The book "The Dirty Cowboy" has added a substantial number of fans from the Lebanon Valley in the last week or so. That, or the Annville-Cleona School Board has added a portion of detractors for its decision to remove the book from elementary-school libraries.
The award-winning children's book, which details in word and picture the misadventures of a cowboy, his dog and the former's annual bath, was pulled after complaints by a parent in the district.
The decision by the school board didn't sit well with us; we quickly said so. And, we're finding, it hasn't set well with a couple hundred local residents.
There is a petition drive ongoing to have the book replaced on A-C's shelves, a sentiment that we fully support. We didn't care at all for this example of government censorship, because we view it as baseless.
The objectionable content, as defined by the school board, has to do with the fact that the cowboy is without clothes for a fair portion of the book, though this cartoon nudity is disguised with a variety of clever artistic techniques and various other artwork.
We applaud the effort of Annville's Michelle Carey, who organized the petition.
This piece is being written with some odd timing, much of it a function of the way today's news organizations operate. This will be seen online before the school board's meeting at 7:30 p.m. (last) Thursday, but it won't see print until after the fact.
As of late-morning (last) Wednesday, there was nothing on the agenda regarding "The Dirty Cowboy." Our sentiment is not dependent upon the outcome of anything that would occur at that meeting.
The petition is news. The book banning is news.
One of the mantras of media is that the media ourselves should not make or be news. But there are appropriate times when there should be exceptions to that rule. We've made such exceptions for staff awards and noteworthy achievements by the company.
And we made a little news in the midst of the controversy over "The Dirty Cowboy."
In the wake of the decision to pull the book from A-C, publisher Scott Downs, managing editor Paul Baker and others within the editorial staff determined that this issue provided a good opportunity for us to make a concrete statement, beyond what one might see in this particular corner of the newspaper.
To that end, the News purchased six copies of the book, and they have been donated to each of the county's library branches. Before all of the hoopla, there was one copy of the book in the county library system.
This expansion of availability is often the outcome of attempts to censor some material - it creates interest and demand, and we're doing our part to assure that those who want to see what all the fuss is about will be able to do so.
Material offered in school libraries should be age-appropriate and properly vetted. The thing is, "The Dirty Cowboy" was both of those things before it came to A-C. What has happened is an institutional over-reaction to a parent's right to object to anything he feels falls outside of his own moral boundaries.
The good things to come from this bad situation have been the reaction of the community and the pride that we feel both in that reaction and our decision to break with the norm, make a little news and make a statement that conforms to our own values.
- Lebanon Daily News