’t see that comics could be an art form”, and never commented on their positive potential as an “educational” resource. Yoe left the audience with the question, a lingering one, “Why couldn’t he see that?”. If Wertham had seen the potential of comics as a positive force, no doubt our current view of his work would also be more balanced on the whole.

    IMG 4724 300x225 On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event

    [The panelists and their moderator]

    A predictably lively, but amicable, discussion period followed during the reception for the event, but if attendees expected definitive answers about the implications of Tilley’s new research on Wertham, they were left to their own devices. The panel discussion did provide solid context for Wertham’s life, work, and even a little for his motivations, as well as some solid information on what exactly Wertham’s failings as a researcher might be. Whether audience members were “pro-Wertham” or “anti-Wertham” initially, the discussion opened up new facets of his personality and work for further thought. Frederick Wertham may be less of a mystery now in the light of new research, but if anything, he’s even more of an enigma, confirmed as a complex figure. Learning more about Wertham changes perception of comics history, and that’s bound to change even more as scholars pay closer and closer attention to the records left behind in collections, personal archives, and thankfully, libraries.

    The Comic Round Table events will continue this Spring at the SOHO Gallery for Digital Art with another hot topic in comics right now, the openly anti-gay position of Orson Scott Card and his work on SUPERMAN entitled “The Man of Steel vs. Orson Scott Card” on April 10th.

    Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.


    15 Comments on On the Scene: Sparks Fly at ‘Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Wertham’ Event, last added: 3/24/2013
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    14. Readers & Writers Celebrate Judy Blume’s Birthday

    The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has collected birthday wishes for the legendary author, Judy Blume.

    The Giver author Lois Lowry, former National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka and Internet Girls series writer Lauren Myracle all contributed messages.

    Scieszka and Myracle shared photos of themselves posing with Blume. Read all the messages on the NCAC blog.


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    15. Censoring a Children’s Book - John Dougherty

    Censorship is a tricky area, isn’t it?

    Generally speaking, it’s a Bad Thing. I fume as much as the next author when I read one of those articles about a US school board voting to remove To Kill A Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the library because of some imagined unsuitability. I thought the Daily Mail was a bit off with its recent suggestion that teen fiction dealing with issues like terminal illness or self-harm qualifies as “sick-lit” (and, no, I’m not going to provide a link; it’ll only encourage them to do it again).

    And yet, occasionally, I’ve found myself censoring children’s books.

    I don’t mean that I go through them with a marker pen deleting the ‘unsuitable bits’; and I certainly don’t mean that I remove books from my children’s book shelf, but… well, let me give you the most recent example.

    I’m currently reading Watership Down with my kids (they’ve got older since the photo was taken, as have I). My daughter, now aged 10, wasn’t sure about it at first, but they both seem to be really enjoying it now. And so am I; I loved it when I was about their age, and I’m loving reading it again. But a few nights ago, I ran into a sentence that made me feel a little odd when I first read it, and makes me feel extremely odd now.

    For those of you who know the book, when Hazel & his companions are in Cowslip’s warren, their hosts ask if one of them will tell a story. And the next sentence reads:

    “There is a rabbit saying, ‘In the warren, more stories than passages’; and a rabbit can no more refuse to tell a story than an Irishman can refuse to fight.”

    When I encountered this sentence as a child - well, I can’t remember exactly how I felt, but I know it made me pause. I’m Irish - Northern Irish, to be specific - and I’ve never felt particularly inclined to physical violence. Yet here it was, in a book - a terrific book, at that: just an aside, here’s something we all know about Irishmen. They’re violent. Why on earth should the author say that?

    So it made me a bit uneasy then. It makes me more uneasy now, not least because in my first proper job - in England - I worked with a colleague who was convinced that Ireland, and especially Northern Ireland, was a horrible violent place. A lot of our clients were troubled young men, but my colleague took it as read that being Irish - or, in the case of one client, merely having an Irish father - would mean a particular predisposition towards violence. It was a dreadful belief to find in someone who was generally thoughtful and intelligent, and in the end it rather poisoned our working relationship.

    So the sentence I’ve quoted above is, for me, problematic - as problematic as would be a sentence suggesting that Jewish people are prone to parsimony or black people to idleness. But I’d forgotten about it until… well, until I reached it.

    If either child had been leaning on my shoulder, silently reading along with me, as they sometimes do, I’d have had no option. But it so happened that they were reclining at opposite ends of the sofa with their feet on my lap. Which gave me a choice, and a second in which to make it.

    I went for the easy option. I censored. I read the second half of the sentence as “no rabbit can refuse to tell a story” and read on.

    Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. Perhaps I passed up an opportunity to talk about prejudice. My children are sensible enough to question this sort of statement. Probably both of them would say, “that’s silly’; my son, now at secondary school and becoming more interested in societal issues, might say, “that’s racist, isn’t it?”

    And to be honest, I still don’t know quite why I did it, or even for whose benefit it was - theirs, or mine.

    What would you have done?

    John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com.
    He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8

    His most recent books include:

    Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
    Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
    Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig

    13 Comments on Censoring a Children’s Book - John Dougherty, last added: 1/22/2013
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    16. Mo Yan To Deliver Nobel Lecture in Literature

    Press play above to watch Mo Yan‘s Nobel Lecture in Literature. His speech will begin at 11:30 AM ET this morning.

    Earlier this week Yan made some controversial remarks about censorship, so the literary community will follow his words closely.

    Here’s more about the lecture: “The Nobel Lecture in Literature will be held on Friday 7 December 2012, at 5:30 p.m. (CET), at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm (tickets required). The lecture will be webcast live at Nobelprize.org, and the text will be published here at the same time. The Nobel Lecture will be published in six different languages: English, Swedish, French, German, Spanish and Chinese. A video of the lecture will be available here a few days later.”

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    17. Han Han Describes Censorship in Chinese Publishing

    Chinese Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan generated controversy for describing censorship as “unpleasant but necessary.”

    Chinese author Han Han published This Generation earlier this year, collecting essays and blogs he wrote about living in the Communist country. In that book, he spoke frankly about censorship in his country.

    Below, we’ve collected five quotes from the book illustrating how censorship really works in the Chinese publishing industry. As you can see below, Han writes without capitalization in his prose.


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    18. Read Free Samples of the Most Challenged Books of the Year

    To celebrate Banned Books Week, the American Library Association (ALA) is hosting a virtual reading of banned and challenged books on YouTube.

    To help you find books to support, we’ve reprinted the ALA’s annual list of the most frequently challenged library books of 2011.

    We’ve linked to free samples of all the books on the list–follow the links below to read these controversial books yourself.


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    19. This Book Is Not Yet Rated

    50 Book Pledge | Book #28: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

    On Friday, May 18, 2012, Jason Koebler of the U.S. News & World Report published an article entitled “Is It Time To Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content?” The premise of the piece is Sarah Coyne’s insistence that young adult books come with a content warning.

    I see not one, but four problems with implementing a rating system. Firstly, books have always been a safe haven for young readers. In the pages of a book they are free “to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics” without judgement. If books are taken away, young people have lost a valuable platform that can help them better understand themselves and the world around them.

    Secondly, whose going to decide what is and isn’t appropriate reading material for teenagers. What makes a “nebulous organization” more qualified than your child or you? What criteria are they going to base their decisions on? Is the reading public going to be able to question their decisions?

    Thirdly, are librarians now going to be called upon to enforce this system? If so, how? Will students be required to provide some form of identification every time he or she wants to take out a book?

    Finally, and most importantly, a rating system is a form of censorship. How is it any different from banning a book? The truth is, it isn’t.

    A book on a shelf is meaningless if a reader can’t actually read it.

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    20. ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Returns To Florida Library System

    After pulling the erotica book from its shelves, the Brevard County Library System in Florida said that it would return Fifty Shades of Grey to its shelves. Library Services Director Cathy Schweinsberg explained: “We have always stood against censorship. We have a long history of standing against censorship and that continues to be a priority for this library system.”

    The decision comes after criticism from groups like the National Coalition Against Censorship, arguing that sexuality is “an integral part of the human experience.”

    Here is more from the library’s website: “The decision is in response to public demand, but also comes after considerable review and consideration by the library system. In all, 19 books from the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy that were previously available will once again be available through the library system.”

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    21. Sunday Salon: Second to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning

    It was a rumor that I enjoyed, but never one that I thought would actually come true. There was no way it would actually happen. No way way it was true. NO WAY.

    And then, it did happen. It WAS true.

    On Friday night, a 100 foot tall Voldemort was taken down by a team of Mary Poppins. And it wasn't just Voldemort. Cruella de Vil, Captain Hook, the Queen of Hearts, and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    Not only did the Olympics celebrate Children's Literature, it celebrated its villains and nightmares.

    It's an interesting juxtaposition to the common cries of "WAH! YA lit is too dark!"

    The Opening ceremonies embraced that darkness and celebrated it, and for an even younger audience.

    I immediately thought of an article I read many years ago, many years before I worked in children's literature. In her December, 2000 Salon piece "Oz vs. Narnia," Laura Miller compares the two beloved classics, with Narnia being the clear winner. And one of the reasons it is the clear winner is because of the darkness. At the time, I thought the comparison didn't work-- one was written for Victorian children on the plains, one was written for British children who just survived the Blitz, of course Narnia is darker. But, I now know differently. I know the debate. I know the literature and this argument still resonates, 12 years later:

    [Oz scholar] Hearn complains that American librarians have unjustly labeled Baum’s Oz books as “poorly written”; the librarians, however, are right. He attributes their preference for British fantasy to “Anglocentric” “reverse snobbism,” but the truth is that in Britain real writers like Lewis (and J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman today) write children’s fantasy, and they take their readers seriously, as people facing a difficult and often confusing world.
    Just as the British think that children are important enough to merit the work of their best writers, British children’s writers think children are important enough to be treated as moral beings. That means that sometimes things get scary.
    Baum, like many Americans today, saw children differently, as pure innocents who need to be shielded for as long as possible from the challenges of life.

    And this debate still rages. Children and teens much be protected from nightmares, and reality. librarian Josh Westbrook says, "Kids are living stories every day that we wouldn't let them read."

    But on Friday night, on a global stage, some of literature's most memorable and terrifying villans came out to play. We didn't frolic with puppies, Peter Pan, Alice, a flying car, or even Harry. We didn't immerse ourselves in Neverland, Wonderland, or Hogwarts. No, we recognized and reveled in their enemies. We recognized the nightmares they've given us. But, instead of ignoring they exist, instead of covering our eyes and turning away, Danny Boyle and the London Olympics paraded them out for us all to see. They were celebrated.

    In the US, we gnash our teeth and wail and moan about books that portray the darker, harsher sides of our world. In the UK, they take center stage when the entire world is watching.

    The prominence they were given, and the seriousness with which they were treated, surprised and delighted me even more than the Queen parachuting in with James Bond or the obligatory singing of "Hey Jude."

    And, in the end, I'm still smiling with glee over the fact that the rumor of a Voldemort/Mary Poppins smackdown in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies actually happened, and was completely awesome.

    1 Comments on Sunday Salon: Second to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning, last added: 7/29/2012
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    22. Pablum for profit’s sake?

    By William D. Romanowski

    When Protestant evangelicals opened a Hollywood front in the late twentieth-century “culture wars,” the result was an odd mixture of moral reproach and commercialization of religion. To no avail, they famously protested MCA/Universal over The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and then joined conservative Catholics — outraged over the movie Priest (1995) — in a boycott of the Walt Disney Company, the world’s largest provider of family entertainment.

    Then again, evangelicals contributed greatly to the incredible box-office success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004, and the next year called off their boycott when Disney brought The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen. These box-office victories drew Hollywood’s attention to those consumers who were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books, merchandise, and music. Moviemakers wanted a piece of the action. The next year, 20th Century-Fox created FoxFaith, a new home entertainment division, to go after the “Passion dollar.”

    These are not isolated or unprecedented events. There is a long-standing and complicated relationship between Protestant churches and the movie industry, and put in that context, evangelical strategies actually went against the central Protestant approach to movie reform.

    To establish a fitting role for the cinema, Protestants traditionally sought a measure of harmony between individual liberty, artistic freedom, and the common good. While understanding the need for film producers to make money, Protestants long believed that the cinema should be developed along the lines of artistic and social responsibility. Perceiving themselves as a countervailing force to the film industry’s incessant drive to maximize profits, they argued that by tacitly accepting the industry’s commercial ethos, the church was effectively commodifying religion and values instead of “relating itself to the arts of communication, rather than commercial selling of a product.”

    Instead of nitpicking at perceived immoral incidents or being satisfied with the mere inclusion of a religious theme, Protestants focused their criticism on a movie’s overall perspective. A film that was made “decent” by deleting distasteful elements could still be dishonest (in its treatment of life) and dull (as art and entertainment). It was the film’s artistic prowess and embodied perspective that mattered most.

    In a departure from this Protestant tradition, the evangelical course was really a replay of tactics pursued by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Catholic bishops used consumer pressure to coerce filmmakers into making changes in movies prior to release in theaters. In contrast, Protestant leaders — by tradition — refused to restrict individual liberty by controlling the viewing habits of church members.

    Nevertheless, after World War II some Protestants wanted to imitate the Catholics by consulting with film producers to ensure that Protestants received the same flattering treatment in movies as priests and nuns. But any aspirations that Protestants could deliver an audience large enough to redirect Hollywood’s output were dispelled by The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), a commercial and critical disaster that brought an end to the era of big-budget biblical epics like The Ten Commandments (1956).

    These events apparently faded from memory, and as the evangelical consumer culture blossomed during the 1980s and ‘90s, evangelical leaders took their turn now — after mainline Protestants and then Catholics — as the nation’s custodian of movie morals. Mixing boycott threats with promises to deliver American pew sitters to movie theaters, they petitioned Hollywood for wholesome family entertainment — meaning no explicit sex, profanity, or violence (in that order of priority). As a result, in the popular perception at least, kid-friendly has become the defining feature of a “Christian” aesthetic that ultimately prizes PG-rated fare attuned to the level of children.

    Evangelicals embraced profit-making as their modus operandi for movie reform with much more intensity than any of their predecessors; their appeal ultimately was to the corporate bottom line, not artistic quality or social responsibility.

    This market-based strategy harbors an inherent contradiction — one that always seems to escape its adherents. The obvious assumptions are that “good” movies are somehow those that are commercially successful and that a free market will produce movie morality. On what basis then can evangelicals limit screen exploitation other than profitability? The gauge of commercial success can be used to justify family movies as much as crude teen comedies; the Christian-themed The Blind Side and raunchy The Hangover each earned over $200 million domestically in 2009.

    With box-office results dictating the terms of quality, film production will always be a slave to momentary fashionable trends. But as the head of an evangelical pro-family organization put it, studio executives should just “give the public more of what it wants — for profits sake.”

    William Romanowski is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. His books include Reforming Hollywood: American Protestants and the Movies, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (a 2002 ECPA Gold Medallion Award Winner) and Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in America Life. Watch a video where he explains protestantism in Hollywood.

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    Image credit: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe poster. Copyright Walt Disney Studios. Used for the purposes of commentary on the work. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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    23. Share Your Favorite Banned Book on YouTube

    What’s your favorite banned or challenged book? Read it on video to celebrate the the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week next week (September 30 through October 6).

    The American Library Association is hosting a virtual reading of banned books on its Virtual Read-Out YouTube channel, and anyone can submit a video of themselves reading a challenged book. So far, they have collected 59 videos. Here’s more about the program:  

    Videos (no more than two minutes long) can be submitted by anyone as long as it includes a reading of a banned or challenged book. The video must include information on where and why the book was banned or challenged. You may also wish to add your thoughts on the importance of keeping that particular book on library or bookstore shelves. Videos of up to three minutes long can be submitted giving eyewitness accounts of local challenges. For those who are camera shy, you can still participate in the Banned Books Virtual Read-out by creating a video montage that centers on banned/challenged books. Thomas University created a video last year that can be used as an example.


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    24. Banned Books Week: Tintin in the Congo

    Not only do I read banned books, but I buy them as well. Let me start with a story. At the end of August, on my final evening of a lovely trip to Cape Cod, I was checking out Herridge Books in Wellfleet. Herridge Books is a used book store tucked in a corner not far from Mayo Beach and Wellfleet Center. I was looking for Church Mice books, while my daughter wanted ghost stories. You could have

    3 Comments on Banned Books Week: Tintin in the Congo, last added: 10/16/2012
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    25. Banned Book Trading Cards

    To celebrate the 30th annual Banned Books Week, one library in Kansas has gotten artistic. The Lawrence Public Library has created the Banned Books Trading Cards project, a series of drawings inspired by banned books and authors created by local artists.

    Each trading card is inspired by a banned book or author. There is one for each day of the week.  The week kicked off with an homage to George Orwell‘s Animal Farm (pictured right) created by artist Barry Fitzgerald, followed by an homage to Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, drawn by Kent Smith. Today’s card by an artist known as Webmocker, celebrates John Updike’s Rabbit, Run.

    Here is the artist’s statement: “Burning and otherwise destroying books being a favorite activity of censors, deconstruction seemed an appropriate approach to this tattered (literally falling apart as I read it) copy of Rabbit, Run.  Coincidentally, this book was purchased at the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library book sale.”

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