You’re a mean one, Dr. Nel. Your voice is full of gunk!

GrinchThe holidays! When people sing — and expect you to sing. Except, perhaps, you don’t want to sing. Maybe you are shy. Or self-conscious about your voice. Or you imagine that everyone else sings better than you do.

Well, worry no more!  I am here to cure your self-consciousness, and to prove that many people are much, much worse singers. Me, for example. So, here I am performing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” — the lyrics of Dr. Seuss, and music of Albert Hague — from the 1966 TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

To cleanse your palate after that, here’s the original, as performed by Thurl Ravenscroft. No, Boris Karloff does not sing the songs in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! He does the narration only. All songs are performed by the late great Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005) — whom you may also know as the voice of Tony the Tiger (“They’re grrrrreat!”). Learn more about him at All Things Thurl.

May your bingle balls brighten, your whofoo fluff lighten, your pantookas heighten, and your bizzle-binks delight ’em.  Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Solstice!  Festive Festivus!  Indeed, happy Whatever-You-Would-Like-to-Celebrate!

(It’s been a tough year.  Do not deny yourself joy.  Find light where you can.  Take care of yourself.  Tougher times lie ahead.  During the holidays, do your best to recharge your spirit.  Peace.)

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Was the Cat in the Hat Black? — cover reveal

Here is the cover for my next book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, forthcoming from Oxford University Press in July 2017.  Since it (the cover) is now on some websites (notably Oxford UP & Amazon.com), I thought I’d share it here.

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)

THANKS to Oxford UP’s Lucas Heinrich for his design and editor Sarah Pirovitz for her tolerance of my perfectionism.* And thanks to aesthetically adept friends who shared their thoughts on the cover: Megan Montague Cash, Mark Newgarden, Mervi Pakaste, and Dan Warner.  Thanks also to all of my colleagues who I polled on a rather minor distinction between two versions of the cover.

While I’m offering a preview of the cover, here’s a preview of the…

Table of Contents

Introduction: Race, Racism, and the Cultures of Childhood

1. The Strange Career of the Cat in the Hat; or, Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination

2. How to Read Uncomfortably: Racism, Affect, and Classic Children’s Books

3. Whiteness, Nostalgia, and Fantastic Flying Books: William Joyce’s Racial Erasures vs. Hurricane Katrina

4. Don’t Judge a Book by Its Color: The Destructive Fantasy of Whitewashing (and Vice-Versa)

5. Childhoods “Outside the Boundaries of Imagination”: Genre is the New Jim Crow

Conclusion: A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children’s Literature

_________________

*Just to be clear: we made only minor tweaks to Mr. Heinrich’s design. This is a testament to his talents.  I’m very particular about covers!  (A few proposed book covers — none of which were seen publicly in that form — have yielded a fair bit of email debate between me and the publisher of the work.  This one yielded hardly any such debate… because it’s great!)

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

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2017

MLA 2017 in Philadelphia (logo)In January, before the kleptocracy,

In Philly, mourning an ailing democracy,

Find comfort, anxiety, knowledge, and despair!

(When academics gather, these tend to be there.)

January fifth through eighth, at the MLA,

We’ll meet and think. We’ll eat and drink. What do you say?

Ahem. Here are all the sessions on children’s literature and/or comics/graphic novels at the 2017 MLA in Philadelphia. What do I mean by “all”?  Well, I did not count sessions with a single paper on comics/graphic novels. To be included here, at least 50% of the session must be devoted to children’s/YA literature, comics/graphic novels, or cultures of childhood more generally.  If I wasn’t sure, I erred on the side of inclusion.

Note: Clicking on the session number will take you directly to the MLA’s on-line program, which is my source for all of this information.


9. Reimagining Adolescence: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 102B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Nancy C. Backes, Cardinal Stritch Univ.

  1. “Austen and Adolescence,” Shawn Lisa Maurer, Coll. of the Holy Cross
  2. “Adultescents, Kidults, and Rejuveniles: Children’s Literature for Adults and Remapping the Boundaries of Age and Audience,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “The Inertia of Male Adolescence,” David Bleich, Univ. of Rochester

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27. Getting Religion: Children’s Literature as Sacred Text

Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 111B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the forums GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature and TC Religion and Literature

Presiding: Lisa M. Gordis, Barnard Coll.; Karin E. Westman, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “Intertwining Histories: Catechisms and the Emergence of Eighteenth-Century Children’s Literature,”Gabrielle Owen, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
  2. “Christian Science Children’s Fiction, 1900–10,” Anne Stiles, St. Louis Univ.
  3. “Nazi Children’s Literature and the Formation of the Holy Reich,” Michael Lackey, Univ. of Minnesota, Morris
  4. “Characterizing Religion: The Lives and Afterlives of Stock Religious Characters in Japanese Picturebooks from the 1950s to the Present,” Heather Blair, Indiana Univ., Bloomington

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189. Reading and Seeing Modernism and Graphic Narrative: Form, Medium, Aesthetics

Friday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 111B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Andrew Hoberek, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia

Speakers: Olivia Badoi, Fordham Univ.; Sheila Liming, Univ. of North Dakota; Ben Novotny Owen, Ohio State Univ., Columbus; John Paul Riquelme, Boston Univ.; Janine M. Utell, Widener Univ.

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

Participants examine graphic narrative and modernism from a critical stance shaped by emphasis on comics as formal container for responses to modernity. We pay attention to narrative and its devices; print technology, artistic medium, and their relation to aesthetics; and memory and the conceptual.

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210. Graphic Narratives

Friday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 410, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

Presiding: Cesar Braga-Pinto, Northwestern Univ.

  1. “Superbacana: Songs, Graphic Narratives, and Social Tension in the Late 1960s in Brazil,” Carlos Pires, Universidade de São Paulo
  2. “Comics Poetry and Poema/Processo,” Jonathan R. Bass, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
  3. “Brazilian Quadrinistas and the Franco-Belgian Market of Science Fiction and Fantasy Graphic Novels: A Marriage of Convenience,” Henri-Simon Blanc-Hoang, Defense Language Inst.
  4. “Graphic Spaces of Rights,” Leila Maria Lehnen, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

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244. Remediating Boundaries between Children’s Print and Digital Media

Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 305-306, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Presiding: Peter Kunze, Univ. of Texas, Austin

  1. “Pat, Press, and Spot: Translating Tactility between Traditional and Technological Books,” Emily Brooks, Univ. of Florida
  2. “Young Adult Literature and the Queer Politics of Artistic Fan Production,” Angel Matos, Bowdoin Coll.
  3. “The Hero of Time: Shigeru Miyamoto’s The Legend of Zelda as Children’s Literature,” Chamutal Noimann, Borough of Manhattan Community Coll., City Univ. of New York

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281. “Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound”: Psychoanalysis, Comics, and Architecture

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 112A, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the American Psychoanalytic Association

Presiding: Vera J. Camden, Kent State Univ., Kent

Speakers: Frederik Byrn Køhlert, Univ. of Calgary; Jimenez Lai, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Nick Sousanis, San Francisco State Univ.; Jon Yoder, Kent State Univ., Kent

Session Description:

Once considered pure pulp, comics now prevail in architecture studios, psychoanalytic institutes, and university classrooms, as well as in myriad public spaces. This session represents architecture, psychoanalysis, educational psychology, and literature to consider the ways that comics “bound” over disciplinary silos to capture buildings, bodies, and minds in lived environments.

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282. “I Die Daily”: Police Brutality, Black Bodies, and the Force of Children’s Literature

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 106B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Michelle Hite, Spelman Coll.

  1. “Postracial, but Not Postracism: The Romanticization of the Plantation South and the Whitewashing of History in Raina Telgemeier’s Drama,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “The Promise and Challenge of History: Reckoning with Racism in Out of Darkness,” Ashley Pérez, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “Runoff: Young African Americans with Disabilities in Landscapes of Sacrifice,” Elizabeth Anne Wheeler, Univ. of Oregon
  4. “Brown Girls Dreaming: Violence, Narrative, and the Politics of the Interior,” Samira Abdur-Rahman, Univ. of Rochester

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298. Race, Science, Speculation

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 203B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: David Kazanjian, Univ. of Pennsylvania

  1. “The Scientific Roots/Routes of Black Speculative Fiction,” Britt Rusert, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
  2. “The Little Bushman, New York City’s Colored Orphan Asylum, and the Logic of the Specimen,” Anna Mae Duane, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  3. “Apes, Children, Race, and Kinship in Du Chaillu’s Gorilla Country,” Brigitte Fielder, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
  4. “Flights toward Social Life: Afro-Speculation as Genre and Modality in post-1965 Black American Literature,” Michelle Commander, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville

For abstracts, write to amduane1@gmail.com after 30 Nov.

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353. What Next? Adventures in Episodic and Serial Form

Friday, 6 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Franklin 11, Philadelphia Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Katherine Fusco, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

Speakers:Jacquelyn Ardam, Colby Coll.; Katherine Fusco; Donal Harris, Univ. of Memphis; Andrew Hoberek, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia; Heather A. Love, Univ. of South Dakota; Carter Neal, Indiana Univ., Bloomington

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

The presentations query how historical moments give rise to the episodic or serial forms they need (or deserve?). With topics including modernist drama, Dada art exhibitions, children’s films, comic books, and the realist novel, the panelists use a PechaKucha format of automatically advancing slides—an innovative style fitting for a session on series and episodes.

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475. Graphic Style and Big Data

Saturday, 7 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 104A, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the forum LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American

Presiding: Amy Hungerford, Yale Univ.

  1. “Illusions of Progress: Visualization and the Politics of Stylized Time,” Ed Finn, Arizona State Univ.
  2. “Excavating the Present: Richard McGuire’s Here and the Wayback Machine,” Alexander Manshel, Stanford Univ.
  3. “Chris Ware and R. Crumb: From Data to Disgust,” Rebecca Clark, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  4. “The Visual Universalism of Bing Xu’s Book from the Ground,” Lee Konstantinou, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

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524. The Life of the Child’s Mind: Rethinking Education and Intellect in Literature for Young People

Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 106B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: David Aitchison, North Central Coll.

  1. “Adolescent Fiction as a Boundary Condition: Exploring the Meaning of Reading in a Transitional Genre,”Elisabeth Rose Gruner, Univ. of Richmond
  2. “Smart Equals Queer: The Intellectual Child in Sex Is a Funny Word,” Gabrielle Owen, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
  3. “Unbounded Time, Unbounded Intellect: A Teenage ‘Song of Myself’ in John Green’s Paper Towns,” Susan Leary, Univ. of Miami

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539. Adoption in Contemporary Drama and Performance

Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 110B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture

Presiding: Marina Fedosik, Princeton Univ.

  1. “Adoption Drama in Drama; or, Why Theater Is Adoption’s Most Congenial Genre,” Peggy Phelan, Stanford Univ.
  2. “Psyches Going Solo: Transnational Adoption in Recent Plays from the Twin Cities,” Josephine Lee, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  3. “Seeing into Being: Dis-affiliated Children in Naomi Wallace’s English Plays,” Beth Cleary, Macalester Coll.
  4. “A Cyborg That Explodes Adoption Dualities: Rolin Jones’s Most Intelligent Design,” Martha G. Satz, Southern Methodist Univ.

For abstracts, write to mfedosik@princeton.edu.

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564. Border Conflicts: Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature

Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Franklin 13, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Presiding: Nina Christensen, Aarhus Univ.; Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “Child Migrants of Another Sort: The Dark Side of British World War II Evacuation Literature,” Lee A. Talley, Rowan Univ.
  2. “Andrij Chaikivsij’s Za Sestroyu, The Ukrainian Weekly, and the Role of Children’s Literature in Negotiations of Diasporic Identity,” Anastasia Ulanowicz, Univ. of Florida
  3. “Hawai‘i’s Unbecoming Children,” Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Univ. of Hawai’i, West O’ahu

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581. Alien Lines: Science Fiction Comics

Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 401-403, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forums GS Comics and Graphic Narratives and GS Speculative Fiction

Presiding: Aaron Kashtan, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte

  1. “Don’t Let Them Touch and Despair You: World Construction in the World of The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt,” Phoebe Salzman-Cohen, Penn State Univ., University Park
  2. “‘This Is How an Idea Becomes Real’: Bodies in Saga,” Daniel John Pinti, Niagara Univ.
  3. “‘I’m Getting Too Good to Ignore’: The Feminist Politics of Sharon Ruhdal’s Dystopian Comics,” Margaret Galvan, New York Univ.
  4. “Feeling The Puma Blues: The Dilution of Science Fiction and the Decline of the Creator within Independent Comics’ Golden Age,” Keith McCleary, Univ. of California, San Diego

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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594. Narratives of Childhood

Saturday, 7 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Franklin 12, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

Presiding: Leila Maria Lehnen, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

  1. “Imagining Another Subjectivity: Childhood and Disability in Cristóvão Tezza’s O filho eterno,” Emanuelle K. F. Oliveira-Monte, Vanderbilt Univ.
  2. “We Are the Children: Youth and Social Criticism in Contemporary Brazilian Cinema,” Antonio Luciano Tosta, Univ. of Kansas
  3. “A infância fragmentada em Dois Irmãos de Milton Hatoum: Searching for an Answer to the Question ‘Se Deus é brasileiro, todos somos brasileiros?,'” Mónica Ayala-Martinez, Denison Univ.

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646. Placing Gender in the Graphic Novel

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Independence Ballroom Salon III, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum TC Women’s and Gender Studies

Presiding: Pamela Brown, Univ. of Connecticut, Stamford

  1. Cuba My Revolution: Una novela gráfica e histórica para mejor cumplir las políticas del mercado,” Mabel Cuesta, Univ. of Houston, University Park
  2. “The Latent Image: Biopolitics and Diegetic Levels in Lila Quintero-Weaver’s Graphic Novel Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, in an Aesthetics and Human Rights Course,” Karina Elizabeth Vázquez, Univ. of Richmond
  3. “Transnational Bodies and Gendered Representations in Operación Bolívar, by Edgar Clément, and La perdida, by Jessica Abel,” Tania Pérez-Cano, Univ. of Pittsburgh

For abstracts, write to pambrown12@gmail.com.

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650. Invisible Made Visible: Comics and Mental Illness

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Grand Ballroom Salon I, Philadelphia Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Jessica Gross, St. Louis Coll. of Pharmacy; Leah Misemer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

Speakers: Jeanine Ashforth, Univ. of South Florida; Elizabeth J. Donaldson, New York Inst. of Tech., Old Westbury; Keegan Lannon, Dominican Univ.; Claire Latxague, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier 3

Session Description:

Panelists explore how the visual medium of comics paradoxically explores invisible mental illnesses by depicting internal emotional and mental states. They also consider the historical relation between comics and mental illness and discuss how comics can create communities of people who feel—or are—invisible within society at large.

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663. Barely Legal: Erotic Innocence at Nineteen

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 203B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the forum GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Presiding: Marah Gubar, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.

Speakers: Ellis Hanson, Cornell Univ.; Natasha Hurley, Univ. of Alberta; Kenneth Byron Kidd, Univ. of Florida; Derritt Mason, Univ. of Calgary; Carol Mavor, Univ. of Manchester

Responding: James R. Kincaid, Univ. of Southern California

Session Description:

Scholars working in Victorian studies, art history, queer theory, film studies, and children’s literature and childhood studies discuss how the controversial work of James R. Kincaid has transformed their fields.

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676. Cash Bar Arranged by the Forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Saturday, 7 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Franklin 4, Philadelphia Marriott


783. The Nonhuman Turn in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century British Children’s Literature

Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 102B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Shun Kiang, Stetson Univ.

  1. “Soulless Innocents: Dolls and Their Girls,” Amy Murray Twyning, Univ. of Pittsburgh
  2. “Good Neighbours, Beasties, and Bogles: Celebrating Nonhumans in Scottish Children’s Literature,”Maureen Farrell, Univ. of Glasgow
  3. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Medieval Bestiary and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,”Kathryn Walton, York Univ., Keele

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787. Graphic Narrative, Comics, and Temporality

Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Franklin 13, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

  1. “Past and Present Colors: Drawing Style as Temporal Framework in Comics,” Rikke Platz Cortsen, Univ. of Texas, Austin
  2. “‘Paradise Now’: Messianic Time in the Iranian Graphic Protest Novel,” Charlotta Salmi, Univ. of Birmingham
  3. “Drawing the Anthropocene? Intimacy and Antihuman ‘Deep Time,'” Aarnoud Rommens, Univ. of Liege
  4. “Reading in the Deep: Time and the Z-Axis in Richard McGuire’s Here and Dan Clowes’s Patience,” Joshua Kopin, Univ. of Texas, Austin

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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The Public University in an Age of Alt-Facts: Remarks on Receiving a Higuchi Award

Brief remarks on the university in an age of misinformation, delivered today when I received a Higuchi Award.


It’s a great honor to be joining Professors Christer Aakeröy, Judith Carta, and Randolph Nudo in receiving recognition for our research. It’s especially meaningful to be receiving this recognition right now, at a moment when facts and the notion of policy based on facts are being pushed aside in favor of — oh, let’s call it alt-truth. As I’m sure you know, the incoming presidential administration has nominated a climate-change-denier to head the EPA. And yet, here we are today, honoring scientists, as we should be — honoring a pioneering scholar in rehabilitation medicine, and an international leader in crystal engineering and supramolecular chemistry. light bulbMeanwhile, in decisions being made outside of our hallowed halls, the nominee to oversee our nation’s public education system wants to dismantle it, replacing it with unregulated, for-profit charter schools. And yet we’re here today honoring a national leader in early childhood special education. As we should be. This incongruity between what we’re celebrating now and what we face in the very near future makes the Higuchi Award feel even more special — a bright light in the gathering darkness.

I have been feeling lately — and I would imagine that my fellow Higuchi honorees may share this feeling — that our work has become much more urgent than it was before November 9th. My next book — which is on racism in children’s literature — will appear a few months into an administration with a White supremacist Attorney General, a White supremacist Senior Advisor, and an Islamophobic National Security Advisor.1 As we’re entering this period of backlash, I continue to believe that diverse, inclusive children’s literature is one of the best places to imagine a better future. Stories we encounter when we are young, when we are selves in the process of being formed, have a lasting impact on the people we become. Stories tell children that they belong (or don’t belong) not only to a broader community of readers, but also in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their country. As we face a concerted federal effort to revoke civil rights, we can — and we must — nurture a new generation that is less susceptible to bigotry and the many wounds it inflicts. That’s something we can do in children’s literature, and anywhere in higher education.

Whatever our role in the university system, I think we now must imagine ourselves as keepers of values that we probably have taken for granted. We know that evidence-based reasoning, that carefully tested knowledge, that peer-reviewed scholarship best serves the public interest, and we will need to defend this value repeatedly over the next four (and possibly eight) years. We know that, to create new knowledge, we will also disagree, but that we will do so with civility and respect for those we disagree with. This value — of respectful disagreement and the compromises that may result — we will also need to defend, and to model for our students. We know, too, that knowledge is created by people of all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and faiths (or absence of faith). Indeed, intellectual labor thrives in diverse communities such as those at KU and K-State. We will need to defend this value, too.2

So. Thanks to KU and the Higuchi family for supporting these values by supporting our research. My personal thanks to Jim Guikema for assembling my nomination, to Elizabeth Dodd for her support, and to Karin Westman for her love, encouragement, and extraordinary patience over the past 23 years. And thanks to all of you, not just for coming today, but — through your roles in Kansas higher education — for continuing to work for a state, a country and a world where research matters, where facts matter, where education matters, and where all of us can receive the same inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Thank you.

— Philip Nel, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 13 Dec. 2016


Endnotes

  1. Scott Pruitt is EPA nominee; Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education nominee; Jeff Sessions is Attorney General nominee; Steve Bannon is Senior Advisor; Gen Michael Flynn is National Security Advisor.
  2. Third paragraph draws from Greg Downey, “The presidential election of 2016 and the values of a research university.” Greg Downey 9 Nov. 2016.

Final note

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post something as (frankly) inconsequential as a thank-you-for-this-award speech. But, in these dark times, I have been finding it helpful to read others’ affirmation of our core values. We need to keep speaking out. We need to affirm our shared humanity, our belief in civic discourse, our certainty that facts matter. It is in this spirit that I’ve decided to post these remarks.

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Emily’s Library, Part 10: In Which I Recommend 27 More Good Books for Young Readers

Just in time for the holidays, it’s another edition of Emily’s Library — in which I display the books I’ve given to my now 5-year-old niece, and answer the frequently asked question, “What children’s books would you recommend?”  A few of these will be Christmas presents for Emily, who does not (yet?) read my blog. So, if you do see her, don’t spoil the surprise, OK?  Thanks.

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the Pony (2015)

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the PonyThe first picture book from the Hark! A Vagrant cartoonist does not disappoint. (I haven’t yet read her second, but Beaton’s King Baby was published this fall.) Princess Pinecone, “the smallest warrior,” would like warrior-suitable gifts for her birthday. Instead, she gets “lots of cozy sweaters.” So, this year, she makes it clear to her parents that she wants a “real warrior’s horse.” But they buy her a little pony, who turns out to be a prolific farter but poor substitute for a warrior horse. Yet, on the day of the contest, Princess Pincone learns that there is more than one way to be strong. My previous sentence makes sounds like a soppy moralistic book. But it isn’t. It’s funny. Warriors getting in touch with their cuddly sides and wearing cuddly sweaters is funny. So is the farting pony.  Bonus: though it makes no bones about it, the book subtly integrates a diverse cast of characters: the princess’s mother is a dark-haired brown woman, and her father a yellow-haired white (well, greyish pink) man. The warriors themselves represent a range of body types, races, and genders. In addition to being a fun book, it’s fine example of incidental diversity as well.

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)Is it just me, or is incidental diversity (where a character is matter-of-factly non-White) becoming more mainstream? The bi-racial kids (along with their White mother and brown father) are among the many strengths of Lisa Brown‘s The Airport Book, a Richard Scarry-esque journey through airport travel. While we follow the main family of four through the airport, other stories are happening everywhere. Even better: Brown’s attention to detail conveys the sense that they are all real people, and not just there to fill the space.  That’s why I compare her pages to Richard Scarry: they’re full of meaningful details, featuring a range of foci for one’s attention. They’re pages to linger over.  They capture the simultaneous ongoing activity of these busy spaces.  While The Airport Book replicates the divided attention of airports and airplanes, it also offers a singular path forward, via a second-person narration aligned with the older child.  All those “yous” invite the child reader to see herself in the book.  As a child who travels a lot, Emily will — I predict — recognize herself in these pages.

Benjamin Chaud, Poupoupidours (2014) [The Bear’s Surprise (2015) in its original French]

Benjamin Chaud, PoupoupidoursIf you’re new to my “Emily’s Library” series, I should add here that I’m giving Emily books in French and in German (as well as English) because she’s Swiss and thus growing up tri-lingual.  Whether you read Poupoupidors in French, English, or another language, this book concludes the adventures of the Little Bear and his Papa — which began in (if I may use the English-language titles) The Bear’s Song and continued in The Bear’s Sea Escape.

With die-cut pages offering partial glimpses of what’s to come, Chaud again offers many enticements for curious eyes. In addition to the Where’s Waldo game of finding Little Bear on the busier two-page spreads, there’s the question of what the pages’ windows will reveal when we turn the page. In a twist from the previous books in the series, Papa Bear is not chasing Little Bear: instead, Little Bear (adventuring on his own) finds Papa at the circus.

Tim Egan, Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997)

Tim Egan, cover to Burnt Toast on Davenport StreetAs I wrote back in the early days of this blog,

Most of his characters are anthropomorphic animals — cows, pigs, dogs, etc. who walk upright, wear clothes, speak in complete sentences. Egan likes to have a little fun blurring the categories between people and animals. The dog protagonists — Arthur and Stella Crandall — of Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997) dress well, and live in a beautifully furnished house. They behave like humans. Yet, beneath an illustration of Stella sitting on the couch and Arthur adjusting the TV set’s antenna, Egan writes, “Arthur and Stella were happy dogs. They lived at 623 Davenport Street and had lived there for many years. They spent their days doing what most dogs do. Eating, walking, and sleeping.” Near the end of the book, when the Crandalls are happy, “They both smiled and wagged their tails.” Egan slyly reminds us that, though they dress and act like people, they retain their doggy natures.

Egan is a master. Like James Marshall and Arnold Lobel, his sense of humor arises from mater-of-fact depictions of the mildly absurd. He has a genuine affection for his characters and their predicaments. But, well, you might take a look at my full post on his work. And look for it (Egan’s books, not my post) in your local libraries and bookstores.

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)With a color palette worthy of Herge, Kuo takes us through Tokyo with Yoshio (the book’s protagonist), searching for ma — the silence between sounds. Along the way, Goldsaito presents the noise of the city, which Kuo depicts, alongside moments of relative quiet — until we (via Yoshio) at last experience that moment of silence. A quest for quietude may seem an unlikely topic for a children’s book (and, yes, I do know Deborah Underwood’s The Quiet Book), but the color, layout, and design of The Sound of Silence immediately hold your attention. In any case, Yoshio’s search is as much about listening as it is about seeking actual silence. It’s about attentiveness to our environment. It’s about noticing.

Ben Hatke, Little Robot (2015)

Ben Hatke, Little RobotNarrated via the comics medium, Hatke’s gentle tale of a little girl and a robot explores the pair’s developing friendship, as she introduces him to her world, fixing him as needed. But Unit 00012’s creators (an anonymous government agency) want him back, and send a powerful one-eyed robot to capture him. Can our unnamed heroine keep him safe?  Its relatively low word-count make this ideal for beginning readers, and its technically savvy brown protagonist brings incidental diversity, as well.

After giving this book to Emily, I heard a fascinating discussion (at a conference) about how and whether Hatke’s portrayal of the little girl participates in stereotypes of strong black women (a criticism that has also been made of the Hushpuppy character in Beasts of the Southern Wild). I continue to find the heroine a compelling one, but mention this criticism to welcome your disagreement — I always read the books I give to Emily before buying them.  You should do the same for whomever you’re buying books.

Keven Henkes, Waiting (2015)

Kevin Henkes, WaitingOn an indoor windowsill, witness five sentient toys: the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy, and the rabbit. Henkes’ pastel color palette, generous use of negative space, and subtle changes in each toy’s posture or expression swathes the pictures in the aura of a dream, leaving open the question of whether their sentience is real or imagined.  This ontological blurriness perfectly captures the reality of childhood imagination — the sense that make-believe is simultaneously real and not real. It also invites engagement with the book’s key question of what the animals await. An early two-page spread seems to answer the question for four of the five, but subsequent pages reveal arrivals for which they were not waiting. Even those events they did await depart from their imagined versions. For instance, “The pig with the umbrella was waiting for the rain.”  When it does rain, the observation that “the pig was happy. The umbrella kept her dry” bumps up against a different reality in the artwork. It is raining outside, but the pig is inside and so at no risk of getting wet.  They witness the changing seasons, and new arrivals to their windowsill — the last of which affirms their little family. This is a quiet, gentle book, ideal for reflection and dreaming.

Jory John and Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)

Jory John & Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)As we arrive at the end of a dark year, I invite you to embrace the gloom of John and Smith’s pessimistic penguin. Penguin Problems is a comic take on a bad mood. And, you know, some people (and penguins) are just not optimistic. Which is fine. In the hands of John and Smith, it’s also funny. Their penguin is cold. He doesn’t like the snow, being hunted by predators, or his flightlessness. Smith gives the penguin an expressive face — big eyes, with eyelids when he’s tired or annoyed. Though the penguin does look like all the other penguins (another complaint of his), readers can also distinguish him from the others. While reading this to Emily, she — unprompted — pointed to him in each crowd scene. Late in the book, a walrus delivers a pep talk, offering a fresh perspective on life. That changes the penguin’s mood for a few pages. But, like I say, some penguins (and people) are pessimists. Frankly, it’s a good time to be a pessimist — as long as you keep your sense of humor about you. Smith and John’s penguin does.

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late? (1959)

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late?This book — which, happily, has recently been reprinted by Harper — reads as a gentle parody of Johnson’s wife Ruth Krauss’s The Happy Day (art by Marc Simont, 1949). In the earlier book, animals emerge from their wintertime hibernation/austerity, jubilant to see a flower growing in the snow. In Johnson’s Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring by Late?, an artificial flower seems to confirm the Groundhog’s prediction of an early spring — indeed, to confirm that spring is already here! The other animals greet the Groundhog’s news with excitement, delighted that winter is over. Skeptical, the Pig refuses to join the celebrations. Seeing them dancing around the flower, he strolls in, chomps on it, and declares (accurately), “The leaves are paper. The stem is wire. The petals are plastic. And the lot of you will freeze out here.” As the Bear demands an explanation and the Groundhog begins “to creep quietly away,” Johnson leads us to believe that the animals will turn on him. Instead, “They blamed the Pig, of course.” Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late wryly transforms a story about welcoming spring (The Happy Day) into a fable satirizing the human tendency to blame the messenger.

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)The third book in Klassen’s “hat” trilogy (Emily already has the first two, I Want My Hat Back [2011] and This Is Not My Hat [2012]), We Found a Hat finds a gentle solution to hat-begotten disagreements. If its peaceful resolution departs from its predecessors, Klassen’s deadpan humor and headwear obsession will please fans of the first two. Dividing the tale into three acts, We Found a Hat tracks two turtles’ discovery (Part One: Finding the Hat), unspoken disagreement on the fairness of single ownership (Part Two: Watching the Sunset), and dream of a shared hat-plentiful future (Part Three: Going to Sleep). It’s a satisfying and unexpectedly sweet conclusion to the series.

Brothers Grimm & Clementine Sourdais, Rotkäppchen (2014) [Sourdais’ version of Little Red Riding Hood (2015) in German]

Applying a spare color palette (red, black, white) to die-cut pages, Sourdais’ rendering of Little Red Riding Hood can be read two ways. You can unfold the entire book, from first to last page, and see the entire story at once, allowing whatever is behind the page to serve as your artwork’s background. Or you can turn each pair of glossy cardboard pages like a single page in an ordinary book. I confess: I bought this because the cleverness of the art enticed me.

Sourdais, Rotkäeppchen

Leo Lionni, Petit-Bleu et Petit-Jaune (1970) [Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959) in French]

Lionni, Petit-bleu at Petit-jauneLeo Lionni’s first book — invented, initially, to entertain his two grandchildren during a train ride —  tells of two colors who become friends. When they hug each other, they become green, and neither set of parents recognizes them. After crying themselves back to their original colors, they revisit the parents who (upon hugging both children) realize that blue hugging yellow creates green. Both families hug each other, and the story ends happily.  Given the date of its publication, it’s tempting to read this as advocating friendship between people of different races, and offering a visual metaphor of how such friendships change us for the better. However, the subtlety (and brilliance) of the book is that it doesn’t confine itself to that interpretation. The difference in color could represent any sort of difference, though — to me — the jubilant response to the color transformation suggests how friendships with people of different backgrounds enrich our lives.

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)In another tale of friendship, a fish and a tadpole reckon with the latter’s transformation into a frog. When the now-grown frog describes all he has seen above the surface of the water, the fish’s imagination conjures up very piscine versions of birds, cows, and people. Lionni’s depictions of these fish-centric creatures are clever and amusing, and introduce a problem: the fish wants to see these sights, too!  His attempt to do so leaves him “gasping for air” on the bank. The frog, who happened to be nearby, pushes him back into the pond and saves his life. Are the book’s final words “fish is fish” an argument against curiosity, or a reminder to temper curiosity with caution?  Lionni never spells out a moral in so many words, leaving that up to us.

David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano (2015)

David Litchfield, The Bear and the PianoIf a piano falls in the woods, does it make a sound? As this book’s title character discovers, yes it does. He learns to play, attracting, first, ursine fans, and second, a boy and a girl. The two children invite him to the city (New York), where the bear “played sold-out concerts in giant theatres.”  But… he misses his home and his friends in the forest. Did they also miss him? He returns to find out. Though Litchfield (like many artists) draws upon digital tools as well as traditional artistic material, the art looks hand-made — echoes of Mary Blair, and classic Little Golden Books.

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)Inaugurating Lobel’s best-known series, Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces the key elements that make a Frog and Toad tale work. First, our two main characters are complimentary opposites: Frog is more “adult,” patient, knowledgeable, grounded. Toad tends to be more childlike, impulsive, naïve, anxious. Frog is the optimist, while Toad is more pessimistic. Frog is the go-getter, and Toad is less energetic.  Second, the action revolves around a single event. In this book’s first story, Frog wants to celebrate spring, but Toad wants to keep hibernating. In the fourth story, Frog is happy to jump in the river and swim, but Toad is self-conscious about how he looks in his bathing suit. Third, they’re fables — animal characters satirize human foibles, offering a moral at the end. Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d'amis (2008)Fourth, they only imply that moral and, indeed, often subtly undercut it because, fifth, the books are funny. Lobel sees the humor in his characters and, gently, sympathetically reveals why their (especially Toad’s) choices are funny.  Sixth, and most important, the two are friends.  At a very basic level, all four collections of Frog and Toad stories are about friendship.

Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d’amis (2008) [Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970) in French]

I bought her the French edition because she’s being raised in an English-and-French-speaking household.

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and Shine (1976)

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and ShineI have already given Emily three other George and Martha books: George and Martha (1972), George and Martha Encore (1973), George and Martha Tons of Fun (1980).  But there are seven books in all.  And so,… I’ve added two more to her library — the third and the seventh!  In this (the third), George fibs until Martha calls his bluff, Martha’s scientific inquiry into fleas make her itch, Martha’s desire for a picnic collides with George’s wish to sleep late, George thinks the scary movie will frighten Martha but she loves (in contrast, he’s more susceptible to fear than he thought), and Martha discovers the focus of George’s secret club. In each story, either George or Martha learns something, but the comedy softens the moral impulse. At their heart, these stories are about the friendship of two slightly absurd and very endearing hippos.

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and Round (1988)

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and RoundMarshall’s comic timing is as masterful as it is understated. My favorite story in this, his final George and Martha volume, is “The Last Story: The Surprise.”  You think it’s over. But it ain’t over until it’s over, and Marshall gets in one final joke.  These books are required in any children’s library. As Maurice Sendak says in his introduction to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, “The George and Martha books teach us nothing and everything. That is Marshall’s way. Just when you are lulled by the ease of it all, he pokes you sharply.” And, Marshall’s “simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page.”

Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, The Paper Bag Princess (1980)

Robert Munsch, The Paper Bag PrincessLet me be frank (OK, now you say: “Hi, Frank!”).  I chose this and Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony — in part — because Emily likes princesses.  I want her to read books in which the princesses can save themselves.  Children’s books should introduce her to smart, active princesses, not dull-witted, passive ones.  And so,… this classic feminist fairy tale joins the group. When a dragon kidnaps (or prince-naps?) Prince Ronald, Princess Elizabeth sets off to find him — wearing only a paper bag because the dragon has “burned off all her clothes with his fiery breath.”  She outsmarts the dragon and rescues the prince! But Ronald turns out to be snooty and ungrateful. So — spoiler alert! — she does not marry him after all. The end.

Mark Pett, The Lizard from the Park (2015)

Mark Pett, Lizard from the ParkA charming example of incidental diversity (Leonard’s brown complexion plays no larger role in the story), Pett‘s The Lizard from the Park seems to be about a solitary boy (Leonard) who finds a lizard egg, which hatches, and soon grows into a dinosaur. However, as this narrative unfolds, some contrary clues emerge. When they are out in public, no one notices Leonard’s increasingly large lizard. Indeed, the only person who seems to notice either Leonard or Buster (his lizard) is a bespectacled boy who — though never mentioned in the text — keeps crossing paths with Leonard in the illustrations. But it’s not clear whether this boy is noticing Leonard or his lizard or both… until the book’s conclusion, which I won’t give away here.

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)Ruzzier has created a clever, engaging book about learning to read — which, as you might expect, 5-year-old Emily will soon be doing. The narrative starts on the partially decipherable initial endpapers, which garbles most words but leaves some legible. Though we may not at first realize it, the pages subtly convey the partial comprehension of a beginning reader. Then, against a completely white background, a duckling finds a book, picks it up, opens it, notes that it has no pictures, and speaks the title (as the title, on the title page). As soon as the friendly bug prompts duckling to start reading, the blank landscape acquires color and sprouts visual metaphors for the duckling’s recognition of certain words. For the page indicating “funny” words, smiling bubbles drift by, a long-nosed large-footed fellow naps near a flowerpot, and many whimsical creatures look on. For “sad,” duckling and bug walk past smoldering houses and the craters of a recently bombed landscape.  By the book’s conclusion, the duckling can read — and the final endpapers have transformed into a legible typographic rendition of This Is Not a Picture Book!’s plot. Without any whiff of didacticism, the visual intelligence of Ruzzier’s book makes a subtle case for the pleasures of literacy.

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)“By now I think you may know what happened to your sandwich,” the unseen narrator advises us. “But you may not know how it happened. So let me tell you. It all started with the bear.” So begins Sarcone-Roach’s very funny story of how a bear just happened to arrive in the city, and the park, and eat your sandwich. Though the tale is framed as an excuse, by concealing both the narrator and any evidence of sandwich-thievery, Sarcone-Roach invites us to be swept up into the improbable narrative. Her bright paint-and-pencil illustrations bring us along on the bear’s journey to, and then new experiences in the city. Only at the very end does she reveal that the whole story has been an elaborate set-up for the punchline — which, no, I won’t reveal here.

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)This is one of my favorite picture books of 2016. It’s timely, yes, but its strength lies in Sanna’s deft visual storytelling — her sense of pacing, design, story. It’s very well done. As war arrives, a family loses its father, and must seek a safe harbor.  On the page where “The war began,” the darkness that (on the previous two-page spread) had represented the sea suddenly becomes menacing, overtaking the entire right-hand page, with giant shadowy hands reaching left, destroying buildings. Over a few subsequent two-page spreads, the gradual loss of the family’s baggage accrues the weight of a much deeper loss — of home, father, security. With relatively spare text and powerful, vivid art, the book takes us on their journey toward what they hope will be their new home. Wisely, The Journey ends before the journey is complete. Narrated from the perspective of one of the two children in the family, the book delivers a complex, emotionally layered story with economy and subtlety. It neither sugarcoats its serious subject, nor presents in a too emotionally charged manner. It’s a book you’ll return to.

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The Dark (2013)

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The DarkI bought this one because I noticed that Emily — at age 4, at least — needed a night-light. So, I thought: perhaps it would be helpful for her to read a story about making friends with the dark. That is precisely what The Dark is about. At the book’s beginning, Laszlo is afraid of the dark. Snicket and Klassen set up the dark as a character: “The dark lived in the same house as Laszlo,” they tell us on an early two-page spread. When Laszlo greets the dark, it (the dark) is silent. Then, one day, it addresses him directly, luring him down to the basement, where it lives. The story invokes this horror-story trope so that it can bring us into darkness while it demystifies darkness. I won’t give away the ending, but — as you may have guessed — by book’s conclusion, Laszlo no longer fears the dark.

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a Lion (2012)

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a LionA book that feels like it could have been published decades ago — in the 1960s, or maybe 1930s. With a line that recalls Edward Ardizozne and watercolors that recall Marcia Brown, Helen Stephens tells of a lion who strolled into a market square to buy a hat, but frightened townspeople chase him out of town… and so he meets Iris, a brave small girl who befriends him and helps him hide. I haven’t seen this in the U.S., but it’s been popular enough in the U.K. (where I found it) to inspire a sequel, How to Hide a Lion from Grandma. (I haven’t read the sequel.)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015; orig. published as Buurman leest een boek, 2012)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015)Roger is reading a book. Or he is trying to. Next door, Emily is playing with a ball (BOING BOING). Roger asks her to please Shhhh! This pattern of different noises followed by Shhhh! repeats — until Roger puts down his book, and leaves. Then, a package arrives for Emily. It’s a book! Roger returns, and both read in silence . . . until WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF.  They both put down their books and take the dog — whom Roger has been ignoring for several two-page spreads — for a walk. In addition to the book’s spare illustration (not finishing the top of Roger’s head, for instance), I like how it takes both Roger and Emily seriously. Neither intends to be obnoxious to the other. Their interests differ. The character’s names also assert their independence. Never does Koen Van Biesen indicate their relationship to one another. Roger is not identified as Emily’s father or uncle or caregiver. He is just Roger. She might live in the apartment next to his, or might live in the same apartment. Her bedroom is adjacent to the room where he’s trying to read, and he always knocks before he enters. But that’s all we know. Also, yes, one of the main characters is Emily — which I thought would please the real Emily.

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Free (2010)

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny FreeThe conclusion to Willems’ trilogy featuring Trixie, her bunny, and Trixie’s parents.  (Emily already has the first two: Knuffle Bunny [2004] and Knufffle Bunny [2007].) Using the now familiar combination of black-and-white photos (for the setting) with hand-inked drawings (for the people and select objects), Willems brings Trixie and her parents to the Netherlands to see Oma and Opa (Grandma and Grandpa). Guess what she leaves on the plane? Now older, Trixie learns to live without her knuffle bunny and even to consider that, perhaps, other, younger children may need him more than she does. If a bit more sentimental than the previous two books, Willems’ tale and its morals nonetheless arrive via the sharply observed humor that makes a Mo Willems book a Mo Willems book.


Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs and other websites:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

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Mock Caldecott 2016: Manhattan, Kansas edition

This afternoon, a group of about 30 of us — undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, community members — voted on our choices for this year’s “Mock Caldecott.” Since we were guessing at the award results (announce in January), we read picture books by U.S. authors, published in the U.S. in 2016. Or, that’s what we intended to do — as you’ll see in a moment, we inadvertently admitted a beautiful Swiss-Italian book.  Another disclaimer: We did not get our hands on all notable works, and may have missed some important ones.  BUT!  Here are the books we chose.

The Winner*:

Francesca Sanna’s The Journey

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)Though a timely story, its stunning realization is what persuaded us.  As war arrives, a family loses its father, and must seek a safe harbor.  On the page where “The war began,” the darkness that (on the previous two-page spread) had represented the sea suddenly overtakes the entire right-hand page, with giant shadowy hands reaching left, destroying buildings. Over a few subsequent two-page spreads, the gradual loss of the family’s baggage accrues the weight of a much deeper loss — of home, father, security.  With relatively spare text and powerful, vivid art, the book takes us on their journey toward what they hope will be their new home.  (Wisely, The Journey ends before the journey is complete.) Narrated from the perspective of one of the two children in the family, the book conveys a complex, emotionally layered story with such economy and subtlety.  It’s one you’ll return to.

And… remember how, above, I said we inadvertently admitted a book not eligible for the Caldecott?  According to her website, Sanna grew up in Italy and is based in Zurich, Switzerland.  However, including it proved to be a very happy mistake because it’s a beautiful, powerful book, and I’m glad to be able to recommend it here.

The Revised Winner:

Sergio Ruzzier’s This Is Not a Picture Book!

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)This came in exactly one point behind The Journey, and was originally our first Honor Book.  Ruzzier was also born in Italy, but is based in Brooklyn, and thus his book is eligible for the Caldecott.  So, This Is Not a Picture Book should be today’s winner!  It’s a clever, engaging book about learning to read.  The narrative starts on the only partially decipherable initial endpapers, which garbles most words but leaves a few legible. Against a completely white background, a duckling finds a book, picks it up, opens it, notes that it has no pictures, and speaks the title (for the title page). As soon as the friendly bug prompts duckling to start reading, the blank landscape gains color and sprouts visual metaphors for the duckling’s recognition of certain words. For the page indicating “funny” words, smiling bubbles drift by, a long-nosed large-footed fellow naps near a flowerpot, and many whimsical creatures look on. For “sad,” duckling and bug walk past smoldering houses and the craters of a recently bombed landscape.  By the book’s conclusion, the duckling can read — and the final endpapers have transformed into a legible typographic rendition of This Is Not a Picture Book!‘s plot.

The Honor Books:

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo’s The Sound of Silence

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)The color! The layout! The design! A journey through Tokyo, as Yoshio seeks silence. With a color palette worthy of Herge, Kuo takes us through the city with the book’s protagonist, searching for ma — the silence between sounds. Along the way, Goldsaito presents the noise of the city, which Kuo depicts, along with moments of relative quiet (not noted in the text), until we (via Yoshio) at last experiences that moment of silence.

Carole B. Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie’s Freedom in Congo Square

Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie, Freedom in Congo SquareThis one wasn’t originally one of our Honor books (because we inadvertently gave the prize to a Swiss-Italian book), but it could have been, because it received the next-highest number of votes after The Sound of Silence.  Congo Square offers the enslaved respite on a Sunday, but the rest of their lives are devoid of any such comfort. Prior to the Congo Square pages, Weatherford and Christie present the brutality that slaves suffered, rejecting any whiff of the “happy slave” narrative that still appears in children’s books.


There were many other great books published this year.  Here are three more that I think are Caldecott worthy (note: just my opinion, not the opinion of our little informal committee).

A few other great books from 2016:

  • Matt Phelan’s Snow White: A Graphic Novel
  • Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat
  • Jory John & Lane Smith’s Penguin Problems
  • Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book

And, yes, I’m sure I’m missing a lot of other good books here….

____________

* Actually not eligible to be the winner because the creator is based in Switzerland.

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Surviving Trumpism. Restoring Democracy.

With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton,…

How does an unhinged, thin-skinned, son of a Scots and a

Klansman, born into privilege and wealth,

a thug who loves only himself,

his money and his station,

become the next leader of this nation?

There are many reasons, including the false equivalency of the media (Clinton’s emails being equivalent to dozens of Trump’s disqualifications), FBI Director James Comey’s late-breaking vague “emails” allegation, racism, sexism, anger at neoliberalism, the rise of fake news, people’s tendency to vote on feelings rather than on policy, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act (and the voter suppression it has enabled), lowest voter turnout since 2000, and several others.1

But the questions we face now are how can we understand this next phase, and most importantly what can we do?


proposed Trump logo, satirically created by Sam KuoRise Up

If you have ever asked “Why didn’t people protest and stop Hitler’s rise to power?” you now have an opportunity to answer that question for yourself.  What will you do now?  President-Elect Trump ran an openly bigoted campaign, calling Mexicans criminals, alleging that Muslims are terrorists, arguing for racist profiling, and bragging about committing sexual assault.  Now, after the election, hate crimes are on the rise, and he is assembling an administration to enact his plans. What will you do?


White people need to step up

As you might imagine, the less a person looks like me (straight White man), the more she or he is frightened right now. So, I am reaching out to all of my friends, colleagues, and students — but especially those who are most vulnerable. I talked to my students Thursday (these were my first post-election classes), and told them that if they need to talk, I will listen.  If they need to cry, I have tissues.  If they need help finding resources, I will help them.  I told them that, whoever they voted for, I know — from our conversations over the semester — that they know we’re all part of the same human family. And so I told them to look out for each other, and especially for those who don’t look like me. If you see someone getting harassed, this is the time to step up.

This is especially the time for White people to step up — and not only because White people elected Trump. Yes, I know, if you’re a White person reading this, you’re probably not one of the people who voted for the angry talking yam. But if you have White privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege, class privilege, the privilege of being abled, any unearned privilege at all, you need to use that privilege to stand up for others. Indeed, the more privilege you have, the greater your obligation to use it.


This Is Not a Drill

There are already reports of hate crimes and racist graffiti around the country.  This is likely to increase under a Trump presidency.  As long as I live in this country, I will defend all people’s rights to life, liberty, and happiness.  All people must be treated fairly under the law.  All people must feel safe.  I will defend those values until my dying breath.  I will never yield.  I invite you to join me.

But be aware of what you’re signing up for. Given bigots’ propensity for violence and the widespread availability of firearms, opposing the coming tyranny is likely to place us in harm’s way. We may be shot. We may be jailed. We may be harassed. The NSA, the FBI, and the CIA will soon be working for Donald Trump.  I understand why people may hope that Herr Gropenführer’s openly racist and sexist campaign rhetoric was merely bluster and that he will govern differently than he campaigned.  But autocrats — and he campaigned as an autocrat — tend to follow through on their threats.  It would be naïve to hope that President Trump will adopt values that differ markedly from Candidate Trump.

But we must not stand by while fascists threaten our fellow citizens. Silence is complicity. We must not be silent. We must stand and fight.


If you see something, do something.

If you hear words that are racist, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic, call it out for what it is. If you see someone getting harassed, intervene. Maeril has created an excellent bystander’s guide to Islamophobic harassment which is a model we can adopt to oppose any type of harassment.

http://maeril.tumblr.com/post/149669302551/hi-everyone-this-is-an-illustrated-guide-i-made

Go to her Tumblr post to read more about it.


We must not normalize Trump.

This is not an ordinary transfer of power, in which one party’s candidate takes office after the other party’s candidate loses. The President-Elect is openly disdainful of democratic norms and social norms. As president, his hatred, his lack of regard for anyone but himself, his sexism, his bigotry, his mendacity will all begin to seep into the body politic, gradually undermining democratic institutions.

CNN: The Alt-Right Man for the Job?Stay outraged. Do not adopt polite euphemisms that disguise oppression. Language risks normalizing tyranny.  I saw a CNN headline yesterday on potential Trump Chief of Staff, an anti-Semite and spouse-abuser: “The Alt-Right Man for the Job?”  The “Alt-Right” is White supremacists’ term for themselves.  It’s not a joke. Whomever wrote that headline is colluding with the fascists.  To call Trump’s proposed Environmental Protection Agency head Myron Ebell a “climate contrarian” or “climate skeptic” is to propagate a lie. Climate change is real. If the human race is to have a future, we need to combat it as aggressively as we can. Mr. Ebell is an anti-science, conspiracy-theorist who is funded by the coal lobby. He’s a professional saboteur, and a crackpot.

Do not adopt the language of your oppressors.  Monitor your own language, listen skeptically to others — especially to the media’s.


Phone and write your representatives as often as you can.

Your representatives need to hear from you. Don’t waste time with Tweeting and Facebook.

The most effective things you can do are (1) phoning them and (2) writing a “snail mail” letter to them.  Send these to the district (state) office, rather than to DC.

Emily Ellsworth, who worked in Congress for six years, explains it all in this Twitter thread.

What should you focus on?  Professor and political strategist Lisa Corrigan made these suggestions on Thursday:

  1. Ironically, the neocons will have to moderate him or coalitions between outraged non-Tea Party Republicans and Democrats will work to stall his bumbling policy initiatives in Congress. This doesn’t leave a ton of room for Democratic Party maneuvering.
  2. Campaigning is not governing. He said a bunch of dumb shit that will not come to pass, even though it freaks you out.
  3. The backlash against him as a president will increase in the first two years, so down ballot Dems in Congress will have a huge opportunity in 2018. Send them money early and often. Trump will be a huge target.
  4. Obama has 100 days to ram through a bunch of executive orders, which is what I would advise him to do.
  5. And dude needs to get Merrick’s confirmation done. ASAP. It looks like that *might* be easier now that the GOP is freaked about a Trump presidency. Or not. Because #gridlock.
  6. The Democratic Party doesn’t like the evangelicals but there will be lots of them who are not supportive of Trump’s worldview and a political revolution, if it happens at all, will come from the evangelicals. They have the money and the organizations.
  7. Democrats need to talk about a new vision for American labor. NOW. And use it as a competing frame.
  8. If Dems give up education, all is lost.

For coping under a Trump presidency, my advice would be to focus on items 3 (supporting down ballot Democrats in 2018), 6 (finding common ground with evangelicals), 7 (new vision for American labor), and 8 (education).  Focus your energy here.

And remember: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. More voters opposed Trump than supported him.


The Cycle of Progress, Backlash and Progress

In the U.S., backlash follows progress just as surely as night follows day. In response to the racial egalitarianism that inspired the Civil War and Emancipation, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws terrorized African Americans for another century.  After the Civil Rights Movement comes the Nixon Administration.  After our first Black president, a president endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.safety pin, designed by Sam Kuo

This does not mean “Oh, history moves in cycles, and will thus move us back in the direction of equality.”  We move towards equality when people fight for it.

In other words, sure, wear that safety pin as a gesture of solidarity.  But we need more than gestures.  We need action.  Now.


Join the Movement

Trump’s elevation to the highest office in the land took many of us White people by surprise because we like to think that most — not all, but most — White people are better than that.  We like to think that we’ve become a less racist society, that White supremacy is on the wane, that the future will be brighter. This is a mark of our White privilege.

5’7″ Black Male (@absurdistwords on Twitter) has a great thread on this subject, written the morning after the election.  As he says,

I’m talking to you now surprised white people. I wanna bring you in for an empathy moment.

This feeling you have right now. Amazement that the country could be so short-sighted, that it could embrace hate so tightly? Welcome.

This despair and dread you feel. The indignation, the bewilderment, the hurt, powerlessness, the fear for family and livelihood? Welcome.

That knot in your stomach, that feeling of heartache? That uncertainty about your safety? The deep sense of fundamental injustice? Welcome.

For many marginalized people, this spike in distress you feel this morning is what we feel EVERY morning.

That feeling of “How could they possibly…?” is precisely what we feel with every incidence of excused violence, disenfranchisement, denial

I do not say this to diminish what you feel today. What you feel is real and valid. I’m giving you an opportunity to truly empathize.

For it is the lack of that empathy that allowed America to shrug as the marginalized shouted warnings.

Today the imaginary wall that divides your experience from ours has come down. You have the chance to commune with the rest of us.

So, to those calling to start an anti-Trump movement, a better option is to join those already fighting oppression.  Rather than building a new pro-democracy from the ground up, get connected with those groups already doing this work.


Here are some organizations to join and to support

Jezebel has compiled a list of “A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support.”  Here are a few highlights (plus one not included), but follow the link for the full list.

For those with the means, I challenge you to follow my friend Katherine Fusco’s lead, and choose your organizations, and then commit to give regularly. Can you commit to $5 a month?  Great.  How about $10?  Even better.  If you can sign up for a recurring contribution that will help the organization by giving it an ongoing source of income.

As long as there has been oppression in the U.S., there have been organizations fighting that oppression.  Join them.


We Have Been Here Before…

Americans like to think of their country as a democracy that offers equal opportunity to all comers.  However, for most of its history, the United States has been a White supremacist police state that treated women as second-class citizens.  The last fifty years have been an aberration, not the norm.

Thomas JeffersonOur first president owned human beings.  Our third president both owned human beings and raped them. (News flash: a slave cannot grant consent to the person who owns her. We can call Sally Hemings the “mistress” of Thomas Jefferson, but what that means is that she’s the woman he raped repeatedly.)  Our twenty-eighth president, Woodrow Wilson, segregated the federal government, thought segregation was good for Blacks, and was a Ku Klux Klan apologist. Upon seeing the classic racist film Birth of a Nation (in which the Klan are the heroes), Wilson remarked, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

President-Elect Trump wants to institute a nationwide “stop-and-frisk” policy — which is both a proven failure from a police standpoint, and actively racist.  He ran an openly racist campaign, calling for mass deportations.  He is not the first racist president.

This is also not the first time that freedom of speech and of the press will come under attack.  We need only look to the Sedition Act of 1918, or to McCarthyism, and to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

There are historical precedents for a lot of what we’re about to experience.  But not everything…


… And We Have Not Been Here Before.

He is the first actively megalomaniacal president to have command of the nuclear arsenal, and a vast surveillance apparatus. He is the first president to lack experience in government or the military.

As far as I know, he’s the first demagogue president. He called for his opponent to be jailed, and twice insinuated that she be assassinated. He believes in revenge.  The most powerful person in the world is a vengeful man who admires dictators. This is very, very dangerous.


How to Survive Autocracy

Protesters outside Trump Tower the day after the election, New York City, November 9, 2016

Indeed, as I write these words, I wonder whether it’s safe for me to write these words. Come January, we will have a president who ran as an autocrat (“I alone can fix it”), spoke disdainfully of freedom of speech, and maintains an enemies list. However, his incredibly thin skin also makes it impossible to gauge what may set him off.  Just about any form of criticism seems to anger him.

Though I have not lived under autocracy before, I am becoming more aware of how even implied threats curtail freedom of expression. Though this criticism may later place me at risk, I think it’s better to speak up than to stay silent.

I would, though, advise you to study Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.”  Gessen is a Russian-American journalist who has opposed Putin.  She knows what she’s talking about.

Here are her main points:

  • Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.
  • Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
  • Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.
  • Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.
  • Rule #5: Don’t make compromises.… In an autocracy, politics as the art of the possible is in fact utterly amoral. Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected.
  • Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election.

But read the whole thing.  You’ll need this.  We will all need this.

While I’m offering advice on what to read, follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter and read everything she writes. Kendzior is a journalist and an expert on authoritarian states.  Here’s her piece from the morning after the election: “A fascist’s win, America’s moral loss.”


Resisting Tyranny is Patriotic

Superman PSA, c. 1950

I have continued wearing my Clinton-Kaine pins in public because I want other anti-fascists to know that I’m with them. So far, I have not been challenged, but when I am I will say:

I wear these because I’m a patriotic American. I support all people’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All races, all religions, all genders, all sexualities. Whether they’re immigrants or native born.  Whether they’re abled or disabled.  Throughout his campaign, our president-elect has actively opposed these American values.

If they say, yeah but Trump has a black man and a woman in his cabinet, then I say:

they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Nearly all of his top picks are White men. Also, news flash: racism doesn’t only infect White people. It seeps into the minds of all of us. The person who says things like “I am the least racist person you’ll ever meet” is either lying to you or unaware of how racism works.

Fighting Trumpism is inherently patriotic. Remind people of this at every turn. You are the patriot.


Struggle is more reliable than hope

It’s hard to be hopeful right now. The mood resembles the days after September 11th 2001, with one crucial difference: the terrorists will now be running the government.  We know that things are about to get much, much worse — but we don’t quite know how.  We’re falling and have no idea when we’ll reach bottom, or even where the bottom is.

But do not give in to despair.  Join the struggle because struggle is more reliable than hope. Struggle gets things done. Struggle organizes. Struggle makes the phone calls. Struggle votes. Struggle stands up for the marginalized.  Sure, it’s nice to feel hopeful. Hope offers the warm illusion of that things will get better. It’s a nice feeling.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)However, things will get worse more rapidly than we realize. Hope is a luxury. Struggle is a necessity. Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it best in his eloquent, necessary Between the World and Me:

So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.

And in that struggle, remember that you have allies. As Hillary Clinton’s campaign advised us, we are stronger together.


Take care of yourself, too

Watch Luke Cage or whatever your current favorite show is. Watch your favorite comedians or news/satire shows. Exercise. Take a walk, go for a run, play basketball, swim, do yoga. (I find that I feel a bit better when I exercise regularly.) sbtPray or meditate. The meditation app “Breathe” can be calming. In sum, turn to your wellness strategies — or devise some soon.

For me, the bright moments in this election’s aftermath have been all the supportive people in my community — here in Kansas, across the country, and around the world. As Clinton’s victory began to slip away on election night, I started getting texts and emails, with more arriving the following day. My friends and colleagues have been reaching out to each other, caring for each other.  We have each other.  We support each other.

An election like this shatters whatever faith I have left in humanity, and so it’s been vital to hear from good folks. The task now is to gather these bright fragments, and guided by them, stagger forward into the looming darkness.

We will prevail.  We have to prevail.  There is no other option.

Any suggestions?  Anything I’ve left out above?  Please feel free to add it below.

Thanks for reading.

Now, let’s get to work.


THE SOLE ENDNOTE:

1. I didn’t want to make “the reasons Trump won” the main focus of this piece, but here’s brief note on possible causes for any who may be interested.

  • False equivalency: The media peddled the Clinton email story as if it were somehow equivalent to Trump pathologically lying about everything, swindling people at Trump University, failing to pay contractors, claiming to have written books (The Art of the Deal) that he didn’t, bragging about committing sexual assault, calls to assassinate his opponent, his racist “birther” b.s., his Islamophobia, etc. etc. When voters got unmediated Clinton, her poll numbers went up. For instance, after each debate, her poll numbers improved.
  • FBI Director James Comey’s statement about emails that he (too late) recanted tipped the scales in Trump’s favor.
  • White people/Racism. White working class voted for Trump, Black working class did not. White women voted for Trump, women of color did not. That Trump’s racism did not immediately disqualify him says a lot about the electorate.
  • Men/Sexism. If Hillary Clinton were on tape, bragging about (let’s say) “cock-grabbing,” her campaign would never have recovered. There are many other examples of the double standard to which she’s been held, but this is the most symptomatic.
  • The working class feels left behind because, on some level, they know that neoliberalism is a con. It doesn’t deliver prosperity to everyone. Hillary Clinton moved further to the left (thanks to Bernie Sanders), but she’s neoliberalism personified. I’ll take neoliberalism over fascism any day. But White working class voters were unimpressed.
  • Fake news. There are people who believe that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, that climate change is a hoax, that our southern borders are porous, that Obama is a Muslim, that Obama was born in Kenya, etc. And they can point you to many on-line sources to “verify” their fanciful notions. Social media just accelerates this misinformation avalanche. The Left and the Right dont actually agree on the same set of facts
  • People vote on feelings rather than facts. If you look at Trump’s website, there aren’t a lot of specific policy details there. If you look at Clinton’s, there’s an abundance of them.
  • Thanks to the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Republican efforts at voter suppression (having fewer polling places in minority neighborhoods, resulting in long lines, for instance) are deterring voters.
  • Voter turnout was low. I wouldn’t venture to predict how much of this was due to voter suppression (it may be quite a small number), but 47% of eligible voters failed to vote
  • Did 3rd-party candidates have an impact? Given the tight margins, it’s probable that they did, but that’s hard to prove: we don’t know which way their votes would have gone or if they would have turned up at all.
  • Could she have run a better campaign? Actually, I think she did as well as she could — a data-driven campaign and on message (just like the candidate). She brought in high-powered surrogates, including the Obamas themselves. Campaigned hard. Listened. But the data was off. She should have campaigned in Wisconsin. She should have done more in Michigan. But hindsight is 20-20.
  • Should the Democrats have nominated Bernie? Now, that’s the $50,000 question, isn’t it? I think Trump’s better at channeling populist anger than Bernie. Bernie actually has some policy solutions, of course, but he’s also a Socialist Jew. Given the prominence of anti-Semites like Steve Bannon in Trump’s campaign (and Trump’s own racism), you can bet Trump & co. would have used that to delegitimize his candidacy. The answer is: we don’t know. Sanders might have succeeded. And he might not.
Image credits: Alt-Trump logo & safety pin by Sam Kuo.

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Election 2016 in Picture Books; or, What Will We Tell the Children?

Children's picture books about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

This election. You’re tired of it. I’m tired of it. And… it’s finally over. Today. Or, at least we hope it will be resolved today. Given that Mr. Trump has vowed only to accept a Trump victory, it may not be resolved today. Either way, the 2016 U.S. Election is one for the history books — and for children’s books. We have yet to read the children’s book about this presidential contest, but four picture books on the candidates offer a first draft of history for younger readers.

A few months ago, I was talking to a German reporter about picture books on presidential candidates — he was genuinely surprised that there were already children’s books about Clinton and Trump. After all, neither had yet attained the office! But it didn’t surprise me. During the 2008 presidential election, there were twelve juvenile titles about then Senator Barack Obama — two of them picture books. During that same election, there were five books for young readers about Senator John McCain — one of those, a picture book (My Dad, John McCain, by his daughter Meghan).

Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015)This year, we already have three picture books about Hillary Clinton  — one of which, Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates’ Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015) has been updated since its initial appearance in 2008. The other two are new for this election: Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead (2016) and Jonah Winter and Raul Colon’s Hillary (2016).  On the Republican side, there’s just one: Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal’s A Child’s First Book of Trump (2016), which might also be called an adult satire masquerading as a children’s book.

Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, A Child's First Book of Trump (2016)Or it might not. Representing the American Trump (as Black calls him) requires a journey into areas where most children’s books fear to tread.  Lucky for Black and Rosenthal, they created the book before the emergence of the tape in which Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, before he was openly flirting with using nuclear weapons (and encouraging their proliferation), before he challenged the patriotism of a Gold Star family, before he went on a late-night Twitter rant against a former Miss Universe, before he (twice) suggested that his supporters assassinate Hillary Clinton, and before he said he would only accept the election results if he won.  Writing a Trump picture book now — even a picture book for adults — would be much more challenging.

Even though it misses some of Mr. Trump’s more recent offenses, A Child’s First Book of Trump does not shy away from his tiny hands, his anxiety about “the size of [his] manhood,” his need to attach his name to products of dubious merit, his fixation on always “winning,” or his obsession with TV coverage. “Now, where does it live?” Black asks of the Trump. “On flat-screen TVs! / It rushes toward every camera it sees. / It thrives in the most contentious conditions / And excretes the most appalling emissions.”

Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, A Child's First Book of Trump (2016)

The ersatz Seussian verse is no accident. Black represents Trump as a con-artist straight out of Seuss. In A Child’s First Book of Trump, Trump’s personality is part unreformed Grinch and part Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the salesman who profits from the Sneetches’ prejudice (in Seuss’s The Sneetches). Visually, Rosenthal depicts the Trump as an oversized yam with a comb-over.  He’s a compelling character for a children’s book: an ego that is both inflated and fragile; a volatile, impulsive personality; a pathological need for attention. He is the shining example of how not to behave. He is not even a “he.” He is an “it,” a non-gendered, primal, howling ball of need.

Jonah Winter & Raul Colon, Hillary (2016)Where Black and Rosenthal can draw upon the ready-made caricature of the man himself, the creators of the Hillary Clinton books face the challenge of both presenting a complex, multi-dimensional adult, and finding a clear narrative through-line. For the latter, all three underscore Clinton’s life and work as a feminist achievement, illustrating her Wellesley commencement speech, as well as her work as a lawyer, First Lady, U.S. senator, 2008 presidential candidate, and U.S. Secretary of State.

Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead (2016)The feminist narrative is compelling: it gives her struggle a sharp focus, and invites readers to root for her as she surmounts (or does not surmount) tough odds. When the story of the 2016 campaign gets added to revised editions of these books or told in new books, a feminist emphasis will contrast decisively with her opponent’s prolific misogyny. Indeed, in these children’s books of the future, Mr. Trump’s sexist thuggery will make him a convenient foil for Secretary Clinton.

In the current editions, the feminist emphasis sometimes risks oversimplifying. While I understand Krull’s desire to wrest a moral from each moment of Clinton’s life, the homily on every two-page spread feels condescending, as if the book doesn’t trust readers to make sense of the narrative. After a teen-age Hillary writes to NASA to volunteer to be an astronaut, the agency turns her down: “But it was 1961, and some paths were still closed to women, such as the job of astronaut.” On the same page and in a cursive script, the book adds “Take a deep breath, look ahead, and keep trying to fly.”  If these inspirational moments admirably address a lack of heroes for girls, they also insist upon the book’s authority, denying readers the pleasure of drawing their own lessons from its story.

Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015)

Aided by the expressive faces and body language in Pham’s artwork, Markel’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead offers the sharpest focus on her subject’s battle against institutional sexism. Nearly every two-page spread confronts the double standard that Hillary has faced throughout her life. While campaigning with Bill, the narrative observes, “She wasn’t frightened of the cameras and reporters. But she couldn’t believe how people criticized her — in ways they’d never criticize a man.” By delivering this critique via free indirect discourse (third person closely aligned with first-person perspective, Hillary in this case), Markel softens the didacticism, while still highlighting the considerable gender bias — which, as Samantha Bee and others have pointed out, has been a dominant theme of the 2016 campaign.

Winter and Colón’s Hillary manages the feminist message subtly, via compelling anecdotes that speak for themselves. Visiting Egypt as Secretary of State, Clinton stands poised behind a podium, heedless of the men who point and shout at her. Winter’s narrative reports: “In Egypt, where women do not have as many rights as men, she gave a speech that called for equality between men and women. She was challenged by men in the audience: how dare she come to Egypt and tell them what to do? Hillary did not back down.” The sharpness of Winter’s text and warmth of Colon’s artwork (a mix of watercolors, colored pencils and lithograph crayons), taken together, conveys just the right mix of toughness and compassion.

Jonah Winter & Raul Colon, Hillary (2016)

The books about Hillary steer clear of Bill’s infidelities. On the one hand, this seems fair: his philandering is not her fault, and so need not be part of her story. On the other, it seems a lost opportunity: her ability to stick with a wayward spouse would offer some insight into their relationship. The sole book about Donald also omits his three marriages, many affairs, and avocational groping. Here, the omission is a flaw: Trump’s view that women are objects tells us much about his character, and should be included. It could serve as a cautionary tale for young readers, telling boys how not to behave, and all children about the type of boy they should avoid.

When picture-book creators of the future (or these authors, in revised editions) tell the story of this election, they’ll face the challenge of including language and behavior typically excluded from works for young readers, where pussy-grabbing typically refers to picking up a cat and not to sexual assault.  It’s quite possible that children’s books about the 2016 election will land on the American Library Association’s Banned Book List.

However, if that proves to be the case, then so be it. Lying to children does not help them understand the world in which they live. The truth is that, in 2016, the Republican Party nominated a thin-skinned, unhinged, narcissistic, sociopathic, misogynist, racist, conspiracy-theorist-spouting con artist. Most members of his party were the contemporary equivalent of good Nazis: they professed disagreement with some of his statements, but otherwise endorsed their candidate. Should Mr. Trump win, children’s books about this election will be shelved next to children’s books about the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Stalin, and other authoritarian rulers.  The books will be cautionary tales about how fascism can ransack democracies.

If Secretary Clinton wins, the U.S. will have at least won an electoral victory over an aspiring tyrant, even though he, his followers, and the party that nominated him will not have disappeared.  Discovering how to lead Trumpites and Trump-supporting Republicans back to democracy will be one of the major challenges of a Hillary Clinton administration.

As I write these words in the earliest hours of November 8th, we do not yet know the election’s outcome — though polling suggests that Secretary Clinton will prevail, thanks in large part to high voter turnout among Hispanics, African Americans, and other minoritized groups.  Indeed, in the grandest of ironies, all those whom the U.S. has historically treated badly — if they vote in sufficient numbers — will save America from itself.

And that’s a story worth telling.


Other posts about the 2016 U.S. Election:

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How to Read Harold

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverTo celebrate Crockett Johnson‘s 110th birthday, I offer some advice on how to read Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955). Sort of. This is not so much “advice” as it is a glimpse of my work-in-progress, How to Read Harold: A Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson, and the Making of a Children’s Classic.  The book (when finished, and presuming anyone wants to publish it) is both a biography of a book and a succinct introduction to how children’s picture books work. Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon reveals how complex an apparently simple story can be, and offers a case study in what we miss when we underestimate, trivialize, or simply fail to look closely at the art of the picture book. Indeed, the book’s deceptively transparent aesthetic makes it ideal for this purpose because, at first glance, most people would deem the book self-explanatory. What more can be said about a boy, a crayon, and the moon?

In what is currently 15 very short chapters (and will ultimately be perhaps 25 very short chapters), I offer different ways in thinking about one book — and, in this sense, I’m making a nod to Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik‘s forthcoming How to Read Nancy, a brilliant close-reading of a single Nancy comic strip.  More than merely an expansion of their original essay, the book offers 43 ways of reading the Aug. 8 1959 Nancy and, in so doing, provides a master class in how comics work.  I’m hoping to achieve something similar for picture books.

Here, then, is an extract from How to Read Harold.  Enjoy!

One, Two, Three Dimensions; or, “And the moon went with him.”

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "He made a long straight path so he wouldn't get lost."

Thanks to the stylistic consistency of Johnson’s clear line, Harold and his artwork all inhabit the same reality. Their shared aesthetic allows Johnson to convince us that, for example, oscillating between two and three dimensions is perfectly normal. Or, at least, this oscillation — which begins at the moment when Harold draws the path — convinces most people. It puzzled both of Johnson’s editors. Looking at Johnson’s dummy, his editor Ursula Nordstrom said, “I found myself asking such dumb questions — like where did he draw the moon and the path and the tree?”  First among a list of “The parts I am not too sure of,” Harper reader Ann Powers also named “the pathway at the beginning (too strange?).” It may be strange, but when Harold is standing in an empty void, it also makes sense for him to draw a “long straight path.” It’s practical. It anchors him. It also creates the illusion of three dimensions in what has — up to this point — been a two-dimensional space. Unlike most pre-schoolers, Harold understands the vanishing point.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "And the moon went with him."

In one sense, the observation that “he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path” echoes such advice as “taking the road less traveled” or “getting off the beaten path.”  Harold’s decision to leave it announces his creativity. In another sense, the observation is literally true. His drawing only appears to have three dimensions. He’s actually on a flat page. The most he can do on this “path” is walk in place. To get anywhere, he needs to acknowledge the flatness of the page and walk off the path, into a new space, blank and ready for his crayon.

As he departs from the path, “the moon went with him” suggests a three-dimensional reality — even though only some of Harold’s drawings actually have three dimensions. The dragon and boat are 2-D. The pies and picnic blanket are 3-D. The balloon begins as one-dimensional (a curved line), becomes two-dimensional (a circle), and ends as three-dimensional (two ropes extending behind, and two ropes in front). But its basket stays two-dimensional, as does the house it lands in front of. Yet these differing numbers of dimensions (often on the same page) don’t seem inconsistent or out-of-place because the moon helps trick us into seeing these scenes in a three-dimensional space. When we walk at night in the real, physical world, the moon seems to follow us. The moon is the only part of Harold’s drawing that’s able to move, hovering over his head, far off in the distance, as he walks along.

Though neither named in the title nor represented on the cover, the moon is as important as Harold and his crayon. Perhaps acknowledging the moon’s key role in this trio, two later Harold books feature the moon on the cover: next to a tightrope-walking Harold on Harold’s Circus (1959) and as the “D” on Harold’s ABC (1963). The moon is Harold’s companion throughout Harold and the Purple Crayon, and the third constant visual motif. After its introduction, the moon appears in every scene (every page or two-page spread, in the four “city” pages) — along with the two other constants (Harold and his crayon). Harold might be read as a stand-in for the reader, the crayon as his (or our) imagination, and the moon a guiding light. Or, better: Harold is the artist, the crayon his medium, and the moon his muse.

Crockett Johson: Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival, 1958

Crockett Johnson’s poster for the 1958 New York Herald Tribune Children’s Spring Book Festival courtesy of Chris Ware.

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Trump Is the Voldemort of Presidential Candidates (Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote)

Trump is Voldemort

Just before the first debate, I wrote a little essay for the Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote project.  Here’s a small excerpt:

Donald Trump is the Voldemort of presidential candidates. Now, wait just a minute (you might object): Trump has an elaborate coif, but Voldemort is bald! And Voldemort is well-spoken, while Trump uses the vocabulary of a fourth-grader! Both true. But Trumpy and Voldy otherwise have so much in common.

Both built their political careers on scapegoating minorities. In his bid to make wizarding great again, Voldemort wants to expel Muggles and those of Muggle ancestry — even though he himself is the son of a witch and a Muggle. Trump — the son of a Scots mother and an American Klansman father — also likes to blame immigrants. Mexicans, he says, are “rapists” and “criminals.” Islam “hates us,” Trump alleges, and Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.

My essay also makes a case for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.  I contrast her sane policies with his dangerous ones, and note another key difference:

        I support Hillary Clinton because she is compassionate, and has been throughout her career.  Donald Trump cares only for Donald Trump. There are countless stories of Clinton coming to the aid of others, whether making sure 9/11 first responders got the help they needed, fighting for children’s health care, or sustaining a correspondence with ordinary citizens like Aleatha Williams — who, as a child, wrote to the then First Lady. Clinton kept in touch, attended Williams’ middle-school luncheon and high school graduation. It’s impossible to imagine Donald Trump — a man who attacked a grieving Gold Star family — doing anything of the kind. He has no heart. No compassion. No humanity.

The whole essay is over at Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote, where you’ll also find great pieces by many other (much better) writers.  Check it out!  Make sure you’re registered to vote!  And VOTE!


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Ambiguous credit: I’m not sure who made the meme I’ve used at the top of the post, but it wasn’t me.

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