Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature (ChLAQ)

Children's Literature Association Quarterly 43.4 (Winter 2018): coverSeparating children from their parents is a violation of basic human rights and does not deter asylum-seekers.  Hostile to facts and compassionate only towards himself, Mr. Trump has pursued this policy with reckless indifference to its consequences.  As of the end of last month (over four months after the court-imposed deadline to reunite these families), over 140 children had still not been reunited with their parents.  And that figure does not include the over 15,000 children locked up in Trump’s child detention centers.

Writing about Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature — the theme of this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly — will not stop the US government’s (or any other government’s) crimes against humanity. And yet, I edited this special issue, which features smart essays by six sharp scholars: Debra Dudek, Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Leyla Savsar, Anastasia Ulanowicz, Maria Rosa Truglio, and Sara Van den Bossche.  Why?  Not because we expect our words to awaken the consciences of those in power — if, indeed, the people who support these policies possess consciences.  We write because we speak as we can, in the venues available to us.  Because all scholarship is, in some measure, a record of the time in which it was written.  Because children’s literature can cultivate empathy.  Because children’s literature can (to borrow Rudine Sims Bishop’s famous term) serve as a mirror to young people who have been displaced — geographically, culturally, emotionally.  Because words and images can change minds.

Or, at least, that is what I believe. As I write in my introduction,

When children’s literature cultivates an empathetic imagination, it can bring people of all ages closer to understanding the displacement felt by migrants, refugees, and those in diasporic communities. Such literature can affirm the experiences of children in those communities, letting them know that they are not alone….

As scholars of children’s literature, we are not, alas, in charge of shaping humane policies for our governments. But we can, to borrow the words of Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, help people to envision “a world without borders as we have known them—a world in which nation-states are not prized or assumed.” We can guide readers to books that harness the imagination’s power to nourish empathy, and we can steer them away from those that reinforce bigotry. Thanks to our professional training, we understand that such work is necessary and complicated: A work’s propagation of prejudice can be both subtle and overt. Art is often ideologically ambivalent, humanizing in some ways and dehumanizing in others. Another thing we can do, then, is to teach people how to spot the difference. Careful, thoughtful readers can resist lies, misinformation, and scapegoating. By helping us develop the necessary critical literacies, the articles in this issue foster these vital skills.

The issue is available via ProjectMuse.  If you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to Project Muse, please access the articles that way.  Doing so generates revenue for the Children’s Literature Association — an organization of which I am a member.  If you lack access to the issue, I am glad to send you a pdf of my introduction.  Just drop me a line.  (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s,” even though I have long since removed mp3s from this blog.)

I’ll conclude with the two autobiographical paragraphs from my introduction:

I proposed this special issue, in part, because I am from a family of immigrants and am the descendant of refugees. The Nels were among those 2 million seventeenth-century French Protestants (Huguenots) whose flight from persecution introduced the word refugee into the English language. Today, my extended family (nuclear family plus cousins, uncles, and aunts) lives in five countries on four continents. We are a migratory group. In migrants, refugees, and the diasporic, I see my own family.

But I also see my family in the people who caused such displacement—from the active Islamophobe who supports a “Muslim ban” to the passive inheritors of White supremacy. I am aware that my being born in the US has everything to do with my parents being White South Africans and not Black South Africans. Their Whiteness granted them access not just to the education that made finding an American job possible, but also to the basic human rights that significantly increased the chances that they would survive and flourish. Indeed, my own flourishing is built upon a range of intersecting structures of oppression.

I’ve written more on this subject elsewhere on this blog — perhaps most directly in “Charleston, Family History, and White Responsibility” (June 2015).  For the past few years, that post has only been available via its archival presence on the Wayback Machine, for reasons explained in the footnote below.*  But there are plenty of other autobiographical posts hosted here, some of which address White Privilege and White Responsibility.

But,… returning to the special issue.  Remember: human rights do not depend upon citizenshipHumanity has no borders.


Thanks to the editorial consultants for this issue: Evelyn Arizpe, Clare Bradford, Ann Gonzalez, Gabrielle Halko, Gillian Lathey, Kerry Mallan, Robyn McCallum, Mavis Reimer, Lara Saguisag, Lee Talley, Jan Van Coillie, Lies Wesseling


Other writing (by me) on this subject:


* My father was furious at me for speaking the truth. In an effort to keep the peace, I deleted the post (though, while writing this post now, have added a link from that post to the Wayback Machine’s archival record). This effort failed; dad stopped speaking to me shortly thereafter. Incidentally, ideas expressed in it emerge in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (notably, the end of Chapter 3), but (unlike the original post) do so without identifying specific individuals.

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Fight Stupidity; Keep Reading: A Dispatch from the Internationale Jugendbibliothek (on KSU English blog)

Over at Kansas State University’s English Department blog, I have a post on my three months at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Munich.  I’ll excerpt a little bit here (the first paragraph, and the conclusion) but go over there to read the whole thing (and to see more photos).


Since the first of September I have been at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek (IJB) in Munich, Germany. Why? As part of a larger cross-cultural study of diversity in children’s literature, I’m exploring how multiculturalism functions in Germany, via German picture books — chosen in part because they pose the smallest barrier to my limited (but improving!) German, and in part because what we read when we are young can have a profound impact on the adults we become. We read these books when we are still figuring out who we are and what we believe.

*        *        *

Internationale Jugendbibliothek, early November 2018

Founded in 1949, the Internationale Jugendbibliothek does a version of this work in its advocacy for international cultural education, via promoting good books for young readers. Embodying that international spirit, its staff and the fellows who study here come from around the world. During my three months at the IJB, I’ve met — and befriended — people from France, Iran, Japan, Lichtenstein, the Philippines, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Tunisia, Ukraine, and of course Germany.

Getting to know people from around the world has not only expanded my own perspective, but has developed professional relationships and friendships that will last throughout my life.

I will leave you with a phrase I saw on a shoulder-bag in Pasing train station one morning: “Lesen gefährdet die Dummheit,” which means “Reading endangers stupidity.” While combating ignorance does of course depend upon what we read, I nonetheless endorse the optimism of that statement. Fight stupidity. Keep reading.


As I say, this is but an excerpt. So, for the rest, go over to the English Dept. blog to for the rest (plus more photos).

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Context, Privilege, and Pain

Last month, there was some on-line discussion about this quote (from me) in a CNN.com article:

But Nel argues that the answer isn’t simply removing “problematic” children’s classics like Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which uses the N-word 219 times, from school reading lists.

Such stories, “if used carefully, appropriately and in context can be a way to educate people about racism,” he says.

Teaching problematic children’s classics can allow children of color to critique and disagree with a book, express anger at oppression and find the language to talk about racism while also teaching white children to identify racist ways of thinking and challenge their own racialized assumptions, Nel explains.

My thanks to all who have participated in this conversation, and my apologies for joining it a little late.

Mica Kennedy (@MicaKenBooks on Twitter) embeds the above quotation and then asks, “These texts are inherently damaging — yet somehow, it’s the job of black children to rise above and make this a teaching moment?  I. Think. The. Hell. Not.”

Dr. Debbie Reese (@debreese on Twitter) writes, “This CNN article quoting Philip Nel just makes me angry each time I look at it. Native/Kids of color will do what?!”

In response, Dr. Laura M. Jimenez (@booktoss on Twitter) writes, “There is so much wrong with the paragraph. So, so, so wrong. Mostly, @philnel’s white privilege is visible. Hell, his privilege is having a damn parade!”

These critics helpfully highlight the context absent from that quotation, and I am grateful to them for doing so. While such texts can provide a teaching moment, it is not the job of Black children to (if I may quote Mica Kennedy) “rise above and make this a teaching moment.” I can see how the above quotation might convey that impression, but I emphatically do not recommend a pedagogical practice that relies upon Black, indigenous, and children of color to educate their peers. Thanks to Ms. Kennedy, Dr. Reese, and Dr. Jimenez for their critiques.

This blog post is my attempt to publicly counter the potential harm that may be done if people walk away from the CNN.com article with the wrong impression. I wouldn’t want the excerpted quotation to enable the perpetuation of racist harm in classrooms. For example, let us imagine that a child or parent of color objects to a teacher’s inclusion of Huckleberry Finn or Little House on the Prairie, and this teacher then cites that quotation as justification for his or her argument. Indeed, should that (or something similar to that) happen, please direct the teacher to this blog post. Then, you can tell the teacher, “Actually, no. That is not what he meant at all.”

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)Here’s a little context missing from the CNN.com quotation, but present in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (2017). Bowdlerized versions of racist classics aspire to remove the racism but instead re-encode it more subtly. So, if (and only if) one is going to read those books, better to read the un-Bowdlerized versions and to do so in context — in the context of books that offer accurate representations and that debunk the racism.

That said, and as also noted in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, there are excellent reasons for not teaching or reading such books at all. Here are two paragraphs from Chapter 2 of the book:

Advocates of bowdlerizing or banning these novels correctly point to the powerful role that the original versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Doctor Dolittle have played in dehumanizing people of color. As New York librarian Isabelle Suhl wrote in 1968, “what justification can be found by anyone—and I ask this particularly of those adults who still defend Lofting—to perpetuate the racist Dolittle books? How many more generations of black children must be insulted by them and how many more white children allowed to be infected with their message of white superiority?” Racist texts can inflict real psychic damage on children of all races, but the child who is a member of the targeted group sustains deeper wounds than the child who is not. The racial ideologies of Dahl, Lofting, Travers, and Twain all but ensure that children who are (and have historically been) the targets of prejudice will suffer in ways that White children will not. The White child who encounters the n-word or Prince Bumpo or an Oompa-Loompa has the unearned privilege of not seeing people of her or his race being stereotyped. That said, as Suhl notes, such books damage White children, too, conveying to them that they are more important, and that dominating people of color is acceptable. Prejudice harms different groups in different ways, and its harmful effects are not distributed equally. Even assigning such a text risks reinforcing structural racism.

Indeed, there is a case to be made for removing racist books from grade-school curricula. Julius Lester has admitted that he is “grateful that among the many indignities inflicted on me in childhood, I escaped Huckleberry Finn.” He adds that, “as a black parent,” he sympathizes “with those who want the book banned, or at least removed from required reading lists in schools. While I am opposed to book banning, I know that my children’s education will be enhanced by not reading Huckleberry Finn.” John H. Wallace goes even further, arguing that Huckleberry Finn “should not be used with children. It is permissible to use the original Huckleberry Finn with students in graduate courses of history, English, and social science if one wants to study the perpetuation of racism.” We could develop this line of reasoning further, and argue that the best way to hasten the decline of a racist classic—and thus the racism it may propagate—is not to teach it at all, at any level.

Julius Lester on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn

The chapter then goes on to explore how racist children’s books — used in context of accurate, anti-racist children’s books — might be pedagogically useful. And it is quite specific in calling out the racism of these novels. For instance, as Jonathan Arac, Julius Lester, and many others have pointed out, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is not the progressive anti-racist classic that it’s promoted as being.

Satire or Evasion: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry FinnFor more on why not to teach Huckleberry Finn, see Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn, edited by James S. Leonard, Thomas A. Tenney, and Thadious M. Davis (1992). The book includes Julius Lester’s “Morality and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and John H. Wallace’s “The Case Against Huck Finn,” both of which I quote above.  See also Jonathan Arac’s Huckleberry Finn as Idol and Target: The Functions of Criticism in Our Time (1997), which addresses how the novel’s “hypercanonization” has obscured its racism.


On the potential dangers that racist literature poses to Black, indigenous, and children of color, see Oyate’s “Living Stories”.


For advice on how to tell whether a book is racist, see Oyate’s “How to Tell the Difference” and “Additional Criteria.”

Racism damages everyone, but inflicts greater pain on its targets. As I say in the CNN.com article, “The stories that children read at a young age tell them who matters and who doesn’t matter, who’s human and who isn’t human. A story doesn’t have to tell us that explicitly. It can tell us that by failing to represent certain groups of people — omission tells us that these groups of people are not important.”

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks to Allie Jane Bruce for alerting me to the existence of this debate. When the CNN article ran, I was (and still am) traveling, and so I noted the appearance of the piece but didn’t have a chance to do more than glance at it.

Goodbye Facebook

As you may or may not have noticed, my use of social media has declined over the past year or so. I check in on Facebook once every couple of weeks. I am still on Twitter, but (with the exception of three days in Atlanta and two in England) have been on Central European Time since the first of August. So, I am sure I’m missing conversations that I should be noticing.

I also don’t fault the CNN piece for lacking the full context. Several reasons. First, the exigencies of news media tend to lose the nuances. Elisions are endemic to the medium. Second, journalism is a tough job: writers have to balance a range of information in a very compact form, and yet manage to sustain a reader’s attention. They also may not have full editorial control. A third reason that this may not be the journalist’s fault at all: I have no recollection of the interview. When the journalist kindly wrote me to say that the piece had been published, I then noted (via our earlier embedded emails at the bottom of the note) that we had talked back in April. So, during our interview, it’s entirely possible that I failed to emphasize the context provided above. If that’s the case, then the fault is entirely mine.

Two more concluding thoughts. First, I should not take for granted that everyone is aware of the unavoidable elisions and compressions of the news media. Over the course of my career, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times. As a result, I take for granted that the entire arc of one’s argument may not appear in full. However, I recognize that my experience is unusual and so I need to do a better job monitoring — and, in cases like this, responding to — how statements are represented.

Second, and as noted in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?,

While it is impossible to grow up in a racist culture and not absorb some of its messages, it is very easy to be unconscious of what you have absorbed. That is how dominant ideologies work: their messages seep in subtly, persistently, without your noticing. When I was preparing to teach the book in a college class, I picked up Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo for the first time. As I read it, I had the unsettling experience of realizing that I already knew the story. This was not the first time I had encountered Little Black Sambo. Had I read Bannerman’s version? Or perhaps an edition with more grotesque racial caricature, such as John R. Neill’s? What other half-remembered stories (suffused with racial caricature or otherwise) were lurking in my subconscious? As I mentioned in the introduction, only when I reflect upon the racist culture of my childhood—the Gollies, the Uncle Remus stories, Little Black Sambo, the near-absence of narratives featuring people of color—can I begin to contemplate how it shaped my own racial and, yes, racist assumptions about other people. A writer, artist, or critic may not intend to perpetuate stereotypes, but—especially when left unexamined—ideology trumps intention…. [W]ell-intentioned people can still act in ways that reinforce racism, unaware that they are doing so. Since the United States is such a segregated country, White people live in an environment structured to prevent our awareness of race and racism. These geographies and the culture itself make it easy for Whites to avoid reflecting upon our raced selves. All who work in the field of children’s literature and culture need to reflect, and strive to do better.

As the critiques generously provided by Ms. Kennedy, Dr. Reese, Dr. Jimenez and others indicate, I need to do better.  Here are some resources to help all of us do better:

  • American Indians in Children’s Literature, established in 2006. Debbie Reese’s site offers “critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.”
  • Brown Bookshelf, established in 2007: “A group of authors and illustrators who came together to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.”
  • CrazyQuiltEdi‘s Diversity Resources, from Edi Campbell.
  • Latinxs in KidLit. As it says, “Exploring the world of Latinx YA, MG, and children’s literature.”
  • Lee & Low Books have many diversity initiatives, including the Diversity Baseline Survey for publishers, its Diversity Gap Studies, and many blog posts on diversity, race, and representation.
  • Oyate’s Resources “that teach respect for Native peoples, and help parents and educators to provide their children with historically accurate, culturally appropriate information about Native peoples.”
  • Reading While White, a group of White librarians pledges to “hold ourselves responsible for understanding how our whiteness impacts our perspectives and our behavior.” They publish thoughtful essays and book reviews, and offer useful resources. As they say, “As White people, we have the responsibility to change the balance of White privilege.”
  • Research on Diversity In Youth Literature, open-access journal edited by Sarah Park Dahlen and Gabrielle Halko.
  • Teaching for Change, founded in 1990, is dedicated to using education to promote social justice. As its website explains, it “provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.” The organization offers an anti-bias curriculum, resources for teaching about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, recommended books, and ways for parents to get involved.
  • We Need Diverse Books is Ellen Oh, Malinda Lo, and Aisha Saeed’s “grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” It includes resources for writers (including advice, awards, and grants) and readers (on where to find diverse books), and opportunities for you to get involved.

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Harold and the Deluxe Edition

Today (20 Oct. 2018) would be Crockett Johnson’s 112th birthday.  In commemoration of that event, here is the second of two posts for you!  The first was an interview with the author and the publisher of the new satirical book Donald and the Golden Crayon.  The second — below — is a Harold collection featuring an afterword by me!


Harold's Imagination: 3 Adventures with the Purple CrayonJust last month, HarperCollins published three Harold stories at roughly twice their original size in Harold’s Imagination: 3 Adventures with the Purple Crayon.  Which 3?  Well, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), of course.  That is followed by Harold’s Fairy Tale (1956), which in turn is followed by the final of the seven Harold books, Harold’s ABC (1963).

And after that,… a brief, illustrated afterword from yours truly.  It includes Crockett Johnson’s first published cartoon, photos of Crockett Johnson, a photo of his nephew Harold Frank (for whom Harold is named), and more!  It’s also my first time writing non-fiction for a younger audience.  I hope you enjoy it!


Harold's Imagination: Afterword (first page)


Harold's Imagination: Afterword


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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Donald and the Golden Crayon

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Today (20 Oct. 2018) would be Crockett Johnson’s 112th birthday.  In commemoration of that event, I have two — yes, two — posts for you!  The first is an interview with the author and the publisher of the new satirical book Donald and the Golden Crayon.  Enjoy!


P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: opening page

“In the middle of the night, Donald woke from his terrific sleep and cried out ‘Covfefe!’”

So begins Donald and the Golden Crayon, the first book-length parody of Crockett Johnson’s classic Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955). It’s a reminder that, prior to his Harold books, Johnson was best known as the cartoonist behind the satirical comic strip Barnaby (1942-1952), whose five-year-old title character resembles a slightly older version of Harold. Barnaby’s garrulous trickster of a fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley, was the vehicle for most of the strip’s satire —  a much more likable con-artist than the Donald who stars in this book.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: St. Basil's Cathedral

Donald and the Golden Crayon spins a tale that combines the tone and sentence structure of the Harold books with the malevolence and pettiness of Donald Trump. Near the book’s end, Donald is “tired” and so “made a cozy little place to sleep” (that strongly resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square).  Inside, “His room was beautiful, just beautiful. It had beautiful golden curtains, a tremendous golden statue, and a wonderful golden bed. It even had a steamy golden shower.” Trumpian adjectives bounce around in simple, Johnsonian sentences.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: golden showers

To me, the book reads as mockery of “President” Trump. This two-page spread (above) includes a statue of a Roman soldier brutalizing another man, and a reference to the alleged pee-pee tape — which also features in the book’s title, and the pseudonym P. Shauers. Earlier pages reference Donald’s racism,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: the wall

show Donald ignoring flood victims will displaying his ignorance about climate change,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: climate change

have Donald pollute the water,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: pollution

and so on.

Last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I talked with the book’s publisher, Pete Schiffer. He assured me that the book was not taking a side on Mr. Trump. Explaining why he was drawn to the book, he said, “we liked that the book framed a lot of the commentary without being positional.”  So, I asked…


Me: What do you mean “without being positional”?

Pete: I mean that there isn’t a position taken. It’s just the facts given. One can read into it in any direction they would like by piecing the facts together in different ways.

Me: So, you say “not positional.” I would imagine that fans of the title character may find this less enjoyable than opponents of the title character. But that’s not your take on it?

Pete: They could. Depends on what perspective they’re coming from.

Me: Really?

Pete: They could come behind it and say “Yes this is the way that things are and the way they should be” and get behind it.

Me: Really?

Pete: People have all different opinions, and I’m not one to put any words in their mouth.

Me: So, your take on this is that it’s somewhat apolitical, as a book. It doesn’t really take a side. It’s representing a moment, and that’s all. Or am I putting words in your mouth?

Pete: No, you’re not. The intention is not to take a side — to put the facts out as they are and let people decide for themselves.

Me: I know it’s only just out, but has the response confirmed that? Has the response confirmed your goal?

Pete: With people that we’ve shared it that are leaning in one direction or another, that is the response we’ve had so far is that.

Me: Interesting. The response you’ve had so far is that —?.

Pete: Depending on one’s position, they read into it based on their position.


Donald and the Golden Crayon is apolitical?  It’s true that irony does depend upon a community of readers who share the ironist’s understanding of the subject.  So, I could see how fans of 45 might enjoy simple sentence structures and spare illustrations that depict their hero’s cruelty, racism, and ignorance.  While I could imagine readers not getting the satire, I am skeptical of the claim that the book does not take a side.  Happily, the publisher very kindly put me in touch with Mr. P. Shauers himself, and we had the following conversation via email.


Nel: In talking with Pete (your publisher) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was struck by his comment that he sees Donald and the Golden Crayon as essentially apolitical.  He said that both critics and fans of Mr. Trump have enjoyed the book.  Your chosen pseudonym and the book’s mimicry of Mr. Trump’s sentences led me to interpret this as a more politically engaged work — specifically, as more anti-Trump than pro-Trump.  So, let me ask you.  Would you describe Donald and the Golden Crayon as more of a fond homage to Mr. Trump or more of a sustained mockery of Mr. Trump?   Or how would you describe the book’s political leanings?

Shauers: Oh, it’s a mockery.  I think what my publisher was talking about is that everything in the book is factual, based on real quotes or events.  So, in that sense it is neutral, but the way Donald is portrayed is definitely meant to have him come off as cold and cruel as possible.  I’m very anti-Trump.  I’ve never been too political, because I often don’t really get what’s going on.  I don’t understand global economics, how deficits work, or what tariffs are good or bad.  But with Trump, it’s his daily cruelty and nastiness that gets me.  It’s the lying and bullying and company he keeps that motivated me to draw this book.

I made an odd connection while working on this…when I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty non-stop for a few years.  And no matter how bad it got, the school never did much about it.  It made me feel as if the grown-ups weren’t doing their job, and if they wouldn’t make the bullying stop, who would? I’ve been experiencing the same powerless feelings how since the election.  So I fight back with paper and pen.

Nel: Who do you see as the audience for Donald and the Golden Crayon?  (Adults only?  Some children?  Conservatives?  Liberals?  Crockett Johnson fans?)

Shauers: I see the audience as adults who are not fans of Trump, and possibly need a good laugh.  I don’t kids will really get what’s going on with it.  While making the book I have met some conservative people who are sickened by Trump, and they have found the book to be humorous.  Which goes back to what the publisher was saying that both sides could enjoy it.  I don’t think any fanatical MAGA’s will enjoy it, in fact we’re hoping for some negative press from the deplorables.  I do hope the picture book community finds the book funny.

Nel: If you don’t mind my asking, how do you identify, politically?  (If you do mind my asking, then just skip this question.)

Shauers: I’m a liberal, and find myself getting more and more so as I get older, and I see what’s going on these days.  I was raised in a really conservative, white town and the racism and narrow-mindedness I saw growing up left a mark on me.  I moved to NYC when I was 18 as I couldn’t get out fast enough.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 27 Apr 1945

Nel: Though his politics are largely invisible in the Harold books, Johnson’s earlier work had more of a satirical edge — Barnaby, most famously.  Do you know the Barnaby comics?  Did they at all influence your decision to draw upon the Harold books in your parody?

Shauers: You know, I’ve read some Barnaby, but not in a long time, and only a bit of it.  I don’t really “know” it. It’s been on my radar to reinvestigate it again.

Nel: What influenced your decision to choose the Harold stories as the vehicle for your satire?  I ask because this is the first book-length parody of any of Johnson’s works.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverShauers: The idea to use Harold as a base for the parody came up last year. It seems that there were some attempts to make some new Harold books, and my agent had thrown my hat in the ring as a writer/illustrator.  I didn’t get the project, and I don’t know what happened to it.  While I was thinking about it, the similarity between Harold and Donald popped into my mind, and I knew Trump signed everything with a golden sharpie, so that was the stepping off point. 

I looked at Harold closely, and was thinking about how he makes the world as he sees it, and makes it up as he goes. Which is what Trump does, and it just seemed to click.  If you have to think too hard about connections within a parody, it’s not working.

Nel: In your book, what motivated the choice of Donald’s Pulp Fiction/mobster suit?  Black (instead of Harold’s white jumper) so that you could stick to a limited color palette (as Johnson did)?  Visual allusion to Trump’s mob affiliations?  Something else?

Shauers: Hah!  The mob connection never crossed my mind. I tried a blue suit/red tie, which is much more his style, but it wasn’t minimal enough.  I really wanted it to feel like a Harold book, and they only use different values of purple, and shades of black.  I did keep his little footy pajamas, and they were very fun to draw.

Nel: If Harold met Donald, what would Harold do (or draw or say)?

Shauers: Yikes.  Let’s keep all the children away from Donald.

Nel: Your publisher said that the “P. Shauers” pseudonym was simply to avoid any confusion between this book and your many (over 40!) children’s books.  Are there other reasons for the pseudonym?  Is it say, easier, to write about Mr. Trump under the guise of a pseudonym?  Have you any plans to reveal your true identity?

Shauers: I used a pseudonym because I have been writing and illustrating for children since 1995.  I didn’t want any librarians to think this was for kids, and I didn’t want any right-wing nutjobs to go after my books in any way.  It just seemed easier and cleaner.  Recently, I had a school librarian scold me for talking politics while on my “real name” Twitter account. She said she was very offended and wouldn’t buy any of my books. So, I’m glad I chose to use P. Shauers for this.  Plus, it’s an easy gag. (David Milgrim used Ann Droid on his Goodnight iPad for the same reasons.) 


If you enjoy political commentary in the guise of a children’s book, you’ll enjoy Donald and the Golden Crayon.  It’s a clever parody, and its thin-skinned satirical target not only lacks a sense of humor, but hates to be mocked by others.  So, let us continue to mock him.

Finally, if you’re an American citizen reading this, please vote!  The restoration of our democracy depends upon you.

Follow P. Shauers on Twitter via: @thegoldencrayon


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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How I Spent My Summer “Vacation”

I wrote this for Kansas State University’s Department of English blog — we were asked to write about what we did over the summer.  But I wrote a little more than the blog needs.  So, we’re running an excerpt on the English blog, and I’m printing the full version here.


“Being a professor means you get the summers off!”

— frequently expressed misunderstanding

“HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa….  And no.”

— response from professors to this misunderstanding

Writing of the work I did this summer risks losing an (admittedly small) audience after this first sentence. But making academic labor visible helps correct the common (and false) impression that professors do not work in the summers. As is true of many jobs today, there is no clear boundary between work and not-work. Technology allows us to bring work with us everywhere, and creates the expectation that we do just that. Also, academic labor doesn’t really break down into discreet parts. Professors think, write and edit (articles, books, grant proposals, letters of recommendation, committee reports), evaluate manuscripts (of articles and books), prepare for class and grade student papers where and when we find the time.

At the risk of causing your eyes to glaze over, here’s a paragraph on some of the work I did this summer. (Feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph.) I built my fall on-line Literature for Adolescents class: each week, I created two weeks of curriculum (4-6 video lectures/sets of discussion questions, 2 quizzes) and did related preparation (including reading the books, refining the recurring journal assignment, creating grading rubrics, etc.).  I wrote the introduction to a special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly on Refugees, Migration and Diaspora in Children’s Literature, and edited the 6 essays that will appear in that issue.  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)I wrote a new Afterword to the forthcoming paperback edition of my most recent book — and presented a version of that afterword at a conference in San Antonio.  With my two co-editors, I worked on editing the second edition of Keywords for Children’s Literature, which has about 60 contributors. We co-editors occasionally met via Skype (my two co-editors are based in Canada and in Denmark, respectively), and we began writing that book’s introduction. I studied German with a tutor, in preparation for fall research in Germany (where I am now). I reviewed a book manuscript for a press, at least one article for a journal, and three dozen applications for an award. I drafted an invited talk I am giving in Stockholm in November. I appeared on a podcast and spoke with a few journalists. Since the waning attention of my remaining reader is doubtless about to evaporate, I’ll end the work chronicle here.

I am very lucky to have a job I enjoy, and to do work that I find meaningful. But interesting work is still work: indeed, the fact that we derive meaning from our work risks refashioning labor as leisure. “Hey, we may work 60 hours week, but at least we like what we do! Many people work many more hours, dislike the work, and are paid even worse!” But that is a dangerous line of thinking. It insists upon gratitude for lesser degrees of exploitation, when we should instead demand that all work receive respect, appropriate compensation and adequate vacation.

inflatable flower, NYC, July 2018

Though it violates the American belief that everyone work all the time (and must feel guilty if they do not), I have been making an effort to do less — and to actually take some time to spend with friends and family. In May, I attended my 30th high school reunion and visited family and friends in New England. In July, Karin and I went to New York City, where we saw three excellent and very different plays: Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical (a delightfully absurd, whimsical spectacle about the [possible] end of the world), Cypress Avenue (a disturbing mixture of comedy and Greek tragedy that satirically takes racism/prejudice to its most extreme), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 (fun, effective melodrama, magnificently staged and costumed). In August, I accompanied my mother to a family reunion in Switzerland, where we saw relatives from the UK, South Africa, and (obviously) Switzerland. My family is very spread out geographically, and so we don’t get to see each other often: I in particular very much enjoyed catching up with one cousin whom I had not seen in over three decades.

family in Alps

I of course worked during these vacations — but not as much.  For instance, during the family reunion, in the hour before others were up and in the hour after they’d gone to bed, I worked on the introduction to the second edition of Keywords for Children’s Literature.  So, yeah, despite my efforts, I find myself unable to let a day pass without doing any work. (This is a problem, I know.)

So, in sum, I had a great summer — busy, productive, interesting. I even managed a healthier balance of labor and leisure, though should still strive for more of the latter. I hope you all enjoyed your summers and are having an invigorating fall semester, and that you’re able to manage the right combination of hard work and necessary rest.


Images:
  1. Cover to Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, 2017), designed by Lucas Heinrich.
  2. “Rose” from the collection “Grown Up Flowers” by PLAYLAB, INC. (2018), hosted by The Avenue of the Americas Association & Rockefeller Group, 1221 Sixth Ave, NYC. July 2018.
  3. Photo taken by Linda Nel. Lac de Moiry, Grimentz, Switzerland. August 2018.

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The Archive of Childhood, Part 3: Earliest Memories

The third in my occasional “Archives of Childhood” series.



What are your earliest memories?

Recent conversations with family and friends have challenged my assumption that most people remember early childhood. I now wonder if it is mostly creators and scholars of children’s literature — the people who, admittedly, I talk to most often — who recall their formative years most clearly.

My earliest memory dates to my crib days. I remember the mobile that hung above my crib. I liked the shapes. Watching them rotate fascinated me. I lay on my back, looking up at them.

My earliest narrative memory dates to 2 years old. I woke up from an afternoon nap in what was either my crib or a bed with bars on its sides: one of the long sides faced the room, and the other faced the wall. My teddy bear had what we called “googly eyes” — each pupil is a black disc inside a larger clear circular disc. googly eyesWhen you moved the bear, the pupils would jostle around. However, the eyes had come loose. My picking at them made them looser. As I picked at them further, they came off.

Teddy was now eyeless.  I was sad.  My carelessness had blinded him.

So, with Teddy, I climbed over the bars of the crib, and dropped to the floor.  Quite likely, I threw Teddy to the floor first, and then climbed over the bars second.  I remember thinking that if mommy saw that I was sad, she would be more sympathetic and would respond with urgency — swiftly finding a way to restore Teddy’s sight. (Perhaps the eyes could be stuck back on?)

The author, Teddy, and Panda, c. 1972

From the vantage point of adulthood, I now know that she would have been sympathetic even if I were not crying. But the two-year-old me drew upon my sadness to manufacture tears.

When her crying son arrived with his eyeless Teddy, mommy proposed a fix. She would sew new eyes for Teddy. You can see the result in the photo at right. That’s me, at about the age of three, with my good friends and confidants Teddy (whose new threadymade-eyes seem already to have come a bit unraveled) and Panda.

My Book About Me by Dr. Seuss, Roy McKie, and Philip Nel, age 7.At the time, I thought of this incident as “when I got my memory.” In my copy of My Book About Me (in which the young reader answers questions), under “What is the first thing you remember?” I wrote “When I got my memory.” That opaque sentence fragment refers to the Teddy Incident, although only I knew that.

I then thought of my life as before acquiring memory and after acquiring memory — as if the beginning of memory happens all at once. After the Teddy Incident, I had memories. Prior to the Teddy Incident, I had no memories.

This early understanding of memory derived from the fact that after that day, I remembered what had happened on the day previous. Two days later, I looked back on the previous two days and found that I could remember both Teddy’s temporary blinding and events of the following day.  Three days later, I looked back on the previous three days and learned that I retained bits of all three days — though I cannot now recall anything that happened on the latter two days. At the time, I could and it was a revelation: I had gained the capacity to look back and reflect on my past! And it all began with the Teddy Incident — when I got my memory.

Yet I did have even earlier memories, but — in my childhood mind — they were mere impressions and not actual memories. A real memory had some narrative, or perhaps a sharper emotional content. For me, those “real” memories began with sorrow over my accidentally, briefly blinded teddy bear, and my mother’s compassionate response.

I have many other memories from my earliest days. Do you? Or is it unusual for memories to extend back that far?

Maurice Sendak, 2011

As I say, perhaps such extended memories more commonly afflict people who write and study books for young people. Maurice Sendak* once noted that his “needle [was] stuck in childhood.”

So is mine.


* Pictured above, late in his life.  I neglected to note the source of the photo, but I used it in my tribute to him, the day after he died. On this blog, there are quite a few posts tagged Maurice Sendak. Why not peruse a few?

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Ruth Krauss in 1951

Ruth Krauss: photo from 1951 Herald Tribune Book News

In honor of Ruth Krauss’s 117th birthday (today, which she would have celebrated as her 107th birthday), here’s a photo you likely have not seen before.  It appeared in the May 12, 1951 issue of the Herald Tribune Book News, which described Krauss’s latest book (I Can Fly, illustrated by Mary Blair) as follows: “Very small girl pretends to be every sort of creature. Amusing rhymed text, beautiful full color. For 3 to 5 years.”  I don’t know when the photo was taken, though I think it is roughly contemporaneous.  She has this hairstyle in the 1940s and 1950s.  I do know that I have never seen this photo reproduced anywhere else.

New York Times Book Review: Ruth Krauss' The Carrot Seed

The Carrot SeedRuth Krauss and Marc Simont, The Happy Day (1949)In 1951, Krauss was the author of one massive hit — The Carrot Seed (1945), illustrated by Crockett Johnson (also her husband) — and The Happy Day (1949), which won a Caldecott Honor for Marc Simont’s artwork.  Of her other seven books from that period (1944-1951), only The Backward Day (1950, also illustrated by Simont) and Bears (1948, illus. by Phyllis Rowand) are remembered today.  And Bears is known primarily for Maurice Sendak’s re-illustrated version, published in 2005.

Maurice Sendak in his 20s, New York City

Also in 1951, the 50-year-old Krauss met the 23-year-old Sendak (pictured above), who was then an F.A.O. Schwarz window display artist who had illustrated two books for Harper.  The meeting would transform both of their careers.  He would illustrate eight of her books, often spending weekends at her Connecticut home, where she and Johnson — as Sendak says — “became my weekend parents and took on the job of shaping me into an artist.”

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, A Hole Is to Dig (1952): "Mud is to jump in and slide in..."

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, A Very Special House (1953)Their first collaboration was the cultural phenomenon A Hole Is to Dig (1952, from which you can see a two-page spread, above this sentence).  Their second was A Very Special House (1953), which won Sendak a Caldecott Honor — his first of many.  They would collaborate on eight books between 1952 and 1960.  More importantly, their collaborations officially launched Sendak’s career as the great 20th-century artist for children.

Krauss could not have known any of that when this photo was published.  Nor could she guess that, though she and Sendak would later have a bit of a falling out, he would come to visit her during her final year of life.  Because he needed to tell her how much she meant to him.  And to kiss her goodbye.

This photo of Ruth, sitting cross-legged on the grass, captures her youthfulness — a youthfulness that allowed her to lie convincingly about her age well into her old age.  It also evokes her affinity for children: she liked to sit with them, and listen as they told stories.  Because she treated them as her equals, children accepted her into their community. They would talk or play, and she would listen. And take notes.

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)There are many posts on this blog tagged Ruth Krauss or Maurice Sendak.  In honor of her birthday, why not read a few?  And, of course, you can learn more about them both in my biography of Krauss and Crockett Johnson — check it out of your local library today!


Source for press clippings (at top of post): Betty Hahn, wife of Ruth’s cousin Richard Hahn and a very important source for her (Ruth’s) early years, sent me these.  Thanks, Betty!  Source for photo of Sendak in his 20s: The year before he passed away, Maurice sent me a scan of this photo for use in my bio. (I’d asked for a photo of him at the time he met Ruth.)

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Why Trump Jails Crying Children. How We Resist. (A Twitter Essay)


Related posts on this blog

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Literature for Adolescents (Fall 2018): sneak preview

English 545: Literature for Adolescents (2018)

This fall, I am teaching English 545: Literature for Adolescents on-line for the first time.  That is, this is the first time I’m teaching the course on-line.  It’s the umpteenth time I’ve taught the course, and the second time I’ve taught on-line.

One thing I learned from teaching on-line this past spring: Build the entire course before the term begins.  And, yes, I learned that because I failed to do it.  So, I am building it now.  This week, I finished the curriculum for the first two weeks.  In case others may find it useful, I’m sharing that below.  (Scroll down.)

A word or two about what’s not in this blog post.  Missing are the ensuing discussion, my responses to students’ responses, quizzes, my responses to the quizzes, the full syllabus, and resources on the course’s Canvas site.  In other words, this is a partial representation of those first couple of weeks.

Here are the main literary texts we will read:

  • Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak.
  • M.T. Anderson, Feed.
  • Kristin Cashore, Graceling.
  • Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves.
  • Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion.
  • Kiese Laymon, Long Division.
  • E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
  • Malinda Lo, Ash.
  • Walter Dean Myers, Monster.
  • Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Francisco X. Stork, Marcello in the Real World.
  • Angie Thomas, The Hate You Give.
  • Jacqueline Woodson, After Tupac & D. Foster.
  • Ibi Zoboi, American Street.

There will also be a few versions of “Cinderella” (both in preparation for Malinda Lo’s Ash and to get students thinking about the “YA” in many fairy tales), and a few secondary texts, all of which I will either link to or provide a pdf (available via Canvas).  I’m really excited about the novels, three of which are from 2017 — and thus I’m teaching them for the very first time.  I’m also teaching Ash (2009) for the first time.​

Thomas, The Hate U Give Malinda Lo, Ash Zoboi, American Street Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves

I never teach a class exactly the same way twice.  I’m always trying to improve.  Now that I’m teaching on-line, I am also trying to improve my skills as a creator of videos!  That learning curve is represented below: the second video is (I think) the weakest, and video #1 has some strengths but needs snappier editing.  By three and four, the edits are improving.  And the fifth (the first one on E. Lockhart’s Frankie Landau-Banks) is the best thus far.



WEEK 1

week #1, discussion #1: Intro.

I’ll repeat the questions from the video below.

1. What’s your name? And what do you prefer to be called?

2. Where are you from? And where are you located now, while you’re taking this class?

3. Here are our course’s objectives. Listen to them because at the end, I will ask you (A) which of our course objectives are you most looking forward to meeting? And (B) which objective do you think will be the most challenging for you?

This class will introduce you to a range of literature for adolescents, and develop your critical skills in reading these works. We will study works that feature adolescent characters, depict experiences familiar to adolescents, and are taught to or read by adolescents. We will approach these works from a variety of critical perspectives (including formalist, psychoanalytic, queer theory, feminist, Marxist, historical, postcolonial, ecological) — perspectives that many high schools want their teachers to know. In summary, this course will be about different kinds of literature read by young adults, approaches to thinking about this literature, and adolescence’s relationship to power. We will develop these skills via writing a once-weekly journal, participating in class discussions, taking a weekly quiz, and completing these and any other assignments on time.

Now that you know the course’s objectives, (A) which of our course objectives are you most looking forward to meeting?  And (B) which objective do you think will be the most challenging for you?  (C) Do you have any other objectives?  If so, please list them.

4. Your adolescence is very likely far more recent than mine. And yet I know that high school and college are different — that you have very likely changed at least a little since high school… and possibly quite a lot. So, my third question is this.  Describe your adolescence in one word.  And why do you choose that word to describe your adolescence?  The why is important.

5. Have you taken an on-line class before?

Format for answer: VIDEO


week #1, discussion #2: Adolescence, YA Literature, and… J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (through Chapter 10)

Part I: Adolescence & YA Literature

Repeating (below) the questions from the video (above) —

1. What is adolescence?

2. What are the social characteristics of adolescence?

3. Drawing on Lee Talley’s essay, what is “Young Adult”?

Format for answer: TEXT


Part II: J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), through Chapter 10

Those two questions I asked you on day 1 — now is the time to answer them.

1. On page 1, Holden tells us “I had to come out here and take it easy.” Where is here? From where is he narrating this story?  And how do you know?  Beyond the quotation I called your attention to, offer a supporting quotation or quotations from the text that tells you where he is when he is telling the story (as opposed to where he is when it happens).

2. Once more, M.H. Abrams’ classic definition of the unreliable narrator:

The fallible or unreliable narrator is one whose perception, interpretation, and evaluation of the matters he or she narrates do not coincide with the implicit opinions and norms manifested by the author, which the author expects the alert reader to share. (A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed., p. 168)

And… I asked you to track Holden’s unreliability.  So. offer a couple of examples where you see the narrator’s perception in tension with those “implicit opinions and norms” of the book.

Format for answer: TEXT


Questions to think about for next class (not this one) —

1. Symbols! This is why English teachers like the book. Holden keeps returning to ideas and objects that he invests with significance — this is how he conveys his emotional truths.  The red hunting hat.  The question of where the ducks go in the winter.  The “Little Shirley Beans” record.  Childhood (his own and his sister Phoebe’s).  And, of course, the title of the novel itself.  So, my question is this: track a symbol.  Where does it recur and why?  That is, what does it mean?

2. By the end of the novel, what (if anything) has Holden learned?  And what’s next for Holden?

3. In addition to finishing the novel, I’ve also asked you to read my “7 questions we should ask about children’s literature.” Pay particular attention to the first of those 7 — What does this book present as normal? Apply that question to the novel, following up with these more specific questions that I have 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?

4. Why has this novel become such a cultural touchstone? Should it be a cultural touchstone?  Indeed, should it be on this syllabus?  That last question is not a trick question.  First of all, I’m always changing this syllabus, and I don’t always include The Catcher in the Rye.  Second, you should question what’s on this syllabus.  For this class, there are millions of books to choose from.  Should Catcher in the Rye be among these 15?

Again, these last 4 questions are for next time.


week #1, discussion #3: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (to end)

Answer the question that corresponds with your group number.  Post your comment, drawing on examples from the book — remember the importance of close reading.  Quote from the text to support your arguments. And then please respond to at least one other person in your group — ideally to two or three.  Post your initial comment before the due date (end of Friday) for this discussion.  If your responses to others’ occur after that, it’s OK — the discussion will still be enter-able for a week after the due date.  Try to chime in as soon after the deadline as you can. I realize that we are all having a conversation asynchronously.  Do your best.


1. As I say, I think all the symbols are why English teachers like the book. Holden keeps returning to ideas and objects that he invests with personal significance — this is how he conveys his emotional truths. He’s not likely to say, directly, “I’m afraid of adulthood” or “I miss my brother Allie” or “I feel vulnerable.” No, he’s going to put on his red hunting hat. He’s going to wonder about where the ducks go in the winter. He’s going to search for and then carry around the “Little Shirley Beans” record.  He’s going to talk about childhood (his own and his sister Phoebe’s).  And, of course, his fantasy of becoming a catcher in the rye  So, I asked you to track a symbol.  Where does it recur and why?  That is, what does it mean?


2. By the end of the novel, what (if anything) has Holden learned? And what’s next for Holden? Holden talks about wanting to be a catcher in the rye: “Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff” (173). He talks about pretending he’s a deaf mute, living in a cabin near the woods (198-99, 204-05). He tries to erase all of the fuck yous realizes he can’t: “If you had a million years to do it, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world.  It’s impossible” (202).  People keep “asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September.  It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion.  I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it?  The answer is, you don’t.  I think I am, but how do I know?  I swear it’s a stupid question” (213).  That he asks himself this question at the end tells us what?  Will he apply himself? Will he follow Antolini’s advice to learn from other writers?


3. So, I also asked you to read my “7 questions we should ask about children’s literature” and to pay particular attention to the first of those 7 — What does this book present as normal? Apply that question to the novel, following 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?

I am asking you these questions because I want you to think critically about this novel and all novels we read.  You do not need to agree with or like or enjoy each novel on the syllabus.  I ask that you make an attempt to understand each work, but I also invite you — I encourage you — to raise critical questions about each work — backing up your critique with examples from the book.


4. Finally, a big question: Why has this novel become such a cultural touchstone? Should it be a cultural touchstone? And should it be on this syllabus? As I said last time, that question is not a trick question.  (1) I’m always changing this syllabus, and I don’t always include The Catcher in the Rye.  (2) You should question what’s on this syllabus.  Of the millions of Young Adult books we could read, should Catcher in the Rye be among the mere 15 on the syllabus?  Key here as in all questions is defending your answer with examples from the book.

Format for answer: TEXT


Don’t forget: journal entry due Sunday night!


Next time: E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  Its placement next on the syllabus is not accidental.  So, you might consider her novel as being in conversation with Salinger’s novel.  What would Lockhart’s book say to Salinger’s book?  Each book features a protagonist inclined to rebel — against what does each protagonist rebel?  And what does each protagonist accept?  You might compare/contrast a bit as you read.


WEEK 2

week #2, discussion #1: E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2008), through “Broken Date”

1. Let’s start with an exercise in close-reading.  How does the novel’s opening letter position you, the reader?  (Read the letter that opens the novel.)

A. What are the key words or phrases in that opening letter? Why?

B. What questions does the letter raise about the novel you are about to read?

C. What clues does the letter give you for the novel that you are about to read?

D. And where does the letter position you in relation to the novel’s main character, Frankie Landau-Banks? What sort of relationship does it invite?  Are you sympathetic?  Unsympathetic?

Sketch out some answers to these questions, referring to specifics in that opening letter — actually quoting them — in your response.  Feel free to refer to moments beyond that opening letter, too.


2. What questions does Frankie (and the novel itself) raise about masculinity and femininity? That is, how might it invite us to think critically about the gender roles that we’re encouraged to inhabit — “acceptable” versions of masculinity and femininity?  Point to a few examples.  And one last question for part 2 of our discussion: If she landed in The Catcher in the Rye or he landed in her novel, what would Frankie say to Holden?


3. What is the panopticon? How does it work as a system of control? And… what might it tell us about adolescence — or, if you like, about Frankie?

Don’t forget to cite specifics from the novel in your answers!

Format for answer: TEXT


week #2, discussion #2: E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, to end

1. Here is a more succinct version of this question than what’s included in the video: Does the novel propose the idea that women/girls and men/boys use power differently?  In what ways might it be helpful to think of power as distinctly gendered?  In what ways might that not be helpful to understand power as gendered?

Here is the longer version, which I offer mostly for the citations therein. Several times, Frankie notes how the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds — that bastion of patriarchal privilege — fosters bonding, “togetherness,” “connection” (see pp. 195, 221, 222). She longs for such a bond herself… but doesn’t get one. At the end, we learn that, while Trish is a “loyal friend,” “Trish’s lack of understanding is a condition of that loyalty” (338). Does Frankie’s lack of a female cohort undermine the feminist critique of patriarchy, expressed elsewhere in the novel? Is it positing that women’s power works differently (a version of Elizabeth’s argument in the debate, pp. 160-165)? If so, does that difference contradict Frankie’s frequent critique of the “double standard” she faces as a girl?  Or, whether it is or is not contradictory, might it be positing an alternate form of power?


2. Near the end of the novel, Porter asks, “Why did you do all that, Frankie?” She answers his question with two questions: “Have you ever heard of the panopticon?” And “Have you ever been in love?” (329). What do these two questions tell you about her motivations?  And why do you suppose Lockhart does not have Frankie elaborate?  Finally, how might these two questions influence our interpretation of the novel?


3. E. Lockhart has said that there will be no sequel to this novel. Her narrator, however, does offer two possibilities for Frankie’s future (336-337): “They sometimes go crazy, these people” or they “change the world” (337). Defending your answer with examples from this book, which future is more likely? Make sure you refer to the final chapter.


Please respond to at least one other comment in your group.  As before, post your initial comment before the deadline; your second (and third, etc.) can fall after the deadline.

Format for answer: TEXT


Don’t forget: journal entry due Sunday night, and quiz due Monday night.

For next week, we’re reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (1999).  Talk to you then!



Incidentally, I’ve been posting these on YouTube because the Hale Library fire knocked our course infrastructure system (Canvas) for a loop.  Its video-sharing apparatus (MyMediaSite) hasn’t been working.  So, I decided to use my YouTube channel.  I haven’t yet decided if I will post all Literature for Adolescents course videos on YouTube… or just do so until the university’s Canvas site stabilizes again.*

The main downside is that students will be able to see the videos far ahead of two weeks in advance.  Following the advice of other on-line teachers, I make visible curriculum for only two weeks into the future.  The philosophy behind that is you don’t want a student to rush through the class.  They should proceed at roughly the pace of the semester, learning as they go, improving their discussion responses etc. in response to feedback from me and other students. Showing them two weeks into the future allows them to better manage their time — and work ahead if their schedule demands that.

The upside is the possibility that these videos might be useful to other teachers or students of Literature for Adolescents.  If you do find any of these useful, let me know.  Also, if you spot any mistakes or have suggestions, let me know — though keep in mind that you are not seeing all of the teaching.  I will be joining the students’ discussion — typically via text, though sometimes via video.  And my responses to their discussion will sometimes result in additional readings — always brief ones, but useful ones.

That’s all for now.


* A public thanks to everyone working in K-State’s ITS, Telecommunications, and all who have been putting in long hours to get the university fully on-line again.  I appreciate it!  And so do my fellow faculty members!

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