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

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

in fluorescent rooms, adjust the sound

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

to all four or fifty-seven

who found the right room, the right day.

Coffee! Insecurity! MLA!

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


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

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

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34: Narrativizing Insecurity in Indian Comics

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

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

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

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173: Connecting the Dots: Museums and Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum: Business Meeting

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

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

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


354: Graphic Resistance: Comics and Social Protest

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

Description

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

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

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

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439: Teaching Global Arab Comics in the United States

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

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543: The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth

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

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595: Graphic States of Insecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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729: Comics and the Culture Wars

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

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810: Framing New York City in Comics

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

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

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

YouTube mosaic: IRSCL statement

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


Press Release: Current Global Politics Limit Academic Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

IRSCL on Facebook


Videos of IRSCL members reading the statement in 18 languages

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

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


Arabic


Chinese


Danish


Dutch


English


Estonian


Farsi


Finnish


French


German


Italian


Kazakh


Korean


Lamnso


Norwegian


Polish


Russian


Spanish


Swedish


Ukranian


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

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

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RESIST! Year #2 begins NOW.

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


1. RESIST: a mix

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


3. Resources & Further Reading

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

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

Activism

Stay informed

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

Know your history

For Educators 

Organizations that need your help

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

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

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

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Crockett Johnson Tells the Story of Money

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who was Constance J. Foster?

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

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

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

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

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


Share the wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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

Philip Nel, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, July 2017)And now,… presenting a 45-minute illustrated lecture of my Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Philip Nel, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, July 2017)White nationalism is on the rise in the US and nativism is in the ascendant across the globe.  What role can literature for children play in teaching the next generation to be more empathetic, to respect difference, and to reject hatred?  How do we find children’s books that promote these values?  And what do we do with classics that offend?

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

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

… and 6 more questions.

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


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

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

by Philip Nel

Giveaway ends October 01, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Book: Goodreads Giveaway of Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

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)Greetings, people who read books!  Thanks to Oxford University Press, there is — this month — a Goodreads giveaway of my new bookWas the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books.  10 copies will be given away.

Important restriction: the books can only be sent to addresses in the US and Canada.  (Sorry!  The distribution isn’t something I have control over!)

Giveaway details via the link below (and via the links in this sentence).

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

by Philip Nel

Giveaway ends October 01, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

If you’d like to learn more, here is Oxford University Press’ 90-second video (featuring me) on racism in children’s literature:


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

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Racism & Seuss: It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. (A Twitter Essay)

So, as racism is on the rise, people seek examples of anti-racist thought to share.  This is helpful!  We need models from the past and present to guide us through these perilous times and (let us hope) towards a better future.

Dr. Seuss is one of the people who is often quoted and shared.  He’s a useful example, although not always in the ways that people think.  Seuss often gets portrayed as someone whose thinking on race evolved.  And to come clean here, I myself am personally responsible for promoting this belief in my earlier scholarship on his work.  The problem is that this is only half true: his thinking on race did change, but it also didn’t.

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

This evening, seeing the Seuss “racial prejudice bug” cartoon shared again (in the wake of white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville) inspired this impromptu Twitter essay.  It seemed worth sharing with a wider audience — so, I’ve gathered my Tweets into this blog post.


There are many other posts on this blog tagged Seuss. Here’s a selection:

From time to time, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss:

  • Sarah Begley, “The Hidden (and Not So Hidden) Racism in Children’s Books,” Time 27 July 2017.
  • Sopan Deb, “At the Dr. Seuss Museum: Oh, the Places They Don’t Go!” New York Times 21 June 2017.
  • Joshua Barajas, “8 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Seuss,” PBS News Hour blog, 22 July 2015.
  • “New Window into Dr. Seuss’s genius” (26 Feb. 2014). John Wilkens’ article in the San Diego Tribune discusses new Seuss material that his widow, Audrey, donated to the Dr. Seuss Papers at UCSD.
  • “Dr. Seuss: Mini-Biography.”  A&E Biography (2013).  Time: 4 minutes.
  • All Things Considered. Lynn Neary, “‘The Bippolo Seed’ : The ‘Lost’ Dr. Seuss Stories” (13 Apr. 2011): audio & transcript.  Charles Cohen & I talk about the new book of “lost” Seuss stories (edited by Charles).  Time: 3 mins, 30 secs.
  • Diane Rehm Show. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (22 Dec. 2010): audio | transcript. Reverend Derrick Harkins, Maria Salvadore, and I talk with Diane Rehm about the Grinch.  Time: 1 hour.
  • Morning Edition. Lynn Neary, “Fifty Years of The Cat in the Hat” (1 Mar. 2007): audio & transcript. Anita Silvey and I talk with Lynn Neary about the Cat in the Hat.  Time: 7 mins, 20 secs.
  • Talk of the Nation.  Steve Inskeep, “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Dr. Seuss: A New Book Looks Back on the Life of Theodor Geisel” (10 Feb. 2004): audio.  I was a bit nervous at the beginning (I believe it was my first time on live national radio), but after the first few minutes I seem to settle into it well enough.  Time: 1 hour.

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Happy Birthday, Ruth Krauss!

Ruth Krauss quotation on Los Angeles Public Library: photo by Cam Smith Ostrin

quotation from Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig (1952), on the L.A. Public Library.

If she were alive today, you would be wishing Ruth Krauss a very happy 106th birthday.  And yet Krauss was actually born 116 years ago, not 106 years ago.

Ruth Krauss's birth certificate

Look at the date in the upper-right-hand side of the document: July 25 1901.  Here, let’s zoom in on that date so that you can see it a bit better.

Ruth Krauss's birth date

Nonetheless, today, were Ruth still with us, you would be wishing her a happy 106th birthday.  Indeed, many reference sources list her birth year as 1911, instead of 1901. Why the discrepancy?

When she turned seventy, Ruth became acutely aware that people would see her as old. She felt young. So, she changed her birth year. As she would later tell a female friend, “You’re only as old as other people think you are, so always lie about your age—and preferably in increments of ten, because it’s easier to keep track of it.”

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, A Very Special House (1953)That’s good birthday advice. And it’s an appropriate outlook for a writer best known for her understanding of young people.  She had a knack for listening to children, capturing their idiosyncratic, practical locutions and then turning them into art — most famously, A Hole Is to Dig (1952), the book that launched Maurice Sendak‘s career and the first of eight children’s books they created together.  Their next, The Happy Day (1953), won Sendak his first Caldecott Honor.  If you’re new to her work, you might also read The Carrot Seed (1945, art by Crockett Johnson [her husband]), The Happy Day (1949, art by Marc Simont), Is This You? (1954, a collaboration with Johnson), I’ll Be You and You Be Me (1954, art by Sendak).  There are many more, but these — with the exception of Is This You? — are all in print, and thus should be readily available.

Ruth Krauss: Harper advertisement, 1954

Back to the birth certificate. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed something curious about that document.  Did you?  Scroll back up and take a look.  See anything odd there?

No? Check again.  I’ll wait.

.

.

.

Right. It was filed February 14, 1933 — 31 years and 9 months after she was born.   Why wait so long to file a birth certificate?  My theory is that the Great Baltimore Fire incinerated the original document in February 1904.  (Ruth was born and grew up in Baltimore.)  Why file a new one 1933?  I’m not sure.  In 1934, she married her first husband Lionel White — a true-crime writer.  Perhaps the impending marriage motivated her to seek this document.

Another question you may have is: Why trust this document, given its late filing date? Several people who knew her very well confirm the 1901 date. Notably, Betty Hahn — married to Ruth’s favorite cousin Richard Hahn — said she was born in 1901. Ruth was 12 years older than Richard. She couldn’t hide her birth date from her family.

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)For more on Krauss and her husband Crockett Johnson, you might enjoy my double biography Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (2012).  Or you might not.  I don’t know you, and I suppose I shouldn’t venture to predict.

Anyway…

Happy 106th birthday, Ruth Krauss!


Image credits: Cam Smith Ostrin for the photo of the quotation from Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig (1952, illus. by Sendak) on the Los Angeles Public Library (thanks, Cam!); Chris Ware for the cover of the biography (I will forever be grateful, Chris!).  The other credits are either obvious (Sendak did the cover for A Very Special House) or scans provided by yours truly.

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