Banned Books Week: The Case of Mistaken Identity

Books and authors can be banned, challenged, or removed from reading lists for all kinds of reasons.  Many books have been found offensive because they mention drug use, profanity, or obscenities – and, in one recent case, mistaken identity.

bill martin brown bear brown bearBill Martin Jr. was a well-known children’s author who wrote many popular picture books.  If you have kids of a certain age, you’ve probably long since memorized his immortal Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  Certainly children’s picture book authors have faced numerous challenges (Maurice Sendak‘s In the Night Kitchen andWhere the Wild Things Are, for example).  But until now, Martin’s endearing works had escaped notice.  What changed?

In 2010, when discussing which authors to include on a list of cultural icons for 3rd graders, the Texas Board of Education decided to exclude Martin because of his books for adults, citing as an example his 2008 work, Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.  According to one board member, Martin’s work included “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system” and therefore Martin was not bill martin ethical marxisman appropriate author for the list.

The appropriateness of this reasoning aside, there was a much larger underlying issue: Bill Martin Jr. died in 2004, four years before the book on Marxism was released.  Was the book published posthumously?  No.  The 2008 book is by a completely different author, Prof. Bill Martin of DePaul University.

A little research could have avoided this mess altogether.  The Board probably should have checked with a librarian first.

About Debbie Ginsberg

Debbie is the Educational Technology Librarian at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
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