Banned Book Week: Little Bill

 

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One of this years top challenged/banned books stands out as being a bit different from the others that typically make it onto the list — it was challenged not due to the content itself, but because of the author.

The Little Bill series of books, a children’s series written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood (which was also an Emmy Award-winning cartoon that ran for 10 years) was challenged because of the criminal sexual allegations against Bill Cosby.

James LaRue, the Director of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, notes that “I think it’s our fascination with celebrity. If we love the person we love everything about him. If we hate the person we hate everything about him. We don’t seem to be able to separate the message from the messenger.” (Citation)

This appears to be the first time a book is challenged due to the author, rather than story content itself. Though the question surrounding the seperation of artist and their artwork is certainly nothing new.  As the ALA blog notes, “there are other authors who are criticized for their behaviors and beliefs. Among the classic authors – revered for their writing but despised for their bigotry – are T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Edith Wharton and Dr. Seuss.” (Citation)

I’ve always been fascinated by the question of if you can separate the work from the artist. What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Banned Book Week: Little Bill”

  1. That’s a tough one, isn’t it? I think we all may be just a tad hypocritical on this subject – myself included. If I have forknowledge of something unseemly about an author I will likely pass on their work, but, as in the cases of Eliot, Dahl, Wharton, and Seuss, all of whom I loved before I knew they weren’t pillars of my perceived perfection – I still love the works they left us.

    Of course, I’m certain every writer who puts pen to a page and gifts their imaginings to the masses has something, some opinion or ideology we might find fault with, so . . .

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  2. Interesting question. I’ve been thinking about this but with actors rather than writers. If an actor isn’t someone I would personally like, as a person, I won’t watch their work, either.
    With this case, because the series is for children, I would not even consider picking one up to read or to gift or to recommend. I believe the allegations against him and to pick up one of his books or view any of his work, would be, in my eyes, condoning his behavior, which I would not do. So in this case, nope. I won’t pick it up.

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  3. I’ve definitely been of the mind that you can separate the work from the artist in most cases. But also, these books are specifically for children, and that kind of nuance is something most kids lack. I would probably ask to choose a different book for my kid.

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  4. I think this case is especially tricky because of how high profile Cosby is, and how much media attention there has been on his actions. (Like Corina, I believe the allegations are true.) Most likely, the attitudes that led to those actions didn’t bleed over into these books, but if I was a parent, I’d want to be very sure of that before exposing my (or any) child to the books. And, even if the books are clean (as it were), I think until the public is more ready to separate the man and his works, it’s probably best to put aside these books. Which does come out sounding a little hypocritical, but…I guess sometimes one just can’t fully avoid a little hypocracy.

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