Archive for March, 2012

Thirty Jaunty Songs

Thirty Jaunty SongsYes.  Spring is here, which means flowers blooming and (for academics, at least) the rapidly accelerating roller-coster that is the second half of the semester.  It is thus time for some jaunty music.  Enjoy!

1)    You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams       Fats Waller and His Rhythm (1939)    2:51

How is it that this song is not more widely known and recorded?  ”I’ve looked the universe over from Wack-a-nac-sac to Dover,” and… I’m aware of only two recordings: this one, and one by Peter Mulvey.  This is one of my favorites because, well, how can you listen to this and not smile?  Although I expect this song is on more than one compilation, the only place I’ve found it is Fats Waller‘s The Middle Years Part 2 (1938-1940).  The song’s composers are Al Hoffman (best known for co-writing “Mairzy Doats”), Al Goodhart (co-wrote “Fit as a Fiddle”), and Manny Kurtz.

2)    Funiculi Funicula  The Mills Brothers (1938)    2:31

Another favorite that always makes me happy.  The original Italian version of the song (1880, music by Luigi Denza, lyrics by Peppino Turco) commemorated the opening of the first funicular cable car up Mount Vesuvius. Edward Oxenford’s English lyrics retain the cheeriness but not the meaning of the original.  This song appears in more than one compilation, but it comes to you here via the Mills BrothersThe 1930s Recordings Volume 5.

3)    Alouette     The Delta Rhythm Boys (1958)    2:42

Confession: that Target ad introduced me to the Delta Rhythm Boys, whose sound seems to fall in between the Mills Brothers and doo-wop.

The Delta Rhythm Boys are a jump-blues vocal group.  They performed in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s, but in the 1950s moved to Europe, where they remained for the rest of their careers.  Perhaps this is why the group is not as well-known in their native country, and why the CDs I could find mostly seem to have been produced in Europe.

4)    Sh-Boom   The Chords (1954)    2:26

Is there a more perfect doo-wop number than the Chords’ “Sh-Boom”?  The Crew Cuts’ cover (released the same year) sold more copies, but nothing matches the original version.  This was the Chords’ sole hit.  Below, an a capella rendition, and further evidence that all popular culture will eventually end up on YouTube.

5)    Boum        Charles Trenet (1938)    2:35

This one’s in French, but includes lots of imitations of animals.  Silly and fun, from the vocalist best known (in the U.S.) for “La Mer” — the song performed (in English) by Bobby Darin as “Beyond the Sea.”

6)    A Newt Called Tiny          Wee Hairy Beasties (2006)    0:18

Delightful pun.  It’s the sort of song that, I think, should be sung on playgrounds everywhere.  Indeed, it sounds like it’s an older song, but I think the group wrote it.  Comprised of Kelly Hogan and two members of the Mekons, the Wee Hairy Beasties are a supergroup of sorts.  This track appears on their first record, Animal Crackers.

7)    Swinging on a Star         Bing Crosby (1944)    2:32

Crosby sang this song in the film Going My Way (1944).  Written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, it won the Oscar for Best Original Song.  I like the arrangement on the record better than that in the film (below), but the movie is notable for its inclusion of a racially integrated boys’ choir.

8)    Mais Que Fait La Nasa?    Paris Combo (2001)    4:04

For a few years in the late 1990s and into the first decade of the 2000s, Paris Combo put out some great records.  Then,… they stopped.  I don’t know why.  I do know that they’re currently on tour.  Perhaps there’ll be new recordings soon?  There are some new demos on their website — so, I’m hopeful.  This particular song appears on their album, Attraction (2001).

9)    Love Astronaut    Murder Mystery (2007)    3:01

This extremely catchy song is from the band’s first LP, Are You Ready for the Heartache Because Here It Comes (2007).  That record contains a number of finely crafted pop songs, but this is my favorite.  After a few years of silence (at least in terms of new releases), Murder Mystery put out a new EP earlier this year: Problems.

10) Flying Home (Take B)      Ella Fitzgerald (1945)    2:30

One of the classic records to feature scat-singing, an art at which Ella Fitzgerald excels.  Her ability to use her voice as an instrument, improvising solos and syllables … is truly astonishing.  For more great scatting, check out her “Oh, Lady Be Good” (Decca, 1947), “Cotton Tail” (1967, on The Concert Years 1953-1967), and the great “Mack the Knife” (1960, on The Complete Ella in Berlin).  The box set Twelve Nights in Hollywood is also well worth your while.  This track appears on Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings.

11) Float On    Modest Mouse  (2004)    3:28

From the album Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

12) What Would Jay-Z Do?    Ben Lee (2007)    2:55

A very good question, and a happy song, too.  From Lee‘s album, Ripe (2007).

13) It’s a Great Life (If You Don’t Weaken)    Sam Lanin & His Orchestra (1929)    3:14

The song that inspired the title of Seth’s It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (1996).   Lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Richard Whiting and Newell Chase.

14) Pick Yourself Up  Fred Astaire (1936)    2:56

Composed by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, the song appears in Swing Time (1936), one of the great Astaire-Rogers films.  Not that you asked, but the other great ones are Top Hat (1935), The Gay Divorcee (1934), and Shall We Dance? (1937).

15) On the Sunny Side of the Street    Louis Armstrong (1937)    2:55

Composed by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, this song can be found in versions by Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Dorsey (with the Sentimentalists), and Dinah Washington.  Louis Armstrong’s recording is one of the earlier versions — the song made its debut in a 1930 Broadway musical.

16) The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)      Simon & Garfunkel (1966)    1:43

“Hello, lamppost. What’cha knowin’?”  One of Paul Simon‘s more whimsical compositions, this appears on Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966).  Below: Simon and Garfunkel on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

17) Sweet Georgia Brown       Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli (1938)    3:08

I first heard this song (whistled) as the theme to the Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, which aired on Sunday mornings from 1974 to 1976.  Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli’s rendition reaches you here via the compilation Swing from Paris: The Quintette of the Hot Club of France (ASV/Living Era). Music composed by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard.  Kenneth Casey’s lyrics do not appear in this rendition.

18) Linus and Lucy     Vince Guaraldi (1968)    2:59

More commonly known as the Peanuts theme, Vince Guaraldi‘s song makes its debut in Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown (1964), appearing again in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and many subsequent Peanuts productions.  This particular recording appears on Oh, Good Grief! (1968).

19) Il sole è di tutti       Franco Micalizzi (1968)    1:58

From the soundtrack to the film of the same name.  Appears on The Original Masters: Italian Comedy 60′s, Vol. 1

20) Ad Ogni Costo (At Any Cost)      Ennio Morricone (1967)    2:53

Continuing the theme of Italian film soundtracks from the 1960s, here’s one of the greatest Morricone tunes.  It appears in the film of the same name, and is on many compilations.  But it comes to you here via Cocktail Mix Volume 4: Soundtracks With a Twist!

21) The Liberty Bell March     Her Majesty’s Royal Marines & Lt. Colonel G.A.C. Hoskins (1992)    3:20

You know it as the theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but this John Philip Sousa piece is an American military march composed in 1893.

22) Whatchamacallit    Esquivel (1958)    2:33

From Esquivel‘s Exploring New Sounds in Stereo (1958).

23) Le fate (m8)           Armando Trovaioli (1966)    1:16

Returning to Italian film soundtracks from the 1960s, here’s the title song from the film of the same name.  This track appears on The Original Masters: The Film Music For Alberto Sordi.

24) Mah Na Mah Na   Mah Na Mah Na (1969)    1:54

Composed by Piero Umiliani for Svezia, inferno e paradiso, the song achieved lasting fame via its long association with the Muppets.

25) It Don’t Mean a Thing       Duke Ellington with Joya Sherrill, Marie Ellington and Kay Davis, vocals (1945)    3:01

“It makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot. / Just give that rhythm everything you’ve got!”  Composed by Duke Ellington (music) and Irving Mills (lyrics).

26) Tobacco Auctioneer          Don Byron (1996)    2:36

Composed by Raymond Scott but performed by Don Byron and co., this recording appears on Byron’s Bug Music.

27) Soul Bossa Nova (Original Mix)       Quincy Jones & His Orchestra (1962)    3:11

Probably best-known today for its appearance in the Austin Powers films, the song made its debut on JonesBig Band Bossa Nova (1962).

28) The Mesopotamians          They Might Be Giants (2007)    2:58

On my imaginary radio station, this song was a big hit.  From They Might Be GiantsThe Else.

29) Bongo Bong          Manu Chao (1999)    2:56

Manu Chao‘s song first appears on his record Clandestino (1998), but this version comes from the compilation World Playground: A Musical Adventure for Kids (1999).

30) Particle Man          Mrs. Belaire’s second grade class, Ottawa Elementary School (Buchanan, MI), music director Tim McCarthy (1990)    2:06

The greatest cover of any They Might Be Giants song ever appears on Then! The Earlier Years.  The original version is on TMBG’s Flood (1990).

 

Leave a Comment

The Pleasures of Displacement

planeI don’t enjoy flying, but I do like traveling. There is pleasure in being somewhere else, in experiencing a different city or country. All that is taken for granted in daily life cannot be taken for granted — and this is especially true when in another country, when the food, language, and culture differs in varying degrees from one’s own. Prior to dinner, the Swiss have apero, a kind of extended meal of hors d’ouvres. In a Japanese restaurant, shoes get left at near the doorway, and hands adjust to eating with chopsticks instead of a knife and fork.  But even in one’s own country, cities are not identical. Normal, Illinois (where I am flying from, as I write this) has three independent record stores on the same block, and a superlative used bookstore — with lots of children’s books — on the same block. And I ran along a trail I’ve never run along before.

When traveling, daily work does not vanish. The draft of the panel proposal must be edited and rewritten, via a series of email exchanges with a colleague at another university. The invited talk itself must be timed, polished, cut, honed, rehearsed.  Emails from students, colleagues, editors, and others require answers.

But all of this work happens out of context, in a different space — on a plane, in an airport, at the hotel lobby, in the back of the taxi, in the hotel room. Because it is happening in different locations, it acquires a slightly different flavor, even a greater sense of clarity.  This sharpness of perception may derive from the simple fact of being somewhere else: because they are unfamiliar, surroundings demand more attention, perhaps heightening attentiveness more generally. It may also derive from urgency: being a conference attendee or invited speaker creates a daily schedule that reorganizes time in ways that cannot always be anticipated.

I like that, though. And, since I’m almost always traveling for business, I enjoy the interchange of ideas — in the Q+A session of the talk, or the conversations over dinner, after the panel session, and so on.  During the past few days, talking with Jan Susina, his wife Jodie Slothower, their son Jacob, my former graduate student Elizabeth Williams (and other University of Illinois grad students, faculty, and families), I’ve learned about lots of books and articles I need to read: Theories of affect, collections of comics, young adult novels. Beyond that, there are ideas that lodge in my subconscious, emerging later, sometimes long after I’ve forgotten the source.  At some point, I’ll ask Jan to elaborate on the connections he sees between Paul Klee and Crockett Johnson.

Though academics work long hours (as I’ve documented elsewhere) for less compensation than we’d like, I feel privileged to have a job in which I get to learn, share what I’ve learned with other people, and learn from other people.

Combining these intellectual exchanges with the displacement of travel brings the experience of learning into focus, sustains a degree of clarity absent from my workaday life, prods me to keep moving forward into new areas.

And it’s especially nice when someone else picks up the cost! (I pay for most conference travel myself, but I’m coming back now from two invited talks, both of which were covered by the host institution.)  So, thanks to the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of English (especially Marah Gubar), and to Illinois State’s Department of English (especially Jan Susina and Roberta Trites), and to everyone who hosted, chatted, came to the talks or otherwise participated.  It’s been a great few days!  Until next time!

Comments (1)

Professors Work Harder Than You Do, David C. Levy

stack of booksOne wonders if David C. Levy came by his ignorance naturally, or whether it’s a state of mind that he has cultivated carefully over the years.  His piece in the Washington Post is so poorly informed that I suspect ignorance may simply be something with which nature has endowed him.  He claims that “Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000,” that faculty don’t work in the summers (according to him, we work only “the 30-week academic year, which leaves almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment”), and bases his ideas for expanding our workloads on the notion that we work roughly 40 hours a week.

All of these claims are false.  I recognize that this is an opinion piece, but shouldn’t the Washington Post provide some basic fact-checking?

1) Faculty salaries vary widely by discipline.  I don’t doubt that a senior faculty member in Business may earn between $80,000 to $150,000.  That’s very very rare for those of us in the Humanities.  I am a senior faculty member (tenured, full professor) in English at a state university, and that’s more than I make.

2) Faculty do work in the summers.  Some teach to supplement their income.  All of us devote some of that time to research and writing.  There are three components to the job: teaching (which includes grading, planning classes, teaching classes, meeting with students, writing recommendations, etc.), research (researching, writing and publishing articles and books), and service (serving on committees both within and beyond the university, reviewing manuscripts for presses and journals, leading programs/departments/professional organizations, etc.).  Some aspects of teaching (grading, class prep) begin and end with the school year — unless you teach summer courses.  But other aspects do not: designing new courses, revising the syllabus for a future term, reading new books so that you can improve the syllabus.  Still, it’s not unreasonable to assume that (unless a faculty member teaches in the summer) we’re doing less teaching work in the summer.

But research and service happen all year.  I do not stop reviewing manuscripts in the summer months, nor do I stop serving on committees for professional organizations.  I do not abandon my research.  Indeed, the summer months grant me precious time to work on books and articles — I’d be a fool if I didn’t take advantage of that.  At some point I need to do a version of “What Do Professors Do All Week?” for the summer months.  I guarantee you that, even during the months I am not paid (because I elect not to teach in the summer, Kansas State University does not pay me during the summer), I am working at least 40-hour weeks.  I would be willing to make this claim for my fellow faculty members, too.  YES, we do take holidays, when we can.  However, for me, at least, often those holidays are a day or two tacked on to the beginning or end of a trip to an academic conference.

3) We work far more than 40-hour weeks. During the school year, I typically work 60-hour weeks.  Indeed, I documented this fact in my “What Do Professors Do All Week?” series last spring, chronicling specifically how I spent each day of the week: SaturdaySundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday.

I’d write more about this subject, but I’m afraid I don’t have any more time right now.  And Mr. Levy, a word of advice: next time, write about what you know.

More posts on academia from Nine Kinds of Pie (this blog):

Comments (18)

Potter in Pittsburgh, Johnson & Krauss in Normal

I’ve managed to schedule two invited talks within three days of one another.  I believe both are open to the public.  The Johnson-Krauss talk (Normal, IL, 26 Mar.) definitely is open to the public, and the Harry Potter talk (Pittsburgh, PA, 23 Mar.) offers no indication that public needs permission to attend.  So, if you’re in the area, stop on by!  Here are more details.


March 23, 2012

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

I’ll be speaking on “Harry Potter: A Cultural Biography” at 1:30 pm, in 324 Cathedral of Learning.  This is part of a day-long Harry Potter conference attended by University of Pittsburgh students.  Karin Westman is also giving a lecture, “Harry Potter and the Object of Art,” in the same location at 3:15 pm.  You can learn more about the event on this University of Pittsburgh webpage.


March 26, 2012

Illinois State University, Normal, IL

I’ll be speaking on “Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature” at  7 p.m., in 138 Schroeder Hall.  This is the spring’s Lois Lenski Lecture, and it will allow me to premiere what will be the “book talk” for my biography of Johnson and Krauss (which, not incidentally, has the same title as the talk).  You can learn more about the talk here.  They’ve got a spiffy poster for the event, too!

Philip Nel: Lois Lenski Lecture, Illinois State University, 2012

Leave a Comment

Children’s Literature + Music = Great Album Covers

Many children’s writers and illustrators have created covers for albums.  Below, we’ll look at a dozen or so of these artists.  As is ever the case with any art posted on this website, the artwork belongs to the artists.  Visit their websites!  Buy prints!  Buy their books!  (I’ve included websites for each artist.)  Enjoy!


Saul Bass

Recently republished, Bass‘s Henri’s Walk to Paris (1962, words by Leonore Klein) is fantastic. If he did other children’s books, I’m unaware of them. He did, however, do many famous album covers.  Here are his covers for Elmer Bernstein’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1956), Duke Ellington’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story (soundtrack, 1961).

The Man with the Golden Arm soundtrack (art by Saul Bass)

Anatomy of a Murder (art by Saul Bass)

West Side Story soundtrack (art by Saul Bass)


Guy Billout

The author-illustrator of The Frog Who Wanted to See the Sea (2007) and Something’s Not Quite Right (2002), Billout has also done album covers. I’m reproducing one below — Crack the Sky’s Animal Notes (1976).  I know I’ve seen other covers, but just cant put my finger on where I’ve seen them.

Crack the Sky, Animal Notes (art by Guy Billout)


R. Gregory Christie

Christie has won Coretta Scott King Honor Awards for his children’s books Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African-American Children (1996), Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth (2000), and Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan (2006). Here are his covers for Justice System’s Rooftop Soundcheck (1994) and John Coltrane’s Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997).

Justice System, Rooftop Soundcheck (art by R. Gregory Christie)

John Coltrane, Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (art by R. Gregory Christie)
Hat tip to Jules Walker Danielson for this one! And check out her interview with Christie at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


Marcel Dzama

As far as I know, Dzama has illustrated only one children’s book — They Might Be Giants’ Bed Bed Bed (2003). Admittedly, that makes him a less likely candidate than most of the other artists included here.  Here are his covers for the Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site (2003), Beck’s Guero (2005), and They Might Be Giants’ The Else (2007)

The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site (art by Marcel Dzama)

Beck, Guero (art by Marcel Dzama)

They Might Be Giants, The Else (art by Marcel Dzama)


Carson Ellis

Ellis (married to the Decemberists’ front man, Colin Meloy) has created many Decemberists album covers, as well as a few for other artists.  More recently, she’s worked on some cool children’s books, illustrating the late Florence Parry Heide’s Dilweed’s Revenge (2010), Lemony Snicket’s The Composer Is Dead (2009), and Meloy’s Wildwood (2011), among others.

Here are three covers she’s done for the Decemberists.

Her Majesty The Decemberists (art by Carson Ellis)

The Decemberists, Hazards of Love (art by Carson Ellis)

The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (art by Carson Ellis)

And here’s the cover she did for Laura Viers’ July Flame (2010).

Laura Viers, July Flame (art by Carson Ellis)

Much, much more on Ellis’s website!  Also: Jules Walker Danielson did a great (and lavishly illustrated) interview with Ellis over on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Indeed, if you care about children’s picture books, you must read Danielson’s blog — preferably, as frequently as you can.


Jim Flora

Flora had a long career designing album covers before the record industry’s preference for photographic covers (in the 1950s, at any rate) reduced demand for his work. At that point, he turned to children’s books, writing such loopy classics as The Fabulous Firework Family (1955), The Day the Cow Sneezed (1957) and many others.  Irwin Chusid has written (and co-written) some super books on Flora, and maintains a great Flora website, from which I’ve taken the following covers: Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer’s Bix and Tram (1947), Gene Krupa and His Orchestra (1947), and Mambo for Cats (1955).

Bix and Tram (art by James Flora)

Gene Krupa and His Orchestra (art by James Flora)

Mambo for Cats (art by James Flora)

You can buy prints of Flora’s album covers (and other artwork) from the website.


Crockett Johnson

I’m mostly avoiding children’s records, but Johnson‘s art for the adaptation of Ruth Krauss’s The Carrot Seed (1950) differs from the cover he did for the book (1945, which he also illustrated).  So, I thought I’d bend my rule a little and include it here.  The recording was performed by baritone-voiced Broadway actor Norman Rose, and was released by Young People’s Records and the Children’s Record Guild.

The Carrot Seed (art by Crockett Johnson)


Richard McGuire

McGuire is a renaissance man.  He wrote and (with his band, Liquid Liquid) performed “Cavern,” the song that became the music for the classic hip-hop track “White Lines,” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  He’s created one of the most innovative experiments in comics, “Here” (1989).  He’s created four picture books, including The Orange Book (1993) and What Goes Around Comes Around (1995).  And that’s not to mention his work in film or his New Yorker covers.  Here’s his cover for Liquid Liquid’s compilation Slip in & Out of Phenomenon (2008).

Liquid Liquid, Slip in & Out of the Phenomenon (art by Richard McGuire)


Dave McKean

The prolific Dave McKean is best known for his many collaborations with Neil Gaiman.  But he’s done lots more, including album covers.  Here are his covers for Counting Crows’ This Desert Life (1999), and the UK release of Tori Amos’s single, “God” (1994).

Counting Crows, This Desert Life (art by Dave McKean)

Tori Amos, "God" (art by Dave McKean)

Hat tip, again, to Jules Walker Danielson, whose interview with McKean you should check out — it has lots of art, and even more album covers.  Indeed, the album covers you see here were lifted from her interview.


Maurice Sendak

The greatest living author-artist of children’s books has done a few album covers — many in the early 1950s, but a few later in his career, too. Here’s his art for Cynthia Gooding Sings Turkish and Spanish Folk Songs (1953), Carole King’s Really Rosie (1975, lyrics by Sendak), and Shawn Colvin’s Holiday Songs and Lullabies (1988).

Cynthia Gooding Sings Turkish and Spanish Folk Songs (art by Maurice Sendak)

Carole King, Really Rosie (art by Maurice Sendak)

Shawn Colvin, Holiday Songs and Lullabies (art by Maurice Sendak)


Shel Silverstein

People remember Silverstein primarily for his many children’s books, but he was also a Playboy cartoonist, and songwriter — Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and Dr. Hook’s “On the Cover of Rolling Stone” were both Silverstein songs.  He recorded several albums of his songs for adults, including Drain My Brain (1967), for which he also created the cover below.

Shel Silverstein, Drain My Brain (art by Shel Silverstein)


Lane Smith

In 1983, Smith created album covers for the Dickies’ Stukas Over Disneyland and Oingo Bongo’s Good for Your Soul.

The Dickies, Stukas Over Disneyland (art by Lane Smith) Oingo Boingo, Good for Your Soul (art by Lane Smith)

He’s posted both of these and one other on his abandoned blog, Lane Smith’s Closet: Illustrations from My Drawers.  His other abandoned blogs are also great, but Curious Pages (co-curated with Bob Shea) is fantastic.


Art Spiegelman

Best known for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Maus, Spiegelman has also worked on a few children’s books, including Open Me… I’m a Dog! (1997), and Jack in the Box (2008).  Here’s his art for Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones, which includes liner notes from Thomas Pynchon (!).

Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones (artwork by Art Spiegelman)


Mark Alan Stamaty

Better known for his cartoons, Stamaty has created a few children’s books, including: Who Needs Donuts? (1973), Minnie Maloney & Macaroni (1976), and Where’s My Hippopotamus? (1985). He also created the artwork for They Might Be Giants’ first album (1986).

They Might Be Giants (art by Mark Alan Stamaty)


Chris Ware

Sure, Mr. Ware is primarily known for his comics & graphic novels, but he did contribute “Fairy Tale Road Rage” to the first volume of Art Spiegelman and François Mouly’s Little Lit, he writes eloquently about childhood, and… well, I like his work.  In addition to other book covers, New Yorker covers (and covers for other magazines), brilliant design work for Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, he’s done a fair few album covers.  Here is his art for the Beau Hunks’ Manhattan Minuet (1996) and Reginald R. Robinson’s Euphonic Sounds (1998).

The Beau Hunks Sextette, Manhattan Minuet (art by Chris Ware)

Reginald R. Robinson, Euphonic Sounds (art by Chris Ware)

The Hammer Gallery’s Ware site has art for sale.


I assembled this page when I should have been doing other work.  Have I missed some artists of children’s books who also worked on album covers?  Yes, certainly.  Will people point this out in the comments section, below?  I certainly hope so!  Isn’t that what comments sections are for?

Comments (5)

I am the Lorax. I speak for the Thneeds?

The Lorax: teaser poster (2012)The commercials for The Lorax film say:

I am the Lorax. I speak for the tweens.1

The commercials for the many Lorax tie-ins say:

I am the Lorax. I speak for the SUVs.2

I am the Lorax. I speak for the pancakes.3

I am the Lorax. I speak for the diapers.4

But what does the film itself say?  In its own way, Illumination Entertainment’s film adaptation actually does speak for the trees.  Sure, having the film’s male lead (Ted, voiced by Zac Efron) drive a gigantic motor-scooter isn’t exactly environmentally friendly. Why not give him a bicycle, or, better, the Seussian equivalent of a bicycle? That said, the kid only gets his ecological consciousness raised near the end of the film. So, perhaps having him buck social convention prior to the awakening of his conscience would have been less plausible for his character.

In any case, he does get the message. Initially, he seeks a Truffula seed solely to impress the girl he has a crush on — Audrey, voiced by Taylor Swift. (She’s named for Geisel’s widow, and he’s named for Theodor Seuss Geisel himself.) However, by film’s end, the Once-ler has convinced Ted of the Lorax’s message. In one of the movie’s final scenes, Ted, defending his goal of planting the last Truffula seed in the town square, announces, “I’m Ted Wiggins. And I speak for the trees!” Indeed, the movie manages to work the book’s central message in twice:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

Realizing what the “UNLESS” left by the Lorax must mean, The Once-ler delivers this line, just as he does in the book.  Later, just before the credits roll, the filmmakers put the full quotation up on the screen:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

— Dr. Seuss

In The Lorax’s film adaptation, the book’s environmental message comes through loud and clear.

It also amplifies the book’s depiction of capitalism as amoral.  In the “How Bad Can I Be?” number, the Once-ler (in the narrative of his past) sings about the “biggering and biggering” of his business: “My conscience is clear. I’ve done nothing illegal. I have my rights.”  Just after he sings, “nothing is going to stop me,” the Super-Axe-Hacker cuts down the last Truffula tree, and the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) tells him, “That’s it. The very last one. That may stop ya.”  This puts the lie to the plaque on the wall of his mansion, glimpsed earlier in the song:

TOO BIG

TO FAIL

The Once-ler.

Aligning the Once-ler’s Thneed business with the mismanaged banking industry, the film reminds us that no one is too big to fail. The Once-ler’s remorse for destroying the trees also indicates that all business decisions are moral ones: what is legal or financially remunerative may not also be moral.

Driving this point home, the film creates a second villain who, unlike the Once-ler, does not develop a conscience during the movie.  Voiced by Rob Riggle, O’Hare is the businessman who runs Thneedville, where our protagonist and everyone but the Once-ler lives. He makes his money selling air. Thneedville is a walled-in, completely artificial city: As we learn at the beginning of the film, it’s “a town without nature, not one living tree.” Visually, it looks a little too appealing, like a Seussian amusement park.  The grey, desiccated Street of the Lifted Lorax more effectively makes vivid the effects of pollution.  However, the film shows us that scene, too. And it exposes O’Hare’s mercenary nature: he doesn’t want a tree in Thneedville because it’s bad for business. Warning Ted to cease venturing outside Thneedville (where the Once-ler lives), he says, “I make a living selling fresh air to people. Trees — they make it for free.  So, I see this as a threat to my business.”

As you will have already discerned, yes, the film is didactic. Of course, the book was didactic, too. Both offer entertaining didacticism — brightly colored landscapes, rollicking anapestic verse, and, in the film, more fully developed characters, dance numbers, a lively score by and even a tween crush.  Seuss purists may complain: but the book has no dance numbers, no tween crush, no Thneedville, no O’Hare, and the Once-ler does not play the guitar!  All of that is true.  If you were hoping for a movie that was slavishly faithful to Seuss’s original book, then the film will disappoint.

However, a picture book and a film each have different strengths and weaknesses.  An attempt to create a literal rendition of the book would fail,… and would probably be quite short.  The question to ask is not: Was the film faithful to the book?  No film can be faithful to its original source, and nor should it aspire to be.  The question to ask is: How well did the director, writers, actors, animators, etc. translate the experience of the book into the medium of animated film?  And: Did their film manage to convey the core experience of the book?  In the case of The Lorax, the answer is: Yes.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Dr. Seuss himself would like the film — or most of it, anyway.

Kelloggs' Frosted Mini-Wheats, featuring the Grinch (2000)I doubt Seuss would appreciate seeing his Lorax selling SUVs, diapers, or pancakes, just as I suspect he would have disapproved of the Grinch being used to sell cereal, candy, and soda.  The 2000 live-action Grinch film had its title character selling Frosted Mini-Wheats, Hershey’s candies, and Sprite — among many other products.  When Seuss’s anti-consumerist grouch (the Grinch) is selling Frosted Flakes or his environmental protector (the Lorax) is selling SUVs, there’s a problem.

Yes, I recognize that product tie-ins are a standard way to underwrite the astronomical costs of a big-budget film. Furthermore, I’m aware that Seuss was an advertising man himself: until the publication of The Cat in the Hat (1957), he made his living by creating advertisements, not children’s literature.  In other words, I’m not trying to represent Seuss as a morally uncomplicated, anti-consumerist figure.  He was a commercial success in part because he was able to apply what he learned in advertising to writing and illustrating books for children.

However, you don’t have to be a Seuss scholar to see that the Lorax should be speaking for the trees, not the SUVs. As the book and the film make clear, we really don’t need more Thneeds.

My rating for the film: B+.

My rating for the tie-ins: F.


1. The trailer plays up the romance narrative, which (mercifully) doesn’t figure as prominently in the film.  Below, the longer version.  The short ads give the whole love-interest angle even more prominence.

2. In connection with the film, the Lorax is selling the Mazda CX-5 as “Truffula Tree-Certified.”  In addition to running on TV, this ad ran in the theatre prior to the start of the film.  Oy.

3. As the Horton Hears a Who! film (which I would also recommend) did, The Lorax is selling food of dubious nutritional merit.  That is, both are selling food from the International House of Pancakes.  At IHoP, you can buy Rooty Tooty Bar-Ba-Looty Blueberry Cone Cakes and Truffula Chip Pancakes.

True, the commercial above indicates that IHoP is also giving away free seeds — which, at least, is something.

4. Seventh Generation is selling diapers bearing the Lorax’s likeness.  In their defense, they’re trying to make healthier diapers (which is more in line with The Lorax‘s message).  Of course, they are disposable, which isn’t great for the environment.

The Lorax: diapers by Seventh Generation

Comments (1)

Dr. Seuss: children’s books “have a greater potential for good or evil, than any other form of literature on earth.”

Dr. Seuss poses with The Cat in the Hat and other books, c. 1957

Noting the rise in “adult” authors writing for children, Dr. Seuss in November 1960 published an article in which he argued that children’s books were more important than other types of books — because children’s books had the potential to be more influential than all other books.

I’m reproducing it below exactly as it appeared in the Los Angeles Times, on 27 Nov. 1960.  For this reason, the fanciful claim that Seuss was “mayor of La Jolla” remains, even though Seuss or his editor was just kidding.  (Theodor Seuss Geisel lived in La Jolla, California, but he wasn’t mayor.)


Writing for Children: A Mission

(Dr. Seuss is one of the world’s best-known writers and illustrators of children’s books. He is editor and president of the beginner book division of Random House, and, in his other identity, is mayor of La Jolla)

BY DR. SEUSS

Some 23 years ago I made a move that most of my writer friends acclaimed as the height of stupidity.

I walked out on a fairly successful career as a writer who wrote for great, big grown-up adults and began to write for the Kiddie-Kar and Bubble-Gum set.

This, in the 30s in the writing profession, was not a sign of going forward. This was a step down. At that time, the attitude of most of this country’s top writers was: writing for children is literary slumming. With a few notable exceptions, they wanted no part of scribbling for little girls who played with dollies and for little boys who had not yet shaved.

Flood of Treacle

And, to a certain degree, these authors were right. In those days, an appalling percentage of books for children were concocted out of inept, condescending, nature-faking treacle. They insulted the intelligence not only of the child, but also of the people who write them. They were batted out, hippity-hoppity, by amateurs and semi-pros with little or no experience in the very tough-to-learn craft of writing.

The funny part — and the happy part — of this brief historical essay is this:

Those same top professional writers who, a few years back, wouldn’t be caught dead with their name on a brat book are today writing enthusiastically in the juvenile field. More and more of them every year.

I think that writers have finally realized that children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise.

New-Found Potential

In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil, than any other form of literature on earth.

It is the awareness of this is now bringing so many fine top writers into the once-despised juvenile field. To be sure, the field is still full of the dispensers of mush, still hippity-hopping around their Maypoles and still ladling out their lukewarm treacle.

But the children are absorbing treacle in ever-decreasing doses. For the proportion of fine books vs. junk is growing steadily. And the children are eagerly welcoming the good writers who talk, not down to them as kiddies, but talk to them clearly and honestly as equals.


Seuss repeated the theme of talking to children “clearly and honestly as equals” throughout his postwar career.  He was equally critical of the “lukewarm treacle,” works he derisively called the “bunny-bunny” books.  Indeed, in 1949 at the University of Utah, he delivered an illustrated lecture on the subject: “Mrs. Mulvaney and the Million-Dollar Bunny.”  I hope that this lecture, the above article, and his other non-fiction someday gets collected in a book.  As mentioned in a previous blog post, a collection of Seuss’s non-fiction is one of my (many!) failed book proposals.

In celebration of what would be Seuss’s 108th birthday (March 2nd), you might enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss.  Here’s a selection:

Occasionally, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss — indeed, I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio from 7 to 8 am (Central Time) tomorrow (Friday, March 2nd).  Here are a few others:

  • 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.
Though the website has been designed to impede its utility, Random House’s Seussville‘s author section includes a bio. and timeline I wrote — the former heavily influenced by Judith and Neil Morgan’s excellent Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel.  (If you read only one book about Dr. Seuss, the Morgans’ bio is the one I’d recommend.)

And… that’s all.  Happy Read Across America Day!*


*Each year on or near March 2nd (the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the National Education Association sponsors Read Across America, designed to promote literacy.  Read more about it at the NEA’s website.

Read Across America: An NEA Project

Comments (4)