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


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.

122: Strips of Modernity: Affect, Labor, and Identity in Early Comics

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


173: Connecting the Dots: Museums and Comics

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


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

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


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

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


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


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?


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


439: Teaching Global Arab Comics in the United States

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


543: The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth

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


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.

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


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

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


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

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


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.


729: Comics and the Culture Wars

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


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. )





















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.


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

  • 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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Was the Cat in the Hat Black? (Talks at Google)

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)And now,… presenting a 45-minute illustrated lecture of my Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books.

Indeed, here are two versions, one in English and one in Spanish (which is also delivered via sign language).  Both versions were recorded in the past couple of months — the English-language one in Mountain View in July 2017, and the Spanish-language one in Santiago in August 2017.

The English-language version comes courtesy of Talks at Google.

Talks at GoogleThanks to (ex-Googler) Tyler Shores for making the Google connection, and to David Barry and everyone at Google for their hospitality!  I had a great visit to the Mountain View campus this past July.

La versión en español es cortesía de Chile’s Ministerio de Educación. Mi discurso comienza a los 34 minutos del video. Esta versión dura unos 10 minutos más: estoy hablando más lentamente para ayudar al traductor a mantener el ritmo.

Muchismas gracias a Mónica Bombal Molina por la invitación, y a Mónica, Andrea Casals, y Catalina Landerretche por su hospitalitad. ¡Me gustó mucho mi visita a Santiago!

Related posts (on this blog unless otherwise indicated), including glimpses of the work in progress:

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7 Questions We Should Ask About Children’s Literature (Oxford UP blog)

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)White nationalism is on the rise in the US and nativism is in the ascendant across the globe.  What role can literature for children play in teaching the next generation to be more empathetic, to respect difference, and to reject hatred?  How do we find children’s books that promote these values?  And what do we do with classics that offend?

Over on the Oxford University Press blog today, you’ll find “7 Questions We Should Ask About Children’s Literature,” including:

  1. What does this book present as normal? You might follow up with these more specific questions borrowed (and slightly modified) from Nathalie Wooldridge:
  • What or whose view of the world, or kinds of behavior does the book present as normal?
  • Why is the book written from this perspective? How else could it have been written?
  • What assumptions does the book make about age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture (including the age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture of the reader)?
  • Whose perspectives does the book present? Whose perspectives does the book silence or ignore?

… and 6 more questions.

Oxford University Press iconOxford UP asked me to write the post to help promote Was the Cat in the Hat Black?  My own aspiration was also to write something that could be useful in evaluating books for young readers.  Here’s hoping that the questions can be of some help to educators, parents, publishers, and all who are involved with children’s literature.

REMINDER: Goodreads Giveaway of Was the Cat in the Hat Black? Giveaway details via the link below (and via the links in this sentence).

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

by Philip Nel

Giveaway ends October 01, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

If you’d like to learn more, Oxford University Press has created three short videos (featuring me) addressing some of the subjects in the book.

1. What do children’s books tell us about society? (90 seconds)

2. Literary Activism with Children’s Books (2 minutes, 50 seconds)

3. The Responsibility of Authors Writing Children’s Literature (2 minutes)

Historical context from Rudine Sims Bishop (3 minutes, 30 seconds)

Rudine Sims Bishop’s work is foundational (I mention Professor Bishop in the second video, above). My book builds upon the work of lots of smart scholars, including Bishop, Michelle Martin, Robin BernsteinKate Capshaw, and many others.  Was the Cat in the Hat Black? wouldn’t be possible without their groundbreaking work.

Related posts on this blog, including glimpses of the work in progress:

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Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Chronicle of Higher Education (logo)Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education today, I have a piece on “Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times.” Here’s one of those resolutions:

Teach students to use language well. We can help them to be wary of lazy euphemism — not just because it is bad writing (though it often is), but because its bland familiarity can anaesthetize the attention. As George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” observes: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
The president and his staff spend their days wresting words from their meanings. Amplified by repetition and news coverage, their linguistic nihilism infects our usage, and compromises our collective ability to make sense of the world. So encourage students to discard “alt-right,” “climate skeptic,” and “alternative facts,” and instead, say “white supremacist,” “anti-science,” and “lies.” Help them to resist the slippery idiom of propaganda.

The rest is over at The Chronicle.  Thanks to Robin Bernstein for putting the editor from The Chronicle in touch with me, and to that editor (is it appropriate to name her here?) for publishing this.

She — the editor — asked me to write something on “A column of suggestions for how professors (rookies and senior ones) can get the year off to a good start. Kind of a New Academic Year’s Resolutions.” I said sure! And then jotted notes, and more notes, … and wrote a half-dozen incomplete (failed) drafts. I kept getting stuck because offering the usual beginning-of-term advice felt reckless and irresponsible. It felt like the privileged giving advice to the privileged. In any case, there are lots of columns on the challenges of managing our various and proliferating obligations, or setting writing goals, and related professional predicaments.

Indeed, Robin curates an excellent page of advice. (Her own columns are also full of wisdom. I highly recommend them!)

So, instead, I wrote a piece inviting educators to consider how they might shine a light through the fog of lies that envelops us, nurture the capacity for critical thinking, and help others resist the allure of fascist blowhards. Of course, the younger generation did not vote for the tiny-fingered bloviator. But they will live amidst the damage he and his quislings inflict for many more years than their teachers will.

We should really restore that word — quisling — to contemporary discourse. It comes from Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), the Norwegian Prime Minister (1942-1945) who collaborated with the Nazis, and thus can refer to any short-sighted people who collude with those who do their fellow citizens harm. For instance, most (though not all) of the Republican Party have been happy to betray their country and its citizens. Sure, here and there, they’ll offer a few words of criticism. But will most back up their words with actions?  The majority still fantasize about a tax policy that will increase the misery of those in need, and so put their qualms aside to work with the grifter-in-chief. For instance, right now, will they join Democrats & support DACA legislation for immigrants who — though they lack citizenship — have known no other home than the US? Or will they stand by, while America’s fascist clown deports 800,000 hard-working members of their community? Most Republicans’ behavior thus far does not inspire me to hope. (But I would love to be proven wrong on this!)

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

By design, the administration’s cruelty harms minoritized communities the most. (This is what happens when a white supremacist becomes president.) So, in offering advice, I tried to take into account the fact that, for some of us, merely surviving the regime will be not only enough but truly miraculous. For some, simply continuing to be is itself a form of resistance. And I also understand that critical pedagogy animates some of us more than others. We all move through the world, bearing different and often unseen burdens. What works for one may not work for all.

But those of us who care about democracy and human rights are all in this together. We need to support each other, and — in whatever way we can — ignite beacons of hope amidst the gathering darkness.

A well-educated public is less likely to admire demagogues. So, we educators have our work cut out for us — important, necessary work. And we might locate at least some of our hope in that endeavor.

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

Image from Brian Herrera‘s “I’m With Us” series added 7 Sept. 2017.

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