Archive for Children’s Literature

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? — cover reveal

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

Philip Nel, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, July 2017)

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

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

Table of Contents

Introduction: Race, Racism, and the Cultures of Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Philly, mourning an ailing democracy,

Find comfort, anxiety, knowledge, and despair!

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

January fifth through eighth, at the MLA,

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

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

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


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

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

A special session

Presiding: Nancy C. Backes, Cardinal Stritch Univ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A special session

Presiding: Andrew Hoberek, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia

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

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

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

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210. Graphic Narratives

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

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

Presiding: Cesar Braga-Pinto, Northwestern Univ.

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

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

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

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

Presiding: Peter Kunze, Univ. of Texas, Austin

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

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

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

Program arranged by the American Psychoanalytic Association

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

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

Session Description:

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

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

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

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Michelle Hite, Spelman Coll.

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

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298. Race, Science, Speculation

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

A special session

Presiding: David Kazanjian, Univ. of Pennsylvania

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

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

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353. What Next? Adventures in Episodic and Serial Form

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

A special session

Presiding: Katherine Fusco, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

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

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

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

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475. Graphic Style and Big Data

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

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

Presiding: Amy Hungerford, Yale Univ.

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

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

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

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: David Aitchison, North Central Coll.

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

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539. Adoption in Contemporary Drama and Performance

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

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

Presiding: Marina Fedosik, Princeton Univ.

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

For abstracts, write to mfedosik@princeton.edu.

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

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

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

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

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

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581. Alien Lines: Science Fiction Comics

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

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

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

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

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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594. Narratives of Childhood

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

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

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

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

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646. Placing Gender in the Graphic Novel

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

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

Presiding: Pamela Brown, Univ. of Connecticut, Stamford

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

For abstracts, write to pambrown12@gmail.com.

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650. Invisible Made Visible: Comics and Mental Illness

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

A special session

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

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

Session Description:

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

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663. Barely Legal: Erotic Innocence at Nineteen

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

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

Presiding: Marah Gubar, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.

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

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

Session Description:

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

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

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


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

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

A special session

Presiding: Shun Kiang, Stetson Univ.

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

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787. Graphic Narrative, Comics, and Temporality

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

Program arranged by the forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

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

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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

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

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the Pony (2015)

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

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)

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

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

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

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

Tim Egan, Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Hatke, Little Robot (2015)

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

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

Keven Henkes, Waiting (2015)

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

Jory John and Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)

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

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

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

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)

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

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

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

Sourdais, Rotkäeppchen

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

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

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)

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

David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano (2015)

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

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Pett, The Lizard from the Park (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)

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

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The Dark (2013)

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

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a Lion (2012)

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

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

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

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Free (2010)

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


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Mock Caldecott 2016: Manhattan, Kansas edition

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

The Winner*:

Francesca Sanna’s The Journey

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

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

The Revised Winner:

Sergio Ruzzier’s This Is Not a Picture Book!

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

The Honor Books:

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo’s The Sound of Silence

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

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

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


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

A few other great books from 2016:

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

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

____________

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

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

Children's picture books about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Winter & Raul Colon, Hillary (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a story worth telling.


Other posts about the 2016 U.S. Election:

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How to Read Harold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fans of Harold might also enjoy these:

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Talent on Tape: Scattered Thoughts on Morton Schindel (1918-2016)

Mort Schindel with Wild Things (photo: Scholastic)You may not know the name Morton Schindel, but you certainly know the people he worked with. At his Weston Woods Studios, using his “iconographic” technique, he adapted works by Maurice Sendak, Robert McCloskey, James Daugherty, Ezra Jack Keats, Tomi Ungerer, and William Steig, among others. His film of Steig’s Doctor De Soto was nominated for an Academy Award. Schindel passed away a month ago, at the age of 98, but I just learned of this yesterday.

In June 2001, while working on my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, I went to Weston Woods‘ offices in Connecticut, and interviewed Schindel. I had only a passing familiarity with his works (having seen some when I was a schoolchild), and so my questions were less informed than I would have liked. But Mort very graciously told me about his life, career, and acquaintance with Dave (a.k.a. Crockett Johnson) and Ruth.

Schindel: Eventually, probably in the late ’50s, I took an interest in [Krauss’s] A Hole Is to Dig.  Ruth and Dave were still living in Rowayton, but not long after that they moved up to Owenoke Park in Westport. And, we would get together ostensibly to talk about their work or our work, but in this field, there’s not much of a dividing line between the work you’re doing and the personal relationships that you develop.  That’s one of the joys of the whole thing.  And I can remember that I always felt that I could do a better job if I knew where it [the work to be adapted] was coming from.  And the more I knew about the people and how the book developed, the better.

Morton Schindel (photo credit: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times)        The main thing that I can remember about A Hole Is to Dig was that I asked Ruth whether she really picked up these sayings from kids.  And in her inimitable style, I can remember a cackling laugh, and her saying almost apologetically with a big broad smile that no, most of it had been her idea.  And, obviously it was a good idea that was strongly supported by wonderful drawings which Maurice did.  And I think that that was their first collaboration.

Nel: It was.

Schindel: And I think it was one that they both treasured because Maurice was relatively new at that time.  And, I’m quite sure it was Ruth’s most successful book up until then.  She had another one that I think was called The Growing Story, by Phyllis Rowand, I think – is that right?

Nel: Yes.  Nina is her daughter.

Schindel: My memory is better than I thought.  We were interested in that one but for some reason we never did it.  Well, the reason was is that it was for very young children, and in the beginning for the first several years, I was making films and then filmstrips.  But preschools didn’t have filmstrip projectors….

He talked more as much about the business as he did about the people — the latter of which was more my interest.  My favorite part of the interview was his recollection of making short films about creators of children’s books.  I had never seen either Krauss or Johnson on film, though I figured some footage must exist.  Schindel said:

Now, another thing is that – just trying to pull all this together – at a certain point, I had decided to make some biographical films of children’s book illustrators and actually in the beginning I don’t think I started with the idea that I was going to make films.  I think I wanted to share these people with people in the schools and nobody tried to do that, and I didn’t know how to do it.  So, the logical place to start would be to do interviews with them, and then see what I could edit out of the interview, and then make them available on tape.  I did a little series called Talent on Tape.  And, I think the most successful one I did was May Massey because I still get requests for that one.  And it’s been put into some useful collections.  May, you know, was regarded as the principal editor of children’s books in the early days.  She was the editor at Viking Press, and she nurtured people like McCloskey and Don Freeman and people like that.  So, the tape that I made about her I think was the only one that existed.  So, most collections that had been collecting things about children’s books would like to have that tape.  Anyway, that’s leading up to the fact that I recall doing one with Dave and Ruth.

On the tape here, you hear me asking “Really?”  Because, I am thinking, this is the moment! He does have footage! Mort continued:

What I would do is I would conduct an interview with them and then I would sit down and try to edit it into something that makes sense.  And what took maybe two hours would maybe get edited down to 10 or 15 minutes sometimes.  I distinctly remember working on the one that I did with Ruth and Dave.  And I was interviewing them together.  And it says something about their reluctance to express themselves orally because I had this hour or so of tape – could have been less because maybe they were not as crazy about expressing themselves verbally – and when I was all through editing it, I had a piece of tape that was about two inches long.

I laughed, and he added:

There was just nothing.  It was all kind of – I can’t say it was gibberish – but it was more sounds than it was continuity of words.   I think that that’s – it says something about how they communicated.

I figured, OK, he didn’t have enough that would be useful for his Talent on Tape series, but surely he saved the tape he didn’t use.  So, later in the interview, I asked him: “you mentioned that you actually taped them: I don’t suppose you have that tape, do you?” He said, “No.  Literally, it was nothing.  If I had it, it would have been an impression, but there wouldn’t have been any information.”

To this day, I have never seen any footage of either Crocket Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  Given their prominence in the world of children’s books (as well as Johnson’s work in comics and Krauss’s in avant-garde theatre), this surprises me.  I assume that somewhere, in some vault, there’s film of them.  But I’ve never seen it.

Later in the interview, he shared some impressions of the two of them:

His [Dave’s] expression and everything was hearty, there was an obvious strength.  Ruth was diminutive, even next to a man of normal stature, and she squeaked as much as she talked, if you know what I mean.  You know, I’m filling in now some of the nuances for you, since you said you obviously never met them, and you have to pick all of this up from hearsay.  Strangely enough, Ruth came across as a bit of a kooky artist, and Dave was all the way in the other direction.  Put a bowler on him, he could have been a banker.  Obviously, they were both exceptionally fine artists.

In my biography, I describe Johnson and Krauss as “complimentary opposites.” He’s one of many people whose memories conveyed that impression.

When I left, he insisted I take some videocassettes (this was 2001), including one on Robert McCloskey and one on Gene Deitch — who animated two of the Harold films that Weston Woods distributed. Indeed, it was Gene’s Facebook feed that alerted me to Mort’s death.

Weston Woods Catalogue, featuring Ezra Jack Keats' A Whistle for Willie

Morton Schindel was one of the last of his generation of children’s-book people. With his passing, a good bit of the history of children’s literature also leaves us. I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to talk with him and dozens of other artists, writers, and filmmakers. So many are now gone.

To learn more about Schindel’s life and work, you might take a look at some of these:

Photo credits:

  1. Photo of Morton Schindel from Scholastic (and included in the SLJ obit).
  2. Photo of Morton Schindel: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times (and included in the NYT obit).
  3. Front cover of Weston Woods catalogue, featuring Ezra Jack Keats’ A Whistle for Willie.

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Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature: Call for Papers (1 Nov. 2017)

Drowned City, The Island, Number the Stars, War — What If?, How I Learned Geography

A Special Issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly

Edited by Philip Nel

Deadline: 1 November 2017

In September 2015, photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi — his corpse washed ashore on a Turkish beach — came to symbolize the urgency of the Syrian refugee crisis. World leaders promised to do more, people debated whether printing the pictures was appropriate, and charities experienced a surge in donations. In children’s literature, the figure of the child as refugee, migrant, or displaced citizen has long been a powerful trope, disrupting the assumed connection between personal identity and national identity, exposing virulent xenophobia, but also awakening compassion and kindness.  As Europe faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II (and demagogues stoke nativist/racist anger in Europe and North America), this special issue will examine children’s literature’s response — both contemporary and historical — to refugees, migrants, and members of diasporic communities.

Subjects papers might consider include (but are not limited to) how texts for children represent: the ways in which the term “migrant” can dehumanize people, whether persecuted minorities qualify for refugee status in their own countries, the many reasons for displacement (such as race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, war, economics), questions concerning human rights, and how the vulnerable figure of the child brings these questions into sharper focus.

Papers should conform to the usual style of ChLAQ and be between 6000 and 9000 words in length.  Please send queries and completed essays to Philip Nel (philnel@ksu.edu, with “ChLAQ Essay” in the subject line) by 1 November 2017.  The essays chosen will appear in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 43.4 (Winter 2018).

The Arrival, Day of Tears, I Am David, Bamboo People, Inside Out & Back Again

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Children’s Lit vs. Brexit

According to my unscientific survey, most creators of children’s literature and YA literature thought that Britain should remain in the European Union. They did not see the EU as without problems, but rather understood that remaining a member was far more advantageous than leaving. Here, then, are a few responses to the Brexit vote. I’ve gathered some from Oliver Jeffers, Malorie Blackman, Lucy Coats, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Guus Kuijer, Andrew Prahin, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Savage, Bob Shea, and G. Willow Wilson. UPDATE: Added Patrick Ness and Michael Rosen.

Did I miss any of your favorites?  Let me know, and I’ll add them.

Oilver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers, Brexit

Source: Jeffers’ Instagram.

Malorie Blackman

Lucy Coats

Neil Gaiman

John Green

Guus Kuijer

According to Google Translate, this is: “I believe that Britain is falling apart. So sad!”

Translation, courtesy of Vanessa Joosen: “I finally understand that being a patriot means you don’t want to belong to anything.”

Google Translate: “The North Sea remains as narrow though. Though ..”

Google Translate: “The gray establishment outstrips the young people”

Google Translate: “Go out of Twitter: ‘Twixit’? Worth considering.”

Patrick Ness

This last one is a response to Mr. Trump’s characteristically idiotic statements, made just after he landed in Scotland:

There are more Brexit-related Tweets in Ness’s feed.

Andrew Prahin

Philip Pullman

The following day, Pullman published an editorial, “on the 1000 causes of Brexit,” which includes two paragraphs that I’m excerpting primarily because they offer the strongest parallels to the U.S. media’s complicity in facilitating the rise of America’s fascist orange dumpster fire:

Then there is the tendency of our broadcast media to be seduced by strong personalities. The oafish saloon-bar loudmouth Nigel Farage was indulged with far too many appearances on Any Questions and Question Time. Producers seem to have felt his dog-whistle racism to be amusingly transgressive.

Similarly, Boris Johnson, a liar, a cheat, a man said to have betrayed a journalist to someone who wanted to beat him up, a shameless opportunist, an idle buffoon, to name but a few of his disqualifications for high office, was flattered over and over again by programmes such as Have I Got News For You. Without the completely needless exposure these two gained from the generosity of TV and radio, they would have found it harder to spread their lies and not-even-quite-covert racism during the referendum. They’d have been starting from a different place.

In the next paragraph, he identifies David Cameron’s “flippant, careless, irresponsible” decisions as the “immediate cause of the disaster.”  Read the entire piece at The Guardian.

Michael Rosen

You can read Michael Rosen’s modest proposal, “Time to cull old people,” on his website.  It begins like this:

Good evening

on what is a historic moment in history,

a truly momentous moment

and I want to take this opportunity to discuss something

which up until now has been swept under the carpet:

old people.

Quite frankly there are too many of them.

I’m going to say it simply

and you can quote me on this:

there are too many old people in Britain today;

we can’t cope

they’re putting pressure on our public services,

they’re forcing wages down through doing low-paid jobs
and volunteering all over the place;they’re hanging about on street corners
talking to each other in their own odd ways
they go to their own special places
segregating themselves off from the rest of us

failing to integrate.

As I say, read the rest of it on his website, and remember that it’s satire — specifically, a commentary on the fact that those in favor of Brexit were older, and that a lot of the pro-Brexit rhetoric was anti-immigrant.

J. K. Rowling

Stephen Savage

Bob Shea

G. Willow Wilson


Credits: Thanks to Vanessa Joosen for translating one of Guus Kuijer’s Tweets, to Lara Saguisag for pointing me to the responses from Michael Rosen and Patrick Ness, and to Poushali Bhadury for pointing me to Philip Pullman’s Guardian piece.

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The Colors of Madeleine

Jaclyn Moriarty, Colors of Madeline (Scholastic editions, 2012-2016)If you have yet to read Jaclyn Moriarty‘s The Colors of Madeleine trilogy, then many pleasures await you. The third volume — A Tangle of Gold — was just published last month. It is fantasy that remains fully grounded in everyday experience. It has characters that I enjoy spending time with. It is about growing up, it asks big questions, and its themes resonate with our own uncertain times.

It is about many things.

(1) There’s an epistolary friendship between Madeleine and Elliot. She lives in Oxford, the World. He lives in the Bonfire, the Farms, in the Kingdom of Cello. They communicate via a crack between their worlds. In her world, this crack appears at a parking meter; in his, it is at a sculpture in his schoolyard. Initially, their relationship sustained my interest more than the fantasy.

(2) But that’s because the world-building is done with sufficient subtlety that you’re not fully aware it’s happening. Volume three — the book I’ve just finished — thus had a number of fully earned “a-ha!” moments. Themes and allusions that seemed to be telling us more about a particular character, or developing another subplot, turned out to be gestures towards a larger picture that — until that moment — was not fully visible. Information that appeared incidental was in fact central.

(3) As the previous sentences indicate, there are many mysteries. Where have the missing people gone? Is Elliot’s father dead… or just missing? Where is Madeleine’s father? Why are the color storms growing increasingly volatile and frequent? There are also deeper, more philosophical questions, such as: Where is the line between sane and crazy?  Where does art come from?  There are many other questions, but mentioning them might give away some surprises, and I’m trying not to do that.

Jaclyn Moriarty, A Tangle of Gold (2016)(4) Different elements of the series pull you in at different times. For the first book (A Corner of White), the relationship between our two protagonists kept me coming back. The second (The Cracks in the Kingdom) had more narrative drive. If I claimed that the first book were more devoted to character and the second more to plot, then I’d say that the third combines those in equal measure. But I say “If” both to invoke and to reject an admittedly facile plot-character dichotomy. The plot unspools at a slower pace in A Corner of White, but the book is never dull. So, perhaps I might instead say that the first book invites us to become its friend — just as Madeleine and Elliot become each others’ friends in that same volume. The Cracks in the Kingdom complicates and deepens that friendship, as Elliot and Madeleine get pulled in different directions, take on new responsibilities, and (Elliot in particular) make new friends — notably Kiera, who will become even more important in the third novel. A Tangle of Gold entangles and disentangles, weaves and unwinds, binds the strands of the narrative together while revealing a much broader canvas.

The books merit deeper consideration than this dashed-off review, but that’s all I have time for right now. In any case, that’s one use of the blog — a place to jot down ideas that may or may not get developed fully later on. And I do want to recommend the series!


Update, 14 May 2016: Ms. Moriarty kindly responded to this review. A brief Twitter conversation followed. Here it is.

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