Hop on Pop. James and the Giant Peach. A Wrinkle in Time. Harry Potter. Some of our favorite childhood stories have earned a spot on the American Library Association’s list of Frequently Challenged Children’s Books, and Bill Cosby’s Little Bill series is next.
The list is based off “reports from libraries, schools and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country,” according to the ALA. While the ALA does not endorse the banning of these books, they compile such lists to “inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries in schools.”
In 2016, the ALA found that Cosby’s Little Bill children’s book series was one of the top 10 challenged books that year. The series was challenged so often due to “criminal sexual allegations against the author.”
The book series, which has also been adapted into a successful children’s television show, is centered on Bill Jr., a five-year-old black boy living in Philadelphia. The series’ placement on the list of challenged books is highly unusual since it is the first book to be challenged solely due to issues with its author rather than its content, according to The New York Times.
This leaves us with one question: do Cosby’s books deserve to be taken off the shelves because of the allegations made against him?
On one hand, the books themselves are innocent—they do not include any questionable or inappropriate content. In fact, the books—which are made for beginner readers—teach valuable lessons on everything from lying to imagination to taking turns.
This separation of creator and content calls to mind recent issues with Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation and Casey Affleck’s Manchester By The Sea. Both films, despite the valuable content they portrayed, were boycotted due to Parker and Affleck’s previous sexual harassment charges.
The issue with the Little Bill series is perhaps more complicated considering Cosby’s young character seems to reflect the comedian himself. Bill Jr. shares the author’s name and hometown of Philadelphia, which suggests that Little Bill is a younger version of Cosby.
When the actor was one of the world’s favorite comedians, this parallel was charming and inventive. Now that Cosby’s skeletons have emerged from the closet, however, parents seem to believe that reading his books is akin to justifying his actions.
What some fail to realize, though, is that many beloved American authors—like Thomas Jefferson—have just as alarming backgrounds as Cosby, if not worse, yet we still rank them as some of our country’s best and brightest. It’s now known that Jefferson often raped his slaves, but we still recognize him as one of our great Founding Fathers and study his writings.
The fact remains that Cosby’s books are valuable tools that teach young readers a variety of lessons, not to mention that they provide representation for black youth. If we choose to ignore the pasts of some authors in order to preserve the value of their work, we must do the same for all artists.