Routledge: out with the old, in with the new

Routledge logo

I’m pleased to announce that Kenneth Kidd and Elizabeth Marshall are the new editors of Routledge’s Children’s Literature and Culture Series. (At IRSCL in Toronto last August, I announced that this transition was in the works. It is now official.)

Dr. Jack ZipesI became editor of Routledge’s Children’s Literature and Culture series in 2011, when I succeeded founding editor Jack Zipes. He founded the series in 1994, which makes this the longest-running series devoted to the study of children’s literature and culture from a national and international perspective. In my seven years as series editor, I’ve edited 30 or so books that have been published. There’s another half dozen that are not out yet but are either forthcoming or under contract. It’s been a busy seven years, and I’m very proud of the authors, editors, and contributors we’ve published. I’ve learned a lot from all of them and I am grateful to them for choosing to publish with Routledge. They make this series what it is, and I thank them.

Jack edited this series for 17 years. After doing the job for a mere seven years, I can only begin to appreciate what that means, especially given that he did this in addition to a prolific career as a scholar and educator.

Routledge: most books edited by Philip Nel

I lack Jack’s stamina. So, I’m stepping down from my editorship — or, to be more accurate, I am beginning that process. As Jack did when he passed the editorship on to me, I too will continue to edit any books that I’ve signed. For the new editors’ first year, Jennifer Abbott — the excellent in-house Routledge editor we work with — will include me in all editorial correspondence. Kenneth and Beth are in charge, but I’ll be available as needed. In fact, since last June, Jen has already been copying the new editors on correspondence regarding all new projects.

So, my stepping down is really more of a gradual phasing out.

In my years as editor, I have learned that, unless you have Jack Zipes’ superhuman strength, editing a book series is a two-person job. I’m delighted that the new editorial team will be:

  • Kenneth Kidd, Professor of English at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and the author or co-editor of six books (including one in the Routledge series); and
  • Beth Marshall, Associate Professor of Education at Simon Frasier University in British Columbia, and the author, co-author, or co-editor of three books (including one in the Routledge series).
Dr. Elizabeth Marshall Dr. Kenneth Kidd

Don’t let their youthful good looks fool you.  Between them, these two award-winning scholars bring nearly 50 years of experience in the field of children’s literature — and two different disciplines (English, Education).  I couldn’t be happier that the series is in such good hands. I look forward to seeing where they take the series!

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Farewell to Facebook. Mostly.

Goodbye Facebook

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few months.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been gradually drifting away from Facebook. Lately, the drift has become a decisive move. Last month, I downloaded my Facebook data — in order to better see precisely what Facebook was collecting.  Then, I removed Facebook from my phone and tablet.

There are many reasons for my move — most recently, Facebook’s pursuit of treason for cash. But, more generally, I am stepping away because — like so many “free” platforms — Facebook is a parasitic business that monetizes your attention and personal data. I don’t feel comfortable supporting Mark Zuckerberg’s reckless, lucrative, criminal enterprise. So, I’m on his platform less often.

But I haven’t yet closed my account. Two groups with which I am affiliated have Facebook presences; I feel a professional responsibility to maintain an account in order to manage those. It’s possible that I may occasionally pop in to post birthday wishes. I suspect, though, that my infrequent engagement with this predatory platform means I’ll miss a lot of Facebook friends’ birthdays. I’m sorry about that: I really enjoyed posting a different song each year.

Note to Self podcastMy move away from Facebook began with Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast, which I started listening to at the beginning of 2017. Its “Bored and Brilliant” series (2015/2017) introduced me to the Moment app, which allows you to monitor your use of your iPhone or iPad. (If you have an Android phone, it recommends the BreakFree app.) Moment showed me how often I was using my devices, and helped me cut back.  Subsequent series — its “Infomagical” series (2016) and its “Privacy Paradox” series (2017) — also helped. I deleted apps I wasn’t using. I turned off notifications. I tidied up my apps into little folders.

If you wonder whether your use of technology may be hindering or even harming you, I highly recommend these three Note to Self series. If you have already noticed the ways in which apps and social media ensnare and prey upon your attention, then perhaps you have already taken the necessary steps to reclaim your life. Whatever you ultimately decide to do, I recommend reflecting on your relationship to technology. Not coincidentally, such reflection is the focus of the Note to Self podcast.

I used to make the effort to, say, check Facebook only twice a day — an effort at which I did not always succeed. However, in the past month or so, I have found it quite easy to stay off of Facebook. I actually find myself putting off checking Facebook. I’m simply not comfortable being there. Its willingness to aid Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election is a major catalyst — selling Trump ads at much lower rates than Clinton ads (because Trump ads got more clicks), taking Russian money (in Rubles, even!) to fund pro-Trump propaganda & fake news, or allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest its users’ data (again, in support of the mendacious traitor who currently occupies the White House… well, when he’s not at one of his golf courses).

Mark Zuckerberg in Washington, DC, 9 Apr. 2018. Photo by AP

In his testimony yesterday, Mr. Zuckerberg said his slow response to Russian meddling is “one of [his] greatest regrets,” and promised to ban apps that are “doing anything improper.”  Earlier that day, he said he will make sure Facebook is “a positive force in the world.”  There is zero reason to believe him. First, he has made promises like this before — as in this 2009 interview, below.

Second, there is no regulation that would compel him to keep these promises. Third, and as Tim Wu points out, the flaws of Facebook are not a bug but a feature. Facebook is designed to surveil its users:

The problems are central and structural, the predicted consequences of its business model. From the day it first sought revenue, Facebook prioritized growth over any other possible goal, maximizing the harvest of data and human attention. Its promises to investors have demanded an ever-improving ability to spy on and manipulate large populations of people. Facebook, at its core, is a surveillance machine, and to expect that to change is misplaced optimism.

Exactly.  If you sign up for Facebook, you’re donating your personal data and time to an enterprise built on manipulating you and selling others whatever you tell it about yourself. Because that’s what Facebook is.

Beyond the obvious fact that I don’t want to continue enriching Mr. Zuckerberg or supporting his poisonous enterprise, I simply don’t like being on Facebook. It feels like a sinister, perilous place to be.

I know, of course, that social media has always been far more dangerous for women, people of color, gay people, the trans community, and all whom society renders more vulnerable. And I am aware that many daily behaviors implicate all of us in injustices of various kinds. (How much child labor went into making your cell phone? Who made that chocolate and under what conditions? How much money does Twitter make from Russian bots or the traffic generated by Herr Twitler?) I realize that it’s nearly impossible to disentangle ourselves from all dubious products and practices. But Facebook is one that I can step back from.

I’ll miss knowing what’s going on in people’s lives, and I may well miss useful professional information. But I won’t miss the misinformation, the clickbait, the amplification of outrage, or that queasy, soul-sucking feeling of being on Facebook.

So, that’s why you have been seeing much less of me on Facebook — and will see even less of me in the future. I have yet to delete my account, but that day may come, too. We’ll see.

Twitter bird logoIf you need to reach me, email and Twitter (@philnel) remain more reliable ways of doing so. Those who know me know that Facebook was never the best way to reach me (though I once had the app on my phone and tablet, I never installed Facebook Messenger). But for those who weren’t aware, now you are.

Be safe out there.  Take care of yourselves.  And drop me a line if you need anything, OK?


Image sources: “Goodbye Facebook” from Anusha Sachwani’s “Facebook to Pull Support from These Devices!” (BrandSynario, 29 Mar. 2017); Note to Self logo from Note to Self podcast (WNYC); AP photo of Zuckerberg in Washington DC from “Mark Zuckerberg plans to tell Congress that as long as he’s CEO, advertisers won’t take priority over Facebook’s users” (Business Insider, 9 Apr. 2018); Twitter button.

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Sherman Alexie & #MeToo

Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAs many teachers do, I teach Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  When confirmed reports of his sexual harassment and other abuses of power became public, I knew I had to talk to my class about it — I taught Absolutely True Diary in my on-line Multicultural Children’s Literature class earlier in the semester.  Thinking that our conversation might be of use to others who are confronting this issue, I’m sharing my initial question, my response to their conversation (which highlights recurring themes), and a quotation from one of the students (shared with her permission).  Because I have to prepare our on-line conversations several weeks in advance, this begins in early March but their responses were only due in late March — and my response followed.


6 March 2018

Because I’m preparing these discussions about three weeks in advance, this will appear as “due” after March Break. And that is in fact when it is due. I don’t feel I can add anything further to our current week. But I also don’t feel that I can ignore this. So I am making this visible now (March 6th) even though you’re not obliged to discuss it until March 27th.

For the past month, those of us in the children’s literature / young adult literature community have known that Sherman Alexie is among those accused of sexual harassment. Last week (Feb. 28), Alexie issued a denial/apology. Yesterday (Mar. 5), three of his accusers went public.

This raises an important question for us — as students, future teachers (some of you), or current teachers (me and some of you).  Should we continue to teach an author who has harmed others?  And that is the question I am posing to you right now.  Should work by Sherman Alexie be on future iterations of this syllabus?  Or ought we instead replace him with, say, a work by another indigenous writer — perhaps Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves —?

This is a hotly debated question, and — from our previous conversations — I know that you will express yourselves with care and consideration for divergent points of view.  Those who argue for often note that those who create great works of art may not lead exemplary Roxane Gay. Photo by Jay Grabiec.lives; their own personal failings are irrelevant to the greatness of their art. And, certainly, as a colleague of mine observed via email, in our English classes we teach many writers who, in their private lives, were horrible human beings.  Those who argue against might say that there is no legacy so important that we can look the other way. As Roxane Gay puts it, “I no longer struggle with artistic legacies. It is not difficult to dismiss the work of predators and angry men because agonizing over a predator’s legacy would mean there is some price I am willing to let victims pay for the sake of good art.” She suggests instead that we turn to artistic work created by those “capable of treating others with respect.”   If these are two opposing poles of the debate, there are of course many positions between them.  And there are other ways of exploring possible answers to this question.

As I say, it’s a difficult, messy question.

I have my own answer to it, which I will share after our conversation — and, indeed, which might be changed by our conversation.


Time passed — including March Break — and the students’ conversation unfolded on-line.  It was the most contentious conversation we’ve had this semester, but — to their great credit — they remained civil even when they strongly disagreed.  I then wrote my promised response, which I reproduce below.


30 March 2018

Hi, everyone. Sorry I’ve been a little quieter this week. Have been a bit under the weather. Indeed, your El Deafo discussion (two weeks from now) lacks my second planned video because my voice is still a bit wonky.

Anyway.  To this discussion!

Thanks, as ever, for wrestling with a difficult and painful subject. You may be interested to know that — here on campus — we held a discussion on this subject before March Break.  The English Department blog published a summary of that discussion on Tuesday of this week.

In your discussion, some liken the removal of a book from a course syllabus to censorship. I see the parallel being made, but — as the creator of many syllabi — I would argue that removing a book from a course syllabus is not the same as censorship. The book is not banned. It is still for sale, and still in the library. Also, since I regularly revise my syllabi, I am often taking books off and putting others on. I do this for many reasons, including the never-ending quest to improve the course, the need to stay current (new books keep getting published), and my own need to refresh the syllabus (if I teach the same works over and over, then I risk getting stale).

Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow ThievesAnother theme I notice in your discussion is the idea that removing this book would consequently remove Native American literature from our Multicultural Children’s Lit syllabus. It wouldn’t. We could read Erika Wurth’s Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Rain Is Not My Indian Name, or Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House.  Debbie Reese makes some Native YA Lit recommendations in this blog post. There are many Native children’s and YA books to choose from. Indeed, there should be more than one on this syllabus. There isn’t because the class strives to cover as wide a range of identities as it can, which (I realize) risks making this book the “single story” that Adichie warns against.

I would, however, agree with those who note that (and I’m paraphrasing here) monstrous people have made great art, important art, influential art. Faulkner’s “go slow, now” approach to ending Jim Crow was immoral and unjust, but if I were teaching a class on twentieth-century American literature, I would assign Faulkner. If I were teaching a class on twentieth-century Native American Literature, I think I would also assign Alexie — bringing in the full context, the women who have spoken on the record, the women who have spoken off the record, those who defend Alexie and those who accuse him. We could have a more developed version of the conversation we’ve had here.

But I don’t teach a Native American Literature course. I teach a Multicultural Children’s Literature course and I teach a Young Adult Literature course. Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary has been on both of those syllabi. It will not be on either syllabus in the future. There are many reasons why, but here are four.

  1. William Faulkner is dead. Sherman Alexie is alive. If I assign Alexie’s books (and thus mandate that my students buy his books), I am continuing to pay his salary. I would rather pay the salary of a person who has managed to create good art without harming others. Since there are plenty of such people, I will be assigning Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves next time.
  2. The books I assign in both classes go on to become books that future teachers assign: Secondary Education majors take Literature for Adolescents, and I know that this class has some Education majors in it, too. So, in assigning a book, I am in essence recommending that book for tomorrow’s teachers. I am making it part of the children’s literature / YA literature canon, enshrining it in the curricula of tomorrow.
  3. Sherman Alexie’s treatment of women is diametrically opposed to the goal of a class like Multicultural Children’s Literature. As I say in that opening video, the books we read are about increasing understanding, and respecting others. I cannot in good conscience promote the work of a man who does the opposite of what this class aspires to do.
  4. As his denial/apology indicates, Alexie does not understand why his behavior was wrong. If he understood, apologized, made efforts to make amends, well, there would at least be the possibility that I might assign him again in the future. But he doesn’t get it. He says “I genuinely apologize” but also “There are women telling the truth about my behavior and I have no recollection of verbally threatening anybody or their careers.” So, which behaviors are true, then? He says, “I have made poor decisions,” but declines to name what those decisions were, which makes it hard to believe that he is “working hard to become a healthier man who makes healthier decisions.” If he does not understand why his behavior was wrong, then he cannot learn from his past. You need to know why a mistake is a mistake in order to change.

Because, yes, as some of you have correctly noted, humans are flawed. We make mistakes. We have regrets. We do things we should not do. And we would be naïve to expect our artists, writers, actors, musicians, to be paragons of virtue. But, for me, a pattern of predatory behavior crosses a line.

Though my sense is that not all of you do, I believe the accusers. Why? Many reasons, the first of which (as I say) is that there is a pattern of behavior here. When there’s a pattern, we cannot say, “oh, it was just this one isolated incident.” Also, it’s really really hard to speak publicly about being sexually harassed or assaulted. Women who do get slut-shamed, called liars, blamed for seeking publicity, harassed further, and may face professional consequences. When a woman makes the decision to speak up, she is putting herself at risk. That’s why so many of those men named in the #MeToo movement have gone unnamed until now. Calling out the predatory behavior of powerful men (or women, but it’s usually men) is risky. It’s necessary to call them out, but it requires a level of bravery and emotional strength that not all people have — and nor should they be required to have. Surviving the traumas of harassment and assault takes a lot out of a person. (Big understatement.)

#MeToo

The emotions in this discussion have been more raw than they usually are — which is quite understandable, of course. I mention it here for several reasons, the first of which is that a couple of days have elapsed since the discussion and my response. I wish we could have had this conversation in person because then we could have addressed some of these questions in person. The asynchronous nature of this class means that we could not. But, since we could not, you should know that you all did far better than all of the on-line discussions I’ve seen on this subject. There have been much more contentious posts on recent School Library Journal articles, for example. This discussion never even approached that level of vitriol. Indeed, it was remarkably vitriol free.

That said, I recognize there may yet be some frayed nerves and lingering bad feelings. So. If anyone would like to talk with me about this, please let me know. I am willing to set up a Zoom chat for anyone who’d like it — or multiple Zoom chats. And, whether people seek those or not, I ask that you do your best to sustain the professionalism you’ve managed to sustain throughout the term. We do not have to agree with each other, but we do have to make an effort to understand and respect each other.

For the record, I respect the variety of opinions offered here. I’ve given you my response because I promised that I would. But, as I’ve said before, you do not need to agree with my assessment of a book or, in this case, whether to teach the work of a particular author.

For those who want to read more about this, Debbie Reese has a chronicle of the Alexie story as it unfolded (when you click on the link, scroll down).

Finally, if I may, I’d like to close with the wise words of your classmate Maria Vieyra, who (in this discussion) writes:

None of us are epitomes of perfect ethical behavior, morality, or wisdom, but I believe most of us can agree that there should be consequences for predatory sexual behavior because it does indeed hurt people. And monetary costs from boycotting a book are a small form of justice that we are all able to be a part of, and I do not think it is too heavy a price to pay for the sake of the victims and the future.

Well said.

To all of you: Thanks ever so much for taking the time to wrestle with this contentious and difficult issue. I hope that, though your own responses may differ, you all have arrived at a deeper understanding of what’s at stake in either retaining a book or removing it.


So… that was our class discussion. Also, I didn’t mention this in my response above, but most students thought I should continue to teach Alexie.  Five students — all of them women — argued against teaching his work. (18 students participated in the discussion.)

I would not claim to have the “right” answer to the question of whether to teach Alexie. This is just my answer.  I would say, though, that each syllabus is a political document that is built on moral choices.  What we include on a syllabi and what we omit from that syllabi are deeply enmeshed in morality and in politics — which, of course, makes the creation of any syllabus fraught, complicated, and on some level unsatisfying.  (Or, at least, that’s my experience: I am never 100% happy with any syllabus I’ve created.)

Art is always political.  So is teaching.  We cannot pretend otherwise.

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What to do with Dr. Seuss?

The objects of your nostalgic longing may disappoint you, if you are willing to look at them openly and honestly.  If you read, create, or write about children’s literature, today — the 114th birthday of Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) — would be a good time to admit this to yourself.  OK, the time for such admission is really long overdue, but do not be too hard on yourself. The power of cultural inertia is hard to resist.

That said, do resist. Make the attempt. As Seuss himself wrote in a different context, “face up to your problems / whatever they are.”

Read Across America: An NEA ProjectThis particular problem is one to tackle today because Seuss’s work contains both much to admire and much to oppose. Yet, because of his status, people are much more comfortable admiring than looking critically at his work. In the U.S., he is revered as a patron saint of children’s literacy, and children’s literature. In 1997, the National Education Association adopted his birthday as a day to celebrate “Read Across America Day.” It still uses his Cat in the Hat as its mascot, even though — starting this year — it’s shifting its focus to diverse books.

I am partly to blame for this shift.

Philip Nel, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, July 2017)In a report that helped inspire this change, Katie Ishizuka-Stephens cites the essay that became the title chapter of my Was the Cat in the Hat Black? As I point out, Seuss’s Cat is racially complicated. He’s partially inspired by blackface minstrelsy, African American elevator operator Annie Williams (who wore white gloves and a secret smile), and Krazy Kat (the black, ambiguously gendered creation of bi-racial cartoonist George Herriman).

I’m happy that Ishizuka-Stephens’s report has persuaded the NEA to shift their “Read Across America Day” focus to diverse books. Half of U.S. school-age children are nonwhite. But of children’s books published in 2016, only 22 percent of children’s books published featured nonwhite children, and only 13 percent were by nonwhite creators. Celebrating stories in which our multicultural young people can see themselves is a better choice than celebrating Seuss.

Which is not to say that Seuss must be thrown out of our classrooms — though that is of course an option. It is, rather, to suggest that we consider which Seuss we use, and how we use it.

At left: Dr. Seuss, from “Four Places Not to Hide While Growing Your Beard” (Life, 15 Nov. 1929). At right: Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

Racial caricature in Seuss’s work can help people understand how racism works. Seuss did both racist work and anti-racist work, often at the same time. In the 1940s, he created political cartoons, some of which dehumanized people of Japanese descent, and others of which were critical of both anti-Semitism and racism against African Americans. In the 1950s, Seuss published Horton Hears a Who!, hailed by one reviewer as “a rhymed lesson in protection of minorities and their rights”; wrote his first version of The Sneetches, an anti-racist fable; and published an essay that critiques racist humor. During that same period, he recycled racist caricature in his books.  In If I Ran the Zoo, protagonist Gerald McGrew travels to “the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant / With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,” and to the “African Island of Yerka” where he meets two stereotypically rendered Black men.

That Seuss is doing both racist anti-racist work at the same time can be confusing because many of us see racism as an “either/or”: people are either racist or not racist. Indeed, that’s how Seuss himself understood racism. In a June 1942 cartoon titled “What This Country Needs is a Good Mental Insecticide,” he draws a long line of men waiting to get inoculated against the “racial prejudice bug.” The insecticide goes in one ear, and the racist bug tumbles out the other.  I wish we could fumigate racism from our minds, and applaud Seuss’s optimism. Unfortunately, racism is not a bug. It’s a feature. Racism is not aberrant. It’s ordinary. It’s embedded in institutions and in culture — such as the cartoons and books of Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss, "What This Country Needs Is a Good Mental Insecticide" (PM, 10 June 1942)

It’s upsetting to learn that a beloved children’s author used racist caricature. So, many people — especially White people — seek explanations and offer excuses. In response to recent criticism, his grand-nephew Ted Owens has said of Seuss: “I know one thing for sure — I never saw one ounce of racism in anything he said, or how he lived his life, or what his stories were about.” Mr. Owens’ claim relies on perception and intent. But racism does not require either. People can perpetuate racism without intending to. I don’t think Seuss intended to. Because he was unaware of the degree to which his visual imagination was steeped in caricature, he recycled racist stereotypes even as he was also writing anti-racist parables. Dr. Seuss was the “woke” White guy who isn’t as woke as he thinks he is.

Robin Bernstein, page 1 from "Signposts on the Road Less Taken: John Newton Hyde's Anti-Racist Illustrations of African-American Children"“Now, wait just a minute,” some may object. “Seuss was a man of his time. We should not impose contemporary standards on him or his work. People thought differently then.” But that is a gross oversimplification. All people in any given historical moment do not think about race in precisely the same way. As Robin Bernstein has shown in her work on nineteenth-century anti-racism, the range of available racial beliefs remains constant over time, but the distribution of those beliefs change. In the past and in the present, both extraordinary and perfectly ordinary people have opposed White supremacy. Similarly, both remarkable and unremarkable people have supported White supremacy. To claim that people 60 years ago were racist but people now are enlightened both naturalizes past racism as inevitable and implies that social change is a natural, ongoing march towards a brighter, fairer future. Yet, as we are reminded daily, our current president and his party are actively working against precisely such a future. Progress moves in fits and starts, makes gains and endures setbacks, and always requires people committed to making a positive difference.

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who! (1954)Seuss can be part of this positive difference. His more progressive books — The Lorax (1971) or The Butter Battle Book (1984), to name two examples — might teach children about the need to care for the environment or to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Horton Hears a Who! could teach them to stand up for those who are targeted by bigots: the Whos’ size is an arbitrary mark of difference that could represent any such visible sign of human variance. As for the books featuring racist caricature, one option is to remove them from the curriculum. Another is to read them critically. With the guidance of a thoughtful educator, Seuss’s racist caricature can help young people understand that racism is not anomalous. It permeates the culture. Seeing this caricature can also let them know that it’s OK to be angry at art — that anger can in fact be a healthy response to work that demeans you.

We might also follow Roxane Gay’s advice. As she writes, “There is no scarcity of creative genius, and that is the artistic work we can and should turn to instead.” Gay is writing in the context of the current #MeToo movement, suggesting that we discard work built on the dehumanization of others. We could follow her advice by pushing Seuss aside and instead celebrating diverse books — doing what the NEA is doing in its program even if it (curiously) retains the Cat in the Hat as its mascot.  Ishizuka-Stephens has assembled a great collection of  “21 Books for an Inclusive Read Across America Day.”  That’s an excellent place to start.

Wrapping yourself in an unreflective nostalgia for the art you grew up with may comfort you, but if that art denigrates women, or caricatures people of color, or otherwise harms minoritized communities, then you bear responsibility for the pain that this art inflicts. I realize this is a hard truth to face and that some who read this will — instead of facing themselves and acknowledging their responsibility — attack the messenger. Some may indulge in projection, locating in the messenger those faults that they refuse to admit in themselves. Others will find different strategies of denial, displacement, or dismissal. In so doing, they will continue to be part of the problem.

Boym, The Future of NostalgiaFor those who prefer to be part of the solution, know that you need not abandon nostalgia. It’s OK to be nostalgic, as long as that nostalgia is what Svetlana Boym called “reflective nostalgia.” It “dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity. Restorative nostalgia protects the absolute truth, while reflective nostalgia calls it into doubt” (xviii).  As Boym wrote, reflective nostalgia reminds us that “longing and critical thinking are not opposed to one another, as affective memories do not absolve one from compassion, judgment or critical reflection” (The Future of  Nostalgia 49-50).

So. Reflect. Dwell on those ambivalences. Develop your capacity to reflect.  Activate your compassion.

And buy diverse books. Teach diverse books. Read diverse books.


Posts related to Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, including glimpses of the work in progress:


Some previous posts on Seuss

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Oppose Concealed Carry Reciprocity: Don’t Be Fooled by HB-2042

No guns (sign)On February 13 at 10:30 am in Topeka, the Kansas Senate will hear testimony on House Bill 2042, which appears to offer sensible gun regulation but in fact does nothing of the kind. (Try to contain your surprise.)  I cannot be there myself.  So, I have submitted my testimony in advance.  I am also posting both text and video of my testimony here. If you can be at the capitol, please go.  If not, please contact your representative.   Thank you!



Testimony opposing HB-2042

Philip Nel

13 Feb 2018

My name is Philip Nel. I am a Professor at Kansas State University, but I offer this testimony as a citizen only — not as an employee. I would be pleased by the fact that HB 2042 mandates that 18-to-20-year olds get a permit and that anyone on a university campus get a permit to carry a weapon. I would be pleased, but the bill also includes Concealed Carry Reciprocity (CCR) — that NRA-promoted legislation says that all states must admit firearms from any state, irrespective of how unregulated that state’s guns are. So, if you’re from one of the twelve states that allows concealed-carry without a permit, then you can also carry in Kansas without a permit. In other words, CCR effectively supersedes HB-2042’s permit requirement.

In effect, HB 2042 makes matters worse by allowing people under 21 to concealed-carry, too. It invites yet more guns into the state and into our workplaces. Thanks to the state’s Guns Everywhere Law, guns have already been forced into college dormitories, libraries, laboratories, classrooms, and offices. The actual name of that law is of course “The Personal and Family Protection Act,” so-called because the law does nothing of the kind and because those who named it are liars. Similarly, those who claim that Concealed Carry Reciprocity will make Kansans safer are also not telling you the truth. Which, at this point, surprises no one.

The university where I teach does not need more guns. It needs more funds. Now, I realize that guns and funds rhyme. So, just to be clear: Guns are weapons that can kill people. Funds can employ faculty and staff who educate people. To be extra clear, I’ll use these words in a sentence. The arrival of guns on campus caused a former colleague to leave Kansas State University for a job at another university in another country.  Funds could help hire a new faculty member to teach the courses that he is no longer here to teach.

So, I ask the Kansas legislature to oppose HB-2042. Instead of endangering the lives of your constituents, do something that helps them. Pass sensible gun regulations, and provide adequate funding for education at all levels. Instead of arming citizens with bullets, arm us with reason — via a good education.

Thank you.


Philip Nel: photo by Michael HenryTo any academics who may be reading this: Is your university in a state or country with (relatively) competent governance? Or is it a private university (and thus not required to weaponize)? Does it seek an expert on children’s literature? Well, seek no further! Here is my curriculum vitae and a page devoted to my books (with selected reviews of same):

Drop me a line. (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)  I’d love to hear from you!


Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

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MLA 2019 Call for Papers! Sesame Street at 50

Sesame Street

In 1969, Sesame Street made its debut on PBS in the U.S. It has since become not just an American institution, but an international one — broadcast in 150 countries, and in over 30 languages. This show — as cross-media and transnational phenomenon — is thus an ideal subject for the MLA’s textual transactions theme, as it invites us to think transnationally about “intellectual, artistic, and pedagogical work.” This panel invites papers on Sesame Street as a site of transaction — creative, cultural, educational. Possible areas of inquiry include but are not limited to:

  • How the programme’s many international iterations interact with the original concepts and their particular audience.
  • The show’s many political initiatives, both within and beyond the U.S. Since the first international co-productions in 1972 (Brazil’s Vila Sesamo and Mexico’s Plaza Sesamo), co-productions throughout the show’s history have promoted many social justice initiatives through Sesame Workshop International, including the introduction of HIV positive muppet Kami in the South African version (Takalini Sesame), and the Kosovo co-production (Rruga Sesam/Ulica Sezam) that supported the peace process between Albanian and Serbian children.
  • How Sesame Street’s many changes in the past five decades respond to the media landscape it inhabits. Sesame Street now has a popular YouTube channel, and as of 2016 its first-run episodes air on HBO, not PBS.
  • How the Muppets’ comic mode of engagement often upends the concept of a distinct audience constituted solely of child viewers, and challenges protectionist discourses around what are considered “appropriate” media texts produced for young audiences. While the history of Sesame Street has situated the Muppets as part of a public mandate geared at preschool children (Davis; Reimer), the parodic, vaudevillian, and often subversive humor that characterizes the Muppets (Abate; Schildcrout) have been central features throughout the history of Sesame Street’s programming.
  • How Sesame Street inhabits a dynamic position within popular culture, particularly how characters have been remixed and/or deployed politically (for example, Bert and Ernie and marriage activism).
  • Sesame Street‘s role as a surrogate caregiver, especially via its recognition of the complex emotional lives of children. Beginning with the death of Will Lee (the actor who played Mr. Hooper) in 1983, Sesame Street has been a leader in children’s television for dealing with serious subjects: death, down syndrome, autism, loss and grief following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, children with incarcerated parents, children in military families coping with a parent’s deployment.

If accepted by the MLA, the panel will convene at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago, which will be held from January 3 to 6, 2019.  

Send 1-page abstract and 2-page CV by March 15, 2018 to Philip Nel and Naomi Hamer.

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2018

MLA 2018 (convention logo)It is time again to gather ’round

in fluorescent rooms, adjust the sound

(“can you hear me?”), smile, and present

to all four or fifty-seven

who found the right room, the right day.

Coffee! Insecurity! MLA!

January 3rd through 7th is the Modern Language Association’s annual conference, held this year (2018) in New York City. (The year’s Presidential Theme is “States of Insecurity.”)  As I do each year, I’m posting here all panels devoted to children’s literature, young adult literature, and comics/graphic novels. There will be many other panels of interest, I’m sure. So, do peruse the program for full details. And if I’ve omitted a panel on any of these subjects, please let me know and I will add it ASAP.


18: Calling Dumbledore’s Army: Activist Children’s Literature

Thursday, January 04, 2018, 12:00 PM – 01:15 PM. Hilton: Clinton

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34: Narrativizing Insecurity in Indian Comics

Thursday, January 04, 2018, 12:00 PM – 01:15 PM. Sheraton: Sutton Place

For Related Material: amadan@ksu.edu after 30 Nov.
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122: Strips of Modernity: Affect, Labor, and Identity in Early Comics

Thursday, January 04, 2018, 05:15 PM – 06:30 PM. Hilton: Nassau East

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173: Connecting the Dots: Museums and Comics

Thursday, January 04, 2018, 07:00 PM – 08:15 PM. Hilton: Sutton Center

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190: Radical Sisterhood in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Thursday, January 04, 2018, 07:00 PM – 08:15 PM. Sheraton: Sugar Hill

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298: 4H: History, Hamilton, and Hip-Hop in High School

Friday, January 05, 2018, 12:00 PM – 01:15 PM. Sheraton: Empire Ballroom West

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Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum: Business Meeting

Friday, January 05, 2018, 01:45 PM – 03:00 PM. Sheraton New York Times Square: Madison 4

The open meeting will begin shortly after Session 298 is completed. The assigned room for the business meeting is snug, but we will try to accommodate everyone who attends. One of the orders of business will be the selection of sessions to be sponsored by the Forum for next year’s MLA Conference in Chicago. It would be helpful for individuals who would like to propose a session to provide a short handout to be distributed during the business meeting. The proposed sessions handouts should include: 1. A working title 2. A short (at least a paragraph) description and 3. The name of a current MLA members willing to chair the session.

Individuals unable to attend this year’s MLA conference, or unable to attend the Forum’s business meeting, can still submit topics for sessions for the 2019 MLA Conference in Chicago.  Those proposals should be in the same format as the handouts for proposed sessions. The requirements are noted above. Session proposals for those unable to attend the business meeting should be submitted by email to Jan Susina (jcsusina@ilstu.edu) by December 21.


354: Graphic Resistance: Comics and Social Protest

Friday, January 05, 2018, 01:45 PM – 03:00 PM. Sheraton: New York Ballroom West

Description

This session investigates how and why comics have served as sites of resistance and explores how this history informs how comics are used—or could be used—for protest in our current moment. Participants explore genealogies of social protest that comics create in and across local, national, and international communities. How will this conversation open different future trajectories for exploring comics as micropolitical sites of resistance?

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413: Narrating Vulnerability: Re-seeing Asian American Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Friday, January 05, 2018, 05:15 PM – 06:30 PM. Sheraton: Chelsea

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439: Teaching Global Arab Comics in the United States

Friday, January 05, 2018, 05:15 PM – 06:30 PM. Hilton: Concourse G

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543: The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth

Saturday, January 06, 2018, 12:00 PM – 01:15 PM. Hilton: Hudson

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595: Graphic States of Insecurity

Saturday, January 06, 2018, 01:45 PM – 03:00 PM. Sheraton: Empire Ballroom East

For Related Material: joncn@bu.edu after 1 Dec.
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618: From Gotham to Camazotz: Madeleine L’Engle at One Hundred and New York City

Saturday, January 06, 2018, 01:45 PM – 03:00 PM. Sheraton: Bowery

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625: Queer Futurities in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Saturday, January 06, 2018, 03:30 PM – 04:45 PM. Sheraton: Central Park West

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650: Ignite Talk: Alison Bechdel on the Page, Onstage, and in Theory

Saturday, January 06, 2018. 03:30 PM – 04:45 PM. Hilton: Beekman

Description

Ten years after the conclusion of Dykes to Watch Out For, twelve years after the graphic memoir Fun Home, and five years after Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s theatrical adaptation of Fun Home, this ignite talk session offers a spectrum of voices, perspectives, and theoretical approaches to the works of Bechdel, demonstrating not just analysis of a single author across genres but the impact of such texts on wider fields of study.

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729: Comics and the Culture Wars

Sunday, January 07, 2018, 08:30 AM – 09:45 AM. Sheraton: Central Park West

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810: Framing New York City in Comics

Sunday, January 07, 2018. 12:00 PM – 01:15 PM. Sheraton: Madison Square

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Children’s Literature vs. Nationalism: IRSCL’s Statement of Principles

The International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) — an organization of which I am a member — is today issuing a statement in support of academic freedom, and against the rising tide of nativism/nationalism that threatens to curtail it.  We’re issuing it in 20 different languages (with more to come) and you can see all of those on our YouTube channel: ArabicChinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Kazakh, KoreanLamnsoNorwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.  Coming soon (we hope): Japanese and others. 30 Nov. 2017: added Ukranian, updated link to Danish.

YouTube mosaic: IRSCL statement

I concede that our language may be a little too “academic,” but consider that we coordinated this across borders, languages, holiday calendars, and extremely busy schedules.  And it’s important to speak up for our shared humanity, for a scholarly community that transcend national borders, for free and open inquiry.


Press Release: Current Global Politics Limit Academic Freedom

IRSCL logoOn Universal Children’s Day, November 20, 2017, the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) issues a Statement of Principles, because it is worried about the ways in which contemporary geopolitics curtail academic freedom.

This summer, IRSCL convened its 23rd biennial congress in Canada. More than 20 percent of the scholars whose papers were accepted were unable to attend Congress 2017, not only because of radical economic disparities in the world but also because of current restrictive travel policies and the “chill” caused by them.

  • IRSCL finds the current xenophobic situation worrying as it curtails academic freedom. The free flow of people and ideas across borders has to be defended anew, says Elisabeth Wesseling, President of IRSCL.
    For this reason, IRSCL will issue a Statement of Principles, which explains why scholarship can flourish only in a world with open borders. The statement will be released as a collection of videos featuring IRSCL members reading the statement in their native language
  • the statement is issued on November 20, Universal Children’s Day, to emphasize not only the importance of our research, but also of children’s literature’s potential to foster empathy, nurture creativity, and imagine a better world, says Elisabeth Wesseling.

IRSCL is an international scholarly organization dedicated to children’s and young adult literature with 360 members from 47 different countries worldwide. Every second year the organization arranges IRSCL Congress, the world’s most international congress within the research field.

Professor Elisabeth Wesseling (Lies.Wesseling@Maastrichtuniversity.nl), President, IRSCL

IRSCL on Facebook


Videos of IRSCL members reading the statement in 18 languages

(These are also available en masse via our YouTube channel.)

Yes, that’s me reading it in English.  (I’m one of the statement’s many co-writers. )


Arabic


Chinese


Danish


Dutch


English


Estonian


Farsi


Finnish


French


German


Italian


Kazakh


Korean


Lamnso


Norwegian


Polish


Russian


Spanish


Swedish


Ukranian


In reading the statement (above) and writing this little blog post, I’m proud to stand with my friends and colleagues around the world.  And I’m especially delighted to see them speaking their native languages.  When we meet, we converse in English — because English is the “international” language of communication among scholars.  So, English-speakers like me have it easy: everyone else speaks my language.  But for everyone else, this is of course grossly unfair.  I am grateful to them for learning English so that we can share ideas, and participate in a global community.  And I thank them for tolerating my general inability to speak their languages.

Reading children’s books about all different people (all types of difference, though in this case, national difference) helps raise a younger generation to be less susceptible to the narrow nationalisms that pervade our political culture.  Diverse children’s books work because — as the research of Tali Sharot shows — emotion is more persuasive than reason. They work because, by expanding our emotional life, stories show us how we are connected — offering “a glimpse across the limits of our self,” as Hisham Matar puts it. And yes, yes, I know that white supremacy, xenophobia, and fascistic nationalism are resilient and adaptable — aided, as they are, by white fragility, white innocence, and colonial amnesia. And I know that children’s literature is but one front in a larger battle. But books for young people remain one of the best resources to oppose xenophobia and the structures that sustain it because children’s literature reaches selves still very much in the process of becoming; minds that have not yet been made up; future adults who can learn respect instead of suspicion, understanding instead of fear, and yes, even love.

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RESIST! Year #2 begins NOW.

NO 45 by Mike MitchellOn the one-year anniversary of Russia’s successful hacking of American democracy (congrats, Vlad!), a bit of encouragement for those who oppose the Trump regime’s assaults on healthcare, the environment, women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, the very idea of rights, basic human decency, and truth itself.  I’ve divided this into three sections: (1) a resistance mix, (2) 75 better names for 45, (3) resources.


1. RESIST: a mix

Trump by Peter HannanA few notes on the mix (for any who may care).  2, 3, and 17 all written by Woody Guthrie. “Old Man Trump” is about 45’s father, Klansman and real estate developer Fred Trump. But, since (in this case) the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the diseased tree, the song is also applicable to his white supremacist son. 6. Actually written about Richard Nixon, but don’t let that stop you from singing it at the tiny-fingered tyrant currently occupying the White House. Bonus: features the Jackson 5 on backing vocals. 11. A song about many subjects (including the current regime). If you’re curious about the many allusions, I recommend looking it up on Genius.com. 14 is from the Women’s March. You’ve probably heard the a cappella version of “Quiet,” which hasn’t seen commercial release. So, here is the songwriter’s recording. 15. The title track from Benajmin Booker’s album, which I predict will be on many end-of-year “Best of 2017” lists. 19. From Mavis Staples’ We’ll Never Turn Back, which is one of my desert island discs. 20. Simone transforms the Beatles wishy-washy lyrics into a truly revolutionary statement. This may be the best cover of any Beatles song ever. 21. A South African cover of U2’s song about MLK. 22. Frank Sinatra’s 1945 recording of this was a #22 pop hit. It’s also been recorded by Josh White (1945), Paul Robeson (1947), Sonny Rollins (instrumental, 1956), Sam Cooke (1960), Sarah Vaughan (1961), Mahalia Jackson (1962), and — most recently — The Mavericks (2016). The Ravens’ 1949 a cappella cover (included here) is my favorite. The song has music by Earl Robinson and lyrics by Abel Meeropol (under his pseudonum Lewis Allan). In case the name Meeropol (or Lewis Allan) doesn’t ring a bell, he also wrote “Strange Fruit” (first recorded by Billie Holiday, 1939). He and his wife Anne adopted Michael and Robert Rosenberg, after the U.S. government executed the boys’ parents, Julius and Ethel.

(I had to modify this playlist slightly because not everything is on Spotify.  As a result, I couldn’t include “That’s What Makes Us Great” by Joe Grushecky with Bruce Springsteen, “sPEak” by Public Enemy, “Tiny Hands” by Fiona Apple [the Women’s March chant].  So, you’ll need to find those elsewhere.)


2. What’s in a name? OR, 75 better names for 45

Steve Brodner, Trump ComboverDonald Trump is an unhinged, thin-skinned, narcissistic sociopath. He is a racist, a rapist, a bully, a traitor, and a pathological liar. He has no respect for the office he holds, nor for the people he governs. Indeed, he has no respect for anyone except himself. He also has no idea how stupid he is, and lacks the curiosity that might enable him to learn something. If you have been even casually following the crimes, craziness, and casual cruelty of his administration, you already know this.  I am saying it here because language matters. Words shape our sense of reality. So, there’s no need to resort to euphemism when referring to a man who (for instance) brags about sexual assault. Indeed, there’s no need to be anything but blunt in describing a man who deliberately, repeatedly, severs words from their meanings.

So, I’ve been casually collecting alternate appellations for Trump. Like the man himself, some of these are not safe for work. I’ve given credit where I know whom to credit — but I don’t always know the author. A very few are of my own invention — or I think they are, but it’s possible I simply heard them and adopted them. If you find one that lacks a credit, please supply, and I will amend. Thanks!

  1. Agent Orange
  2. The amber Führer
  3. Angry Creamsicle [Stephen Colbert]
  4. angry pumpkin
  5. bigoted orange bully
  6. blithering turd buffet [Patton Oswalt via Twitter]
  7. the blonde Berlusconi [The Economist]
  8. carrot in a suit
  9. Casino Mussolini [Samantha Bee]
  10. Cheeto Benito
  11. Cheeto-dusted bloviator [Madeleine Davies]
  12. Cheeto in a suit
  13. Cheetolini
  14. cocktail shrimp in a toupee [Alexandra Petri]
  15. Don the Con
  16. The Donald
  17. Trump Traitor by Mike MitchellДональд Трамп [“Donald Trump” in Russian]
  18. Dorito in chief
  19. fascist clown
  20. fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon [Daylin Leach.For more, see Ben Zimmer’s “The Rise of the Shitgibbon” (Strong Language, 9 Feb. 2017)]
  21. flaccid fascist
  22. 45
  23. Fuckface Von Clownstick [Jon Stewart]
  24. goddamn butterscotch nazi pissmagnet [Matt Fraction]
  25. grandpa baggysuits  [Stephen Colbert, 25 Oct. 2017]
  26. Grifter-in-Chief
  27. Hair Hitler
  28. a hefty sack of pudding that’s gone bad [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  29. Herr Gropenführer [Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger]
  30. Herr Twitler [popularized by George Takei, but source unknown]
  31. the idiot king
  32. Il Douche
  33. Insane Clown President [Matt Taibbi]
  34. Kim Jong-Un’s more portly twin [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  35. a large scoop of orange sherbet covered with dog fur [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  36. Mad King Donald
  37. Moron-in-Chief
  38. Mr. Tangerine Man
  39. Napoleon BonaTrump [Samantha Bee]
  40. oleaginous orange bloviator
  41. Orange Gibbon
  42. a petty narcissist with barn hay for hair [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  43. Petulant Plutocrat
  44. Pig Boy [Paul Slansky]
  45. President Backpfeifengesicht [“punchable face” in German]
  46. President Bonespur
  47. President Cheeto
  48. President Chump
  49. President Doucheweasel
  50. President Gaslight
  51. President Kompromat
  52. President Golden Shower
  53. President Snowflake [Samantha Bee]
  54. President Swamp
  55. President Tweetbait
  56. President 😡
  57. the president* or President* Trump [Charles Pierce]
  58. Putin’s Puppet
  59. SCROTUS (So-Called Ruler Of The United States) [@ElayneBoosler, who says “My original #SCROTUS meaning was scrotum + POTUS (pussy grabber in chief), but I like the ‘so-called ruler’ usage 2”]
  60. Shitler
  61. short-fingered overlord
  62. short-fingered vulgarian [Graydon Carter, SPY Magazine, 1980s]
  63. Spray-Tan Caligula
  64. super-callous fascist racist extra braggadocious
  65. Tang the Destroyer
  66. tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon [@MetalOllie on Twitter.  For more, see Ben Zimmer’s “The Rise of the Shitgibbon” (Strong Language, 9 Feb. 2017)]
  67. tiny-fingered tyrant
  68. tiny-handed, emoji-headed hate monkey [satirical program on BBC, though I don’t know which one]
  69. a total jackwagon with saggy neck meat [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  70. Ann Telnaes, Trump's New HatTraitor-in-Chief
  71. Tropicana Jong-il [Michael Arceneaux, in The Root]
  72. Trümpelthinskin [Paul Slansky]
  73. Trumpster
  74. vulgar talking yam [Charles Pierce]
  75. a walking talking rectum

There are more good ones out there, I’m sure.  And you can create your own.  Just mix and match, using the list above!

Also, to anyone who finds this list offensive, I would advise you to focus on what is truly offensive — for example, the fact that traitor & con-man Donald Trump is currently running the country, and that most of his party is colluding with him.  A major US political party is also passively endorsing treason.  FOCUS.  Indeed, you might draw on some of the resources below.


3. Resources & Further Reading

Five days after the election, I wrote “Surviving Trumpism. Restoring Democracy.” It holds up pretty well (if I do say so myself), and calls me back to the sense of urgency I felt then.  It reminds me that, among other things, I need to do more calling of my representatives.

But there are many, many other things you might read to stay focused, outraged, and active.  This is an incomplete list of resources.

Activism

Stay informed

  • Donald Trump is Corrupt AF. Tracking the corruption of the Trump administration.
  • Presterity: “Our mission is to document the Trump phenomenon, and ideally, limit the damage that can be caused by this unprecedented assault on facts, civil liberties, civil rights, and norms of public and political behavior.”
  • Trump Con Law podcast: Noting that the 45th president is constantly testing the U.S. Constitution, Roman Mars uses this as an occasion to learn about Constitutional law — via Professor Elizabeth Joh.  That might sound dry to you, but it really isn’t.
  • The Weekly List, compiled by Amy Siskind.
  • What the Fuck Just Happened Today?   Daily guide to WTF is going on in the U.S.
  • Editorial Board, “The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette,” New York Times 8 Oct. 2017.
  • Newspapers, TV, other publications — many possibilities here.  And do keep in mind that journalists make mistakes.  I’ve seen people say this newspaper published this incorrect story — I’m cancelling my subscription!  But stop and reflect.  How does the media outlet do in general?  Is this anomalous or representative?  Definitely hold the media accountable, and push back against false narratives.  But remember, also, that a free press is what stands between us and tyranny.  They need our support. In return, we have the right to hold them accountable.  Anyway, here are a few — and note that it’s useful to rely upon more than one source, international ones especially.
  • Journalists & citizens who are paying attention (incomplete list):

Know your history

For Educators 

Organizations that need your help

Brian Herrera: "I'm With Us" (301 of 304): "Hope requires" — Philip Nel

Hope
  • Carolina de Robertis, ed., Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times (2017).
  • Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (2004; updated edition, 2016).
  • Eric D. Weitz, “Against Despair,” Public Books 1 Oct. 2016.
  • Howard Zinn, “The Optimism of Uncertainty.” The Nation 20 Sept. 2004. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”
Things I have written (on this blog unless otherwise indicated)

Image credits: “NO 45” by Mike Mitchell, Trump by Peter Hannan, Trump by Steve Brodner, “Traitor” by Mike Mitchell, “Trump’s New Hat” by Ann Telnaes; “также восемь,” from Rowboat Watkins’ Dinky Donnies series; cover for The Economist (issue of 19-25 Aug. 2017) by Jon Berkeley; “Hope Is Not Wishful Thinking” from Brian Herrera’s I’m With Us series.

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Crockett Johnson Tells the Story of Money

Today is the 111th birthday of Crockett Johnson (1906-1975). To celebrate, let’s take a deep dive in his oeuvre — looking at one of his lesser-known books, This Rich World.


The popular story is that Crockett Johnson began creating books for children when he illustrated Ruth Krauss’s The Carrot Seed (1945). This is a compelling narrative. Krauss was his wife, it was his first book for Harper (which would later publish his Harold books), and The Carrot Seed became a classic.

Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money, illustrated by Crockett Johnson (McBride, 1943): front cover

But the first book expressly for children that was illustrated by Crockett Johnson is Constance J. Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943).  I say “book expressly for children” because, though his daily strip Barnaby included children among its readers, the comic — which yielded two books (in 1943 and 1944) — did not imagine young people as its primary audience. This Rich World: The Story of Money did.  As the dust jacket’s inside front flap says, “Into this unusual and delightful book have been packed all the things the young reader wants to know about money.”

As you might expect, some of the information in a book published three quarters of a century ago feels dated: This Rich World is too easy on colonialism and favors masculine pronouns (men earn money).


“all the things the young reader wants to know about money”

But there’s a lot in here that young people — and many of our elected representatives — could learn from today.  For instance, taxes are the price we pay for living in a civil society.

Crockett Johnson, "Taxless Town, part 1" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

Crockett Johnson, "Taxless Town, part 2" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

A flat tax (such as a sales tax) is unfair, because the wealthy and the working class pay the same tax, even though it costs the rich a far smaller percentage of their income.

Crockett Johnson, "You pay taxes, too!" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

There’s interesting trivia, too, such as the derivation of the expression “worth his salt.” The word salary derives from the word for salt — a valuable commodity because the “ancient world had no refrigerators and so needed salt and spices to preserve its good” (35). So, “In early Roman times the soldiers received part of their wages in the form of salt. This was known as salarium, or salt money. We still say sometimes that a man isn’t ‘worth his salt’ when he is lazy or shirks his work” (36).

Crockett Johnson, "Are you worth your salt?" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)


Who was Constance J. Foster?

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)While writing the biography of Johnson and Krauss, I wondered: how did Johnson come to illustrate her book? Were they part of the same social circle? Might they have met? Biographical data on Constance J. Foster is scarce. So, I bought used copies of other books she wrote or co-wrote, hoping that the dust jackets might give me some clues. From her The Attractive Child (1941), we learn that she lives in Great Neck, NY, and that she consulted many experts — most of whom are from New York City.  She has a family (whom she thanks), and was likely then writing for Parents Magazine: one of her thanks goes to that publication’s editor. Fathers Are Parents Too (1951), co written with Dr. O. Suprgeon English, tells us that “Mrs. Constance J. Foster has been a free-lance writer since 1927 and her articles have appeared in Parents’ Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, etc.” Her pamphlet, Developing responsibility in children (1953), offers much about her philosophy of parenting, but nothing about the author.

Constance J. Foster, The Attractive Child (1941) O. Spurgeon English and Constance J. Foster, Fathers Are Parents Too (1951) Constance J. Foster, Developing Responsibility in Children (1953)

As it turns out, our best source is the back dust jacket of This Rich World itself.

Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money, illustrated by Crockett Johnson (McBride, 1943): back cover

My guess is that she may have met Johnson — if she knew him at all — via Johnson’s wife. Krauss was then studying Anthropology at Columbia, and two of Foster’s sources for The Attractive Child are affiliated with Columbia. More than that, Krauss’s and Foster’s shared interest in children’s development might have provided occasion for them to meet.


Share the wealth

Whatever Foster’s connection (if any) to Johnson might have been, the book’s message is one that the current occupant of the White House would do well to heed. Foster argues that we should share the wealth. She twice cites Adam Smith’s “golden rule of world trade”: “It is better for a nation if the other nations with whom it does business are rich, not poor” (71, 157).

Crockett Johnson, "Wars are wasteful," from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (McBride, 1943)

Her final chapter — “Wars Are Wasteful” — repeats that point. If Foster is at times too willing to affiliate free trade with freedom, she also very rightly stresses the need to work together:

Only human brotherhood and the equality of all men, of all colors and races, will work. In the past some people have had more clothes and food and houses than they could use, while others have not had nearly enough. Unless we can build a world in the future in which everybody has enough, then no peace will last long. (157-58)

Crockett Johnson, frontispiece Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (McBride, 1943)

Crockett Johnson’s art tells that story, too — the story of money and of the need to distribute it fairly if we are to live in peace.


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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