Archive for April, 2013

A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teenager

Those of us who read, create, study, or teach children’s literature sometimes face skepticism from other alleged adults.  Why would adults take children’s books seriously?  Shouldn’t adults be reading adult books?

There are many responses to these questions:

  1. Children’s books are the most important books we read because they’re potentially the most influential books we read. Children’s books reach a young audience still very much in the process of becoming. They stand to make a deeper impression because their readers are much more impressionable.
  2. Adults who dismiss children’s literature neglect their responsibilities as parents, educators, and citizens. What future parents, teachers, doctors, construction workers, soldiers, leaders, and neighbors read is of the utmost importance, if for no other reason than some of us will continue to live in the world they inherit. If books leave such a powerful impression on young minds, then giving them good books is vital.
  3. Almost no children’s literature is written, illustrated, edited, marketed, sold, or taught by children. Adults — and adults’ idea of “children” — create children’s books. It’s profoundly hypocritical for an adult to suggest children’s literature as unworthy of adult attention. Indeed, adults who make such claims are either hypocrites, fools, or both.
  4. Children are as heterogeneous a group as adults are. There is no universal child, just as there is no universal adult. Defining the readership of any work of “children’s literature” is a tricky, sticky, complex task. Paradoxically and as the term itself indicates, “children’s literature” is defined by its audience — it’s for children. It thus a literature for an audience whose tastes, reading ability, socio-economic status, hobbies, health, culture, interests, gender, home life, and race varies widely. Children’s literature is literature for an unknowable, unquantifiable group. The very term “children’s literature” is a problem. Only someone who has never thought about children or what they read could argue that children’s literature does not merit serious consideration.
  5. Children’s literature has aesthetic value. Good children’s books are literature. Good picture books are portable art galleries. If we don’t take children’s literature seriously, then we diminish an entire art form and those who read it. We also prevent ourselves from being able to distinguish quality works from inferior ones — thus neglecting our responsibilities outlined in no. 2, above. This is not to suggest that we can or should all agree on what is a great children’s book. We can’t and we shouldn’t. What we can and should do is care about what makes children’s books bad or good, average or classic, banal or beautiful.

But my focus in this post is less on those preceding five points (or the many other points that could be added) and more on a sixth point: that children’s books have much to give those of us who are no longer children. There are levels of meaning we may have missed when we read the book as a child. There are experiences adults have that grant us interpretations unavailable to less experienced readers — just as children may arrive at interpretations unavailable to adults who have forgotten their own childhoods. In children’s books, there is art, wisdom, beauty, melancholy, hope, and insight for readers of all ages.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverWhat inspires me to make this sixth claim is that I have no memory of reading Harold and the Purple Crayon as a child. As an adult, I created a website devoted to the book’s creator, Crockett Johnson, and wrote a biography of Johnson and his wife, fellow-children’s book writer Ruth Krauss. But the book that inspired both website and biography is completely absent from my memories of early childhood.

The book does appear in memories of those memories. In eighth grade, when I had long since “graduated” into reading chapter books, my mother got a job teaching at a private school, thus enabling my sister and I to attend the school for free. Once a week (or was it once a month?), there was a faculty meeting after the end of the school day. During that meeting, my sister and I were left alone in the school library to do our homework. She did her homework. I did not. Instead, I wandered over to the picture books and began reading them. There, I rediscovered Harold and the Purple Crayon, a book I then remembered fondly from my pre-school days. I also realized that there were other books about Harold — Harold’s Trip to the Sky, Harold’s ABC. Had I read these other Harold stories when I was younger? I wasn’t sure. But I knew they were just as enchanting as the first Harold book.

So, at the age of 14 — an age when you might expect a person to be reading Young Adult novels — I began to collect paperbacks of Crockett Johnson’s Harold books.

I don’t know what needs were fulfilled by those particular words and pictures. Perhaps it was the books’ presentation of the imagination as a source of power and possibility. Maybe Harold’s iconic, clear-line style better enabled me to identify with him as he, and his crayon, navigated an uncertain, emerging landscape.

For that matter, I don’t know why, as a freshman in college, I adopted as my bedtime reading A. A. Milne’s The World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin. (The former contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner; the latter collects all the verse from When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six.)

My point is that books “for children” can speak to people of all ages and backgrounds — if we are ready to listen. It’s hard to predict when or why we will be ready to listen. It is indeed dangerous to assume that recommended age-ranges on the backs of books will tell us anything about who may read those books. When I read and re-read the Harold stories at age 14, the books did not then have age ranges on them, though I note that a more recent copy of Harold’s Fairy Tale claims it’s for “Ages 3 to 8.” As Philip Pullman has said of his own work,

I did not intend the book for this age, and not that; for one class of reader, and not others. I wrote it for anyone who wants to read it, and I want as many readers as I can get, and I want to meet them honestly…. For a book to claim “This was written for children of 11+”, when it simply wasn’t, is to tell an untruth.


Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them. They are for all who recognize that art cannot be confined within such narrow labels.

Update, 21 Sept 2015: A revised, expanded, and much better version of the above now appears in the Iowa Review‘s Fall 2015 issue. Check it out!

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Emily’s Library, Part 6: 35 More Books for the Very Young

This is the latest installment in my ongoing series of The Best Books for Young Readers. As I noted in the first post, I’m trying to assemble the ideal library for my niece, who turns 2 this month. I recognize that what I consider “ideal” or “best” may be idiosyncratic, but since I do have some knowledge of children’s literature and since people often ask me about good books for children, I thought that a public list of my choices might be of some use to others.

Since Emily’s being raised in both French and English, you’ll also see some livres en français as well as the occasional Bücher auf Deutsch.  She lives in Switzerland, near both France and Germany. Her parents speak primarily English and French at home, but she also encounters German at the crèche (day care).  So, I’ve started to add some titles in German, too.  Nearly all of these non-English books are also available in English; when they are, I’ve also included the English title.

As in the previous entry, when there are two copies of a book (i.e., the same book in two languages), I’ve only counted it once in the above tally.

Rita et MachinJean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and Oliver Tallec, Rita et Machin (2006) [Rita and Whatsit (2009) in its original French]

A little girl in a bad mood, Rita doesn’t like her birthday presents. But the one box that is running away from her is at least different. Inside, is a dog with a strong personality of its own. But, by the end of the story, the two have become friends. Tallec’s spare, slightly squiggly cartoons provide just enough detail for Arrou-Vignod’s narratives: we see only what the story requires, and little more.

Rita et Machin å la plageJean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and Oliver Tallec, Rita et Machin a la plage (2006) [Rita et Machin à la Plage (2010) in its original French]

In this book, Rita is the one who starts in the good mood: “Rita loves the beach. Whatsit [Machin] the dog doesn’t like it quite so much.”  In particuar, what Whatsit [Machin] wants to do is not what Rita wants to do. They do play together, and by the end, “Whatsit [Machin] really loves the beach. Rita doesn’t like it quite so much.”   (My quotations here come from the English translations.)

Mon Chat Le Plus Bête du MondeGilles Bachelet, Mon Chat Le Plus Bête du Monde (2004) [My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World (2006) in its original French]

Thanks to Sandra Beckett for suggesting this book about the silliest cat in the world,  Well, the text describes the animal as a cat, but all the pictures show an elephant — a metaphor, perhaps, for a particularly destructive cat.  Or, perhaps the “cat” really is an elephant and this narrator should not be trusted.  Thanks to J Nick (in the comments, below) for alerting me to the fact that there is an English translation.  I had no idea!  And I am now seeking a copy en anglais.

Pomelo granditRamona Badescu, Pomelo grandit, illus. by Benjamin Chaud (2010) [Pomelo Begins to Grow (2010) in its original French]

Pomelo, a small pink elephant, explores his world, and discovers that… he’s grown! This makes him feel special, but also raises questions. Will he “turn gray as soon as he grows up”?  And “Does everyone in the world grow at the same speed, or do some grow more quickly than others?” Also, “does growing up mean one has to stop clowning around?”  Benjamin Chaud’s bright, slightly loopy illustrations animate little Pomelo, as he ponders these questions. Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books, English-speaking readers (and English-speaking children) can enjoy the translations of both Pomelo books — and, yes, my quotations here are from the translations rather than the French original.

Pomelo et les couleursRamona Badescu, Pomelo et les couleurs, illus. by Benjamin Chaud (2011) [Pomelo Explores Color (2012) in its original French]

I especially like the philosophical turn of these two Pomelo books. In this one, Badescu and Chaud do not tell us that, say, the colors are red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. Colors themselves have different feelings to them.  There’s “the promising red of ripening strawberries,” “the hypnotizing red of love,” and “the surprising red of ripe tomatoes.”  A lovely, warm, and gently comic journey through colors, featuring that diminutive pink elephant — Pomelo.

Anne Bertier, mercredi (2010)Anne Bertier, Mercredi (2010)

A delightful story in blue, orange, and white. Every day, little square and little circle get together to play games. Each can change or divide his shape, impersonating a butterfly, a flower, a mushroom. If you think it strange to have a blue square and an orange circle as the book’s central characters, then you haven’t read Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow.   I would love it if someone were to publish an English-language version. Enchanted Lion Books? NYR Children’s Collection?  Any takers?

from Anne Bertier, Mercredi

from Anne Bertier, Mercredi

Polkabats and Octopus SlacksCalef Brown, Polka-Bats and Octopus Slacks (1998)

Heir to Edward Lear, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein, Calef Brown writes (and illustrates) narrative poems that tell of pesky snails, Georgie Spider, a funky snowman, polkabats, and eight other curiosities. This is the first of Brown’s books for children; if you enjoy it, you might try Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers (2000) or Tippintown (2003). Emily’s current interest in the sounds of words inspired my choice of Polkabats and Octopus Slacks.  Also, it’s quite funny.  And funny is good.

Calef Brown's "Snails" from Polkabats and Octopus Slacks

Quint Buchholz, Schlaf gut, kleiner BärQuint Buchholz, Schlaf gut, kleiner Bär (1993) [Sleep Well, Little Bear (1994) in its original German]

Realism rendered via pointillism, Buchholz’s pictures are both concrete and soft, combining clarity with dreaminess.  They are the ideal images to accompany a little bear who is not tired, and so looks out over the yard and back on the adventures of the day, remembering: when he was a pirate; his neighbor Mrs. Rose, who tells stories to her flowers; the scarecrow in the meadow; the circus in the next town over, which he glimpsed while on a shopping trip; and other notable events.  Then, at last, the little bear succumbs to sleep. A lovely bedtime tale.

Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard, The Important BookMargaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard, The Important Book (1949)

Inspired by spending time with Emily in December, I chose this book in response to her delight in identifying (what to adults are) ordinary features of the world. At the age of 20 months, she very much enjoyed learning the names of the nouns in her world. Brown’s poetic text and Leonard Weisgard’s art does precisely that, offering brief meditations on grass, wind, snow, an apple, the sky, and others.

Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête! (2011)

This Swiss-themed alphabet book was something of an impulse buy. I’m a fan of alphabet books (see Part 4 of Emily’s Library), and saw this one when in Switzerland with Emily and her family.  It struck me as a comic idea to try to define an entire nationality in an alphabet book, and so — without thinking much about it — I bought this small picture book and gave it to Emily. It’s quite clever, but it’s also an example of a book bought more out of affection, and less because I thought “This is a masterpiece!” But, as you can see from the pages below, it’s fun.

A & B from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

C & D from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

E & F from Clo Casile, So Sweet Alphabête!

Marjorie Flack, Angus and the DucksMarjorie Flack, Angus and the Ducks (1930)

The book that introduces Angus finds the curious terrier facing off against a group of ducks. Flack’s pacing is excellent, as is the book’s layout and design. The first two-page spread to feature both Angus and the ducks has a hedge stretching diagonally across both pages, separating not only protagonist and antagonists but the text associated with each. Flack often places the text in different locations on the page, which creates a more dynamic reading experience, as the eye navigates the combinations of word and images.  Most readers may not consciously notice these elements, but they’ll experience them in the well-told, funny tale of the inquisitive little dog… and the ducks!

Marjorie Flack, Angus and the Cat (1932)

The second book about Angus, who now goes chasing after a cat. The cat ultimately proves slyer than Angus, who regrets having chased her.  A worthy sequel to the original tale.

Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring (2012)

It’s been a long winter in Switzerland, just as it has here in North America. As Anita Silvey wrote last month of this book, “I haven’t seen a picture book since The Carrot Seed that so brilliantly explores the idea of life and hope coming out of a seed.”

from Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring


from Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead, and then it’s spring

Cornelia Funke, Der geheimnisvolle Ritter NamenlosCornelia Funke, Der geheimnisvolle Ritter Namenlos. Illus. Kerstin Meyer (2001) [Princess Knight in its original German]

In English, this is a full-sized picture book, but in German it’s a tiny picture book. I’m not sure why the size changes depending on the country. In Funke‘s tale, Violetta is as capable as her brothers, so why can’t she train as a knight also? She does, often practicing secretly, at night. And she gets very good. On the occasion of her sixteenth birthday, her father proposes a jousting tournament in which the winning knight will win her hand in marriage. Violetta is not pleased, and devises a plan to win her own freedom.

Tove Jansson, The Book About Moomin, Mymble, and Little My (translated by Sophie Hannah, 2009)Tove Jansson, The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My (1952, new transl. by Sophie Hannah, 2009)

As Moomintroll hurries home through the woods, the holes on the right-hand pages offer glimpses of where he’s headed, and those on the left recall where he’s been.  The shapes removed from each page are precise, allowing the subsequent pages (and previous ones) to be read one way as a glimpsed fragment, and another when on its own page. On the second two-page spread, Moomintroll walks along a path that goes through the trees, and towards what seems to be a house in front of a blazing son. Turn the page, and the sun is the sun, but the house turns out to be Mymble’s hair. Clever design and Sophia Hannah’s new translation make the new (well, 2009) Enfant edition the one to get — well, for English-speakers, anyway.

Tove Jansson, L’Histoire de Moumine, Mumla et Petite Mu: Que crois-tu qu’il arriva?

The French version of The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My, which (in Jansson‘s original Swedish) is Hur gick det sen? (What Happened Next?).  I’m not sure why the English translation didn’t retain the original title — especially since it makes much more sense.  (The French edition seems to have combined the two versions of the title.)

Stephen T. Johnson, City by NumbersStephen T. Johnson, City by Numbers (1998)

Following the same logic as his Caldecott Honored Alphabet City (featured in Emily’s Library, Part 4), Johnson finds numbers in New York. The Brooklyn Bridge (which gave us an “M” in Alphabet City) viewed from another angle is the number 4. Two adjacent wastebins — also on the cover — create an 8. Looking ahead to his As Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet (2008), some of the figures are a little more challenging to perceive. To see the distorted 10 reflected in the side of a building, or the 15 in the cement between bricks, you need to know what you’re looking for and keep looking until the shapes emerge — which, of course, is part of the fun!

Jon Klassen, This Is Not My HatJon Klassen, This Is Not My Hat (2012)

For his second in what I sincerely hope is a trilogy of “hat books,” Klassen manages to be even funnier than the first — which is listed in the debut post of this “Emily’s Library” series.  A small fish steals a small hat from a big fish. In Klassen’s text, the fish assures us (and himself) that he’ll get away with it. The pictures tell a different story.  The tension between words and images creates a drolly amusing tale that will serve as a warning to potential hat-snatchers. Or, possibly, not. Either way, it’s funny and you’ll enjoy it.

Ole Könnecke, Anton Can Do MagicOle Könnecke, Anton Can Do Magic (2011). First published as Anton kann zaubern (2006)

Rendered in clear lines and spare backgrounds, Könnecke’s story tells of Anton, his swami-style hat, and… magic!  Or is it?  Anton thinks it is. Könnecke’s text agrees with Anton, but the pictures tell a different story.  A gently humorous tale of now you see it… now you don’t!

Edward Lear, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, illus. Calef BrownEdward Lear, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, illus. Calef Brown & masterminded by Daniel Pinkwater (2011)

Indicative of that interest in language, she has lately been enthralled by Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat — Ian Beck’s version of this tale appears in the fifth installment of Emily’s Library. This book includes that poem, along with ten others, including “The Duck and the Kangaroo,” “The Jumblies,” “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat,” and “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear.”  Calef Brown’s art is as “concrete and fastidious” as Mr. Lear’s mind.

Edward Lear and Fred Marcellino, The Pelican Chorus and Other NonsenseEdward Lear and Fred Marcellino, The Pelican Chorus and Other Nonsense (1995).

The late, great Fred Marcellino did a beautiful job creating art for “The New Vestments,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and “The Pelican Chorus.”  His animals manage to look like animals and people at the same time. Their gestures and facial expressions are somehow both human and not. I don’t know how he did it, but I wish he had been around to create more art. (He died in June 2001, at the age of 61.)

Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Vang Nyman, Pippi Moves In!Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Vang Nyman, Pippi Moves In! (2012). [Translation of Pippi Flytarr in Och Andra Serier (2010)]

First published in Swedish in 1957, this is the comic-book (or, if you prefer, graphic novel) version of Pippi Longstocking’s adventures. The stories have less text and are more brief than in the novel, but Pippi is just as unruly, subversive, and amusing.  Like the Tove Jansson book (above), this is part of Drawn & Quarterly‘s new “Enfant” line of comics/picture books for young readers.

James Marshall, Goldilocks and the Three BearsJames Marshall, Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1988)

Marshall’s version begins like this:

Once there was a little girl called Goldilocks.

“What a sweet child,” said someone new in town.

“That’s what you think,” said a neighbor.

In this Caldecott Honor book, we’re rooting for the bears and not Goldilocks, who “was one of those naughty little girls who do exactly as they please.”  But Marshall’s wit and deftly comic illustrations maintain a level of silliness that keeps us smiling.  His retellings of fairy tales are well worth your while.  Emily already has his version of “The Three Little Pigs” (see “Emily’s Library, Part 1”) and three of his George and Martha books (see Part 5).

Peter McCarty, Little Bunny on the MovePeter McCarty, Little Bunny on the Move (1999)

Though the book certainly reminds me of how Little Emily is often on the move (and increasingly independent), McCarty’s succinct language and delicate pencil-and-watercolor artwork create a work that is both gentle and a page-turner. We’re drawn into the softness of the picture, and wonder just where is this little bunny going?

Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells, Here Comes Mother Goose Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells, Here Comes Mother Goose (1999)

The sequel to their My First Mother Goose (1996, included in Part 5 of “Emily’s Library”), Here Comes Mother Goose does not disappoint. The book’s many bright, funny illustrations compliment the poems’ silliness. She sticks with the original rhymes, except for one. With the sense of mischief exhibited by her animal characters, Wells revises the “What are little boys made of?” / “What are little girls made of?” rhyme, reminding us that little girls can also play in the swamp and little boys can make capable chefs.

Luke Pearson, Hilda et le Géant de la NuitLuke Pearson, Hilda et le Géant de la Nuit [Hilda and the Midnight Giant (2011) in French, transl. by Judith Taboy].

The French translation of the second book in Luke Pearson’s Hilda series is, perhaps, better suited for a 3- or 4-year-old (at the youngest). But Emily will grow into it, and, meanwhile, her father and mother can enjoy it. In an artistic style that is part René Goscinny and part Hayao Miyazaki, Pearson draws a thoughtful, resourceful heroine who will, I hope, take us on many more adventures. (The third Hilda book, Hilda and the Bird Parade is now out. I’m not sure if it’s been translated into French as yet.)

Francesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Visite Au ZooFrancesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Visite Au Zoo (2011)

Emily has loved this book of animals, but it has the problems that all flap books have. Small hands can easily tear the flaps off.  I’m also not wild about the pages of stickers (designed to be added to the blank, negative-space animals — each is a white silhouette of the animal in question).  I do like the way layout of the pages presents a panorama of different animals, their names, and the sounds they make.  The bright, bold colors against the black background makes the animals and words “pop.” The book’s huge size (44 cm tall by 32 cm wide) allows for a truly immersive experience.  But, despite my stated attempt only to give Emily the very best children’s books, I ultimately give this one a bit of a mixed review.

Yvan Pommaux, Un nuit, un chat…Yvan Pommaux, Un nuit, un chat… (1994)

With a tip of the hat (the cat’s hat, perhaps?) to Sandra Beckett for recommending this one, which follows a cat’s adventures during the night.  To the best of my knowledge, this one is not available in English translation.

Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You! (1959)

Emily already has this one, courtesy of her mother’s (and my) childhood. I’m listing it here in honor of her second birthday.  In it, as you may know, “You” travel with the Birthday-Bird, to Katroo, a place where they really know how to celebrate a birthday.

Ben Towle, Animal AlphabetBen Towle, Animal Alphabet (2012)

A small, handmade book of 11 cm (wide) by 9 cm (tall), Animal Alphabet is 26 pages of ink-and-watercolor illustrations of animals, from Alpaca to Zebu.  Towle focuses on the lesser-known mammals, fish, and insects.  Though his website labels it a “minicomic,” it’s really more a very small picture book. As of this writing, his website is the only place to get it.

Frank Viva, Along a Long RoadFrank Viva, Along a Long Road (2011)

Travel by bicycle, around a small town, into a tunnel, over a bridge, and then turn back to the beginning and do it again. Viva takes you on a trip, using: 5 colors, bold graphics evocative of mid-century posters, and spare, poetic language.  It’s dynamic, precise, fun.  It’s also his first picture book.  A stunning debut.

from Frank Viva, Along a Long Road

Mo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three DinosaursMo Willems, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (2012)

“Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.”  Willems offers his Fractured-Fairytale version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” complete with a Matisse allusion, Norway jokes (a calendar reads “Norway ‘Gateway to Sweden’”), and 2 morals (one for Goldilocks, the other for the Dinosaurs).  Once again, Willems does not disappoint.  How does the man write so many books, and make all of them really good?

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny, Too (2007).

The sequel to Knuffle Bunny features mistaken identities, mystery, and a late-night exchange. If you think I’m going to try to summarize the plot of this one, guess again.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Zoom, illus. Eric BeddowsTim Wynne-Jones, Zoom, illus. Eric Beddows (1997).  Contains Zoom at Sea (1983), Zoom Away (1985), and Zoom Upstream (1992).

A cat who likes to play with water, Zoom dreams of going to sea, and finding his Uncle Roy, captain of the Catship.  So, he goes to Maria’s house, which, in each book, proves to be a kind of portal that leads Zoom (and Maria) to distant places: the ocean, the North Pole, Egypt.  Beddows’ crisp black-and-white pencil drawings make these travels seem not only real, but possible. When Maria turns the wheel, we do not ask how a house could contain an ocean. We simply follow along.

Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, Harry the Dirty DogGene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, Harry the Dirty Dog (1956, re-colored 2002)

I’d have preferred to get the 1956 (non-recolored) version. I doubt that Emily will mind (and Graham did the recolorization herself), but I do wish that the original were still available.  Anyway.  Harry, “a white dog with black spots,” hates baths. So, he buries the scrubbing brush in the backyard, and runs away from home.  In the many places he plays (which Graham renders full of activity, with many places for our eye to alight), Harry gets so dirty that “he changed from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots.”  Rendered in thick lines and with an expressive cylindrical eye, Harry is a very expressive dog.  But his expressiveness seems to fail him when he returns home, and the family doesn’t recognize him!  (And, just in case you haven’t read the book, I’m not going to spoil the ending here.)

Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham, No Roses for Harry! (1958)

Another in the Harry series. As this edition has (happily) not been recolored, it preserves Graham’s contrasts between three basic colors — which, in this case, are green and orange. Harry’s sweater is green, and the roses on it are orange. It’s a present from Grandma (the children’s grandmother, not his). And he detests it. He spends the first two thirds of the book trying and failing to get rid of it. He succeeds, and in an ingenious manner.

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies. is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

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

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s all for this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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These Senators Want to Kill Your Children

Shame on You, U.S. Senate

45 U.S. Senators think that massacres like the ones at Sandy Hook and Aurora and Tuscon are acceptable collateral damage.  They support mentally unstable people’s “rights” to have access to firearms.  In sum, if you would prefer to live in a country in which children have a better chance of growing up, in which adults have a better chance of staying alive, these 45 U.S. Senators are saying: “No. Guns have more rights than you do. We do not care. People will die. Children will be murdered. Your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is less important than allowing criminals and the mentally ill to have access to firearms.”

If you disagree with this position, here are the Senators you will want to vote against during the next election.  Should you wish to contact them, I have also provided links to their websites.  I have not listed Harry Reid (D-Nev.) because my understanding is that he voted against it for the procedural reason that, by doing so, he can bring the measure up again.  If my reading of his vote is incorrect, then please add him to the list.

  1. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  2. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  3. John Barrasso (R-WY)
  4. Max Baucus (D-MT)
  5. Mark Begich (D-AK)
  6. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  7. John Boozman (R-AR)
  8. Richard Burr (R-NC)
  9. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
  10. Dan Coats (R-IN)
  11. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  12. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  13. Bob Corker (R-TN)
  14. John Cornyn (R-TX)
  15. Mike Crapo (R-ID)
  16. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  17. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
  18. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  19. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  20. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  21. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  22. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  23. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  24. Dean Heller (R-NV)
  25. John Hoeven (R-ND)
  26. James M. Inhofe (R-OK)
  27. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  28. Mike Johanns (R-NE)
  29. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  30. Mike Lee (R-UT)
  31. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  32. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  33. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  34. Rand Paul (R-KY)
  35. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  36. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
  37. James E. Risch (R-ID)
  38. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  39. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  40. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  41. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
  42. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  43. John Thune (R-SD)
  44. David Vitter (R-LA)
  45. Roger Wicker (R-MS)

To any gun enthusiasts who stumble upon this blog post, yes, I am familiar with the Second Amendment to the United States’ Constitution:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Three points on the amendment that you might wish to consider:

  1. Please note that these arms are to support a “well-regulated militia”; the amendment does not imagine an entire citizenry armed to the teeth.
  2. For those who consider themselves constitutional originalists, the “arms” described here are not automatic or semi-automatic guns.  They’re muskets.  They’re guns that take a while to load and re-load.  So, if you want a strict interpretation of this amendment, then the Second Amendment Rights extend to the types of arms available in 1791.
  3. Laws can be changed to better serve the citizens.  As Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg said in Kennedy vs. Mendoza-Martinez (1963), “while the Constitution protects against invasions of individual rights, it is not a suicide pact.”

Having said that, I would be willing to argue for a more liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that includes the rights to own weapons of a more recent vintage, and that expands the reason for owning arms beyond that of a “well-regulated militia.”  People may want to hunt.  They may enjoy target practice.  Though study after study shows that having a gun in the home makes you more likely to be killed by a gun, I realize that many people believe the opposite — and so I certainly would not oppose people owning (and using) a gun for self-defense.  But military-grade assault weapons?  No.  Those ought to be regulated.

A gun is not a toy.  It is designed to kill.  If we agree that (for instance) driving a car requires the driver to pass certain tests, then surely we can agree that owning a gun ought to require the owner to pass certain tests.  Universal background checks (something which 86% of Americans support!).  No loopholes for guns purchased at gun shows or via the internet.  No loopholes at all, in fact.

If you vote against sensible legislation (such as legislation that the above list of senators voted against today), then you are personally responsible for the high numbers of gun deaths in the U.S.  Please note that I say “high numbers of gun deaths.”  I realize that no law will prevent all murderous people from obtaining guns. Laws do not prevent all people from speeding, or from embezzling money, or from defrauding investors. However, the fact that laws fail to prevent all crimes does not remove the need for having these laws in the first place.

So.  To the above list of senators, I say: Those who support sensible gun laws know where you stand.  You think that killing children should be permitted rather than prevented.  Thank you for making your position clear.  It will make our choice in the next election very, very clear.

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For Boston: A Mix

Boston Marathon logoBoston is the U.S. city that feels most like home to me. I grew up north of the city, in Lynnfield. Some of my family still live in the Boston area, though most are spread out around the globe. Indeed, I haven’t lived in Massachusetts in nearly three decades. But it’s still where I’m from.

In a city that embraces its diverse population (and their equally diverse opinions), the Boston Marathon is something (nearly) everyone agrees on.  Runners from all over the world compete.  Local TV broadcasts the race, which is always held on Patriots’ Day — a holiday commemorating the first battles of the American Revolution.  It’s celebrated in Massachusetts, but not nationally. I remember, as a kid, staying home from school, and watching the Boston Marathon on TV. It’s probably one reason that my mother, sister, and I have all run a marathon. (Or to be more accurate, my mother and I have each run one marathon; my sister has run over a dozen.) So, today’s bombing also hits close to home because I and my family know what it means to run a marathon.

As of this writing, I don’t know why some sociopath (or group of sociopaths) decided to bomb the city. I assume that the choice of Patriots’ Day was not an accident.

If you want to help,…

For information, I’ve found these useful:

Finally, here is a salute to Boston in song. It’s one of America’s great cities, and if you haven’t been there yet, please include it in future travel plans. As President Obama said today, “Boston is a tough and resilient town.” It and its people will recover from this.  So. Following is a mix of songs that either reference Boston or are by a band from Boston.

For Boston: A Mix

1. M.T.A. The Kingston Trio (1959)            3:16

A song that will tell you where the “Charlie card” (used for travel on the T, Massachusetts’ public transit system) got its name.

2. Yankee Doodle   Tex Ritter (1952)            1:28

An allusion to the city’s revolutionary past, performed by the father of John Ritter.

3. For Boston   Dropkick Murphys (2001)            1:33

Great Boston band, rousing Boston song.  Appears on the aptly titled Sing Loud, Sing Proud!

4. I’m Shipping Up to Boston   Boston Pops Orchestra (2009)            2:59

Also a Dropkick Murphys song (with lyrics by Woody Guthrie), but I didn’t want two songs by the same artist on the mix and I did want to include the Boston Pops.  So… here’s their version!  And, below, the Dropkick Murphys:

5. Massachusetts   Anita O’Day with Gene Krupa (1942)            3:16

“Boston, if you please, Massachusetts.”  From Let Me Off Uptown!

6. Dirty Water   Standells (1965)            2:49

“Love that dirty water, aw, Boston you’re my home” sing the Standells, a band from … Los Angeles.  From the great Nuggets collection.

7. B.O.S.T.O.N.   Bleu (2010)            3:48

A song about Boston from a singer-songwriter who studied at Boston’s Berklee School of Music.

8. Rock & Roll Band   Boston (1976)            3:00

“We were just another band out of Boston.” Tom Scholz (the creative force behind the band) is actually from Toledo, Ohio.  However, at the time of recording this album, he lived and worked in the Boston area.

9. Let’s Face It  The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (1997)            2:33

The quintessential Boston band has a message for the haters: “Be racist, be sexist, be bigots, be sure: We won’t stand for your hatred.”  An appropriate song for the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage.  More recently, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he would not let the Chick-fil-A franchise (owned by anti-gay bigot Dan Cathy) open a restaurant in the city. He later acknowledged that he didn’t legally have the power to stop them, but his claim that “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail” resonated with those of us who support human rights.

10. Livin’ on the Edge  Aerosmith (1992)            6:20

Perhaps the most famous band from the city, Aerosmith are not famous for songs with a political message.  But, in this one, they have a caustic comment for bigots: “If you can tell a wise man by the color of his skin, then mister you’re a better man than I.”

11. The Fire Down Below   Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (1976)            4:28

To give credit where it’s due, this song — and a few others here — is inspired by a medley of snippets of songs that reference Boston which (Boston’s) WBCN used to play as part of their station identification.

12. Freeze-Frame   The J. Geils Band (1981)            3:58

No references to Boston in this song, but these guys were one of the great Boston bands. People know them for this album (Freeze-Frame), but Blow Your Face Out (1976) is one of the all-time great live albums.

13. Ladies of Cambridge   Vampire Weekend (2007)            2:39

Just across the Charles River from Boston, is Cambridge (though the band is from NYC).

14. Here Comes Your Man   Pixies (1989)            3:22

Another classic song from a Boston band.

15. Pretty In Pink   The Dresden Dolls (2006)            3:58

And still another, though covering a song by the (British) Psychedelic Furs.

16. Sweet Little Sixteen   Chuck Berry (1958)            3:02

“They’ll be rockin’ in Boston.”  From The Great Twenty-Eight.  One day soon, Boston will be rocking with joyous songs — like this one.

17. Hey Nineteen   Steely Dan (1980)            5:10

Another song that references Boston and to which the aforementioned WBCN medley uses.

18. Let’s Do It   Joan Jett & Paul Westerberg (1995)            2:23

In this punk cover of the Cole Porter classic, we learn that “In Boston, even beans do it.”

19.Roadrunner   The Modern Lovers (1976)            4:09

Founded by (Natick, Mass. native) Jonathan Richman, the Modern Lovers got their start in Boston.  In February, Massachusetts Representative Marty Walsh proposed this song as the official rock song of the state.

20. Good Times Roll  The Cars (1978)            3:48

With the knowledge that the good times will roll again, in Boston, here’s a (or the?) great new wave band from Boston — possibly the second best-known Boston band (after Aerosmith)?

21. Early to Bed   Morphine (1997)            2:58

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man or woman miss out on the nightlife.” Morphine were from Boston, and fronted by the late, great Mark Sandman.

22. Night Train   James Brown (1962)            3:35

The night train stops in Boston.

23. I’ve Been Everywhere  Johnny Cash (1996)            3:15

In this song, Mr. Johnny Cash goes to Boston (among many other places).

Incidentally, if you’re a music fan, when in the Boston area, check out Planet Records (144 Mt. Auburn Street, Cambridge, Mass.).

Peace to all in Boston today. I know the city and its people will bounce back. We always do.

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Barnaby, Small Scandinavian Investors, and Dapper Dan: Can you help identify these allusions? UPDATE: Mysteries Solved!

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (1942-1952) was both fantasy and topical satire. As noted on an earlier post, each of Fantagraphics’ 5-volume Barnaby series will have notes to explain the topical comments and any other references that may elude the average reader.

I’ve now finished the notes and Afterword for Barnaby Vol. 2: 1944-1945 (2014).


There are two allusions that elude me.  Perhaps you can help?  Here are my questions along with the two relevant strips, which I’ve scanned from the Del Rey paperbacks (we’re using better versions of these strips in the volume itself — don’t worry).

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 28 Feb 1945

1. For instance, that Scandinavian Pixey, who— (28 Feb. 1945). This seems to be a reference to a specific (possibly diminutive) investor of Scandinavian descent, but I haven’t he foggiest idea as to whom it might be. As you can see in the strip above, Mr. Baxter says “Investment bankers don’t consider Pixies good risks, as a rule—.” He then adds, “Oh, they HAVE made a few exceptions…” and makes this comment.  So, clearly, at least some of Johnson’s readers would have caught this reference.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 27 Apr 1945

2. Dapper Dan’s Outlet Emporium (27 April 1945).  If this is a reference to a specific business, I haven’t been able to find it.  When I was a kid, there was a Dapper Dan toy: a bald-headed man’s face, behind plastic. Using a magnet, you could move the little metal shavings (also encased in the plastic), and give him some hair, a moustache, beard.  But this can’t be it.  In the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), there’s Dapper Dan pomade, but this is a fictional brand, evidently used only in the film.  I need something that may have been around in 1945.

And, yes, of course, I’ll give credit where it’s due. (I realize that getting one’s name in the Acknowledgments is a rather small “prize” for your help, but,… well, I will to the Acknowledgments the names of those who help identify these two — unless you tell me you don’t want to be identified, that is.)  Thanks in advance for any thoughts you may have.

The first Barnaby volume is in press, and will be out in May or June. You can order it from Fantagraphics.

Barnaby, Volume 1

UPDATE, 4:15 pm.  Within less than an hour, both mysteries appear to be solved.  Via Facebook, Mark Newgarden suggests Ivar Kreuger, “the Match King,” as the “Scandinavian” allusion.  This makes sense.  It’s the kind of allusion Johnson would make.  He’s already had O’Malley proudly identify himself as mentor to Charles Ponzi.

Brian Herrera suggests “Dapper Dan” Hogan, a legendary Irish mobster.  The mobster was known for his style, and indeed appears to be the origin of the nickname “Dapper Dan.” Johnson loved detective fiction & true crime stories. This is the sort of allusion he would make. So, combine the historical allusion with an Outlet Emporium and you get a not-too-reputable source of fashionable menswear, exactly the sort of place where a captain of industry (as O’Malley is, at this point in the narrative) would not be expected to shop — hence, the joke.

Mark also points out that the name “Dapper Dan” precedes Daniel Hogan.  It had been attached to products prior to that time.  And there’s even an Eddie Cantor song, says Brian.  So, all of this is grist for my mill — and the note!



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