Cartoons for the Discerning Literary Ideologue.

Title:Banned Books Week was October 1 – 7, 2023, and with this article I’m continuing it. As the steady stream of news shows, book bans and restrictions on what books can be read in libraries and classrooms across the country, and even whether libraries can stay open, are rapidly increasing. As books that offend the few who wish to impose their beliefs on everyone else get challenged, these books are disappearing from public institutions that all Americans pay for and love.

The list of banned books includes those by beloved authors such as Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and even Jefferson County’s own Jonathan Evison. Since autumn 2021, 6,000 books have been banned in schools across the country, with many targeted for their diversity themes.

Organizations that support the First Amendment are resisting book bans with public education, legal action, and advocacy for the freedom to read and to write. One of them, PenAmerica, founded a century ago, defines what a book ban is and is not. It explains how librarians apply national standards established by the Supreme Court in 1973 to determine what constitutes obscenity, provides the list of banned books, and suggests what you can do. Another organization, the Authors Guild, watchdogs the rights of authors in Congress and in the courts.

Humor as you know can be a good coping mechanism. Lately, with the political environment so target-rich, I thought that the premise of cartoons that combine the banning of books and ridiculous political behavior might be fun to draw as well as to let off steam. This is the first of two such articles, and could go longer if readers want to participate. Just put your ideas in the comments below and maybe they might go into a cartoon (credited, of course).

Meanwhile, here’s a satirical take on what reading choices could look like if zealots are allowed to control the books we read.

Loud Cuckoo Land by MTG

Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cloud Cuckoo Land (not banned) wrote, “A text, a book, is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has travelled on. But books, like people, die. They die in fires or floods or in the mouth of worms or at the whims of tyrants. If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death.”

Governor DeSantis uses the word “woke” a lot. Seven times in 26 seconds is his record. Books ensnared in new Florida regulations include novels about growing up LGBTQ+, a children’s book based on a true story of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo, and The Bluest Eye, a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison that includes descriptions of child sexual abuse. Some books with racial themes were also pulled from library shelves as school administrators tried to assess what material was allowed under the new rules. Where The Wild Things Are was banned mostly in the South due to some readers considering it “psychologically damaging.”

Author Lynne Truss, who wrote Eats, Shoots and Leaves, also wrote the rallying cry for courtesy, called Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. Her books haven’t been banned, but this cartoon combo was irresistible, especially with the original book cover’s exclamation mark placed strategically upon the parody one.

Author Adam Mansbach wrote Go the F*ck to Sleep as a joke at first, because his daughter was two at the time and “sleep was not her priority.” A satire of the “white picket fence” tone of children’s books, it ranked #1 on the Amazon books list months before it was even published. A Christian group in New Zealand tried to have it banned, but the hysterical laughter of parents caught up in the mania of raising small children drowned that out. Although Mansbach is courting a ban with his new book, F*ck, Now There Are Two of You, he has plenty of comedic admirers. The moral hypocrisy of Matt Gaetz (R/FL) made this combo of cartoon ideas irresistible.

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The late Roald Dahl might have had some pithy words about the banning of James and the Giant Peach, which has been subjected to various bans since 1999. It was challenged in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio for having a “mystical element,” for advocating communism, for including references to animal characters drinking alcohol, and in Texas, for including a vulgar word (ass). Lovers of children’s books may also be surprised to know that another popular children’s book, Dr. Suess’s The Lorax, was banned in Laytonville, California out of fear that children would start an uprising against the logging industry. Later, in Arizona and Georgia, it was banned over concern that it was too critical of capitalism, and that teachers were “brainwashing” children. Given the anti-environmental backlash against The Lorax and the tremendous amount of political hot air expended in which saving the planet takes a back seat, I had to draw what some of that hot air looks like.  

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