Banned Books Awareness: “The Dirty Cowboy”



Last Thursday (4/19/2012), the Annville-Cleona School Board in Pennsylvania voted 8-0 to remove an award-winning children\’s book, The Dirty Cowboy, by Amy Timberlake, from its elementary schools after a student\’s parents objected to its illustrations.

Board Vice President Gordon Waldhausen was absent, but President Tom Tshudy said, “We take review of this type of thing very, very seriously.”

The book, which is illustrated by Adam Rex, tells the story of a young cowboy who needs his annual bath and instructs his dog to watch his clothes while he bathes. When the cowboy emerges from his bath in the river, the dog does not recognize his familiar smell and refuses to give back the cowboy\’s clothes.

Rex skillfully uses nearby objects, such as birds and a boot, to cover the cowboy’s genitals in the various scenes; the depiction of which is no more or less lewd that the countless Renaissance paintings of David or Adam and Eve that have been praised for centuries.

The book has garnered numerous awards, including the International Reading Association award in 2004, the Parents Choice Gold Medal, and the Bulletin Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin for the Center for Children\’s Books.

School Superintendent Steven Houser compared the book to inappropriate content in today’s movies and on the Internet.

He referred to age-appropriate movie ratings such as PG, PG-13, and R used to restrict content. The district also blocks thousands of Internet sites it deems inappropriate from its computers on a daily basis.

“The parents were asking if this is something that all kids should have access to, or if this is something that should be a parents’ decision,” he said.

Houser clarified earlier reports and said the parents never referred to the book as pornography.

When asked what they felt might be result from children viewing or reading the material, they replied that, “Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is okay, and therefore pornography is okay.\’\”

“The parents asked us to review this book because their concern was that parents should have the right to decide whether or not their children view this book.”

Tshudy stated that he had no problems with the actual story, just the questionable illustrations.

At last week’s school board meeting, Cleona Elementary School librarian Anita Mentzer objected to the book’s removal, saying she does not believe that one parent’s objection to a book should determine whether or not the rest of the student body can read it.

Mentzer, who was present at Thursday night’s meeting, walked out with several other people after the vote.

According to the school district’s policy, when any material receives an objection from a citizen, the material is reviewed by an evaluation committee that includes teachers, administrators, and school board members. The complainant can also attend the evaluation committee’s meetings if they choose.

The committee was tasked with completing an objective, thorough review of the material, and passages “shall not be taken out of context and the material should be evaluated in its entirety.” The parents attended when the committee met on April 12 and forwarded its recommendation to remove the book to the school board.

The book, which is intended for ages 4 and up, has received positive reviews from Booklist, the American Library Association, and School Library Journal.

“Rex\’s rich paintings add sparkle to the story\’s dramatic telling with the attention to detail and humor that may remind some grownups of Norman Rockwell\’s early work. A simple, slapstick tale that is sure to elicit some giggles,” chimes Booklist.

To see the illustrations that were objected to, click here.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, CBS News, Lebanon Daily News
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions