Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2015

MLA 2015: Vancouver, BCHeading to the MLA in Vancouver next month? Well, thanks to Lee Talley (for the children’s lit panels), here’s a list of all the children’s literature and comics/graphic novels panels. If we’ve missed any, then please let me know and I’ll add them!


35. The Graphic South

Thursday, 8 January12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 114, VCC West

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Southern Literature

Presiding: Katherine Renee Henninger, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

  1. “The Contested Topography of the Reconstructed South: Visual Poetics in the Works of Jedediah Hotchkiss and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler,” Robert Arbour, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
  2. Stuck Rubber Baby and the Intersections of Civil Rights Historical Memory,” Julie Buckner Armstrong, Univ. of South Florida
  3. “How to Draw an Animal in the Sensible South: William Bartram’s Natural History of Compassion,” Thomas Doran, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
  4. “Graphic (Un)Being: Swamping the Deleuzian Body without Organs in Contemporary Comics (Swamp ThingSwamp Preacher, and Bayou),” Taylor Hagood, Florida Atlantic Univ.; Daniel Cross Turner, Coastal Carolina Univ.

41. The Comics of Joe Sacco: Journalism in a Visual World

Thursday, 8 January1:45–3:00 p.m., 202, VCC West

A special session

Presiding: Daniel W. Worden, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Speakers: Lan Dong, Univ. of Illinois, Springfield; Ann D’Orazio, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque; Jared Gardner, Ohio State Univ., Columbus; Maureen Shay, Univ. of California, Los Angeles

Responding: David M. Ball, Princeton Univ.

Session Description:

The roundtable brings together established and emerging scholars in comics studies to discuss an acclaimed contemporary comics artist, Joe Sacco. The discussion focuses on Sacco’s significance to both literary and comics studies, as well as the challenges that his “comics journalism” poses to the categories and methods of analysis in comics studies.


76. The Endurance of Alice: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at 150

Thursday, 8 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 120, VCC West

A special session

Presiding: Jan Christopher Susina, Illinois State Univ.

  1. “‘Off with Their Heads!': Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Antigallows Movement,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “The Education of Alice,” Kelly Hager, Simmons Coll.
  3. “‘You’ve Brought Us the Wrong Alice': Tim Burton’s Dystopic Alice in Wonderland,” Jan Christopher Susina

139. Sites of Memory in Children’s Literature

Thursday, 8 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 8, VCC East

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Karin E. Westman, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “‘I Forgot You Were Away': The Importance of Children’s Voices and Memories in World War II Evacuation Literature,” Lee A. Talley, Rowan Univ.
  2. “The Kozak as a Site of Memory in Postindependence-Era Ukrainian Children’s Literature,” Anastasia Ulanowicz, Univ. of Florida
  3. “Participating in Future Histories: Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction, Agency, and Temporality,” Jasmine Lee, Univ. of California, Irvine
  4. “Why Does Lia Hate History? Laurie Halse Anderson’s Construction of Trauma,” Adrienne E. Kertzer, Univ. of Calgary

178. Writing the Future: Children’s Literature in East Asia

Thursday, 8 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., 9, VCC East

Program arranged by the Division on East Asian Languages and Literatures to 1900 and the Division on East Asian Languages and Literatures after 1900

Presiding: Charlotte Eubanks, Penn State Univ., University Park

  1. “Angelic Rebels of Colonial Korea: The Proletarian Child Fights Back,” Dafna Zur, Stanford Univ.
  2. “Satirizing Colonialism and Diaspora in Singapore: Lao She’s Children’s Novella Little Po’s Birthday,” Brian Bernards, Univ. of Southern California
  3. “Beyond Realism: The Social Significance of Children’s Literature in Republican China,” Christopher Tong, Washington Univ. in St. Louis
  4. “Futurism and the Machine Age: Miyazawa Kenji’s Electric Poles in the Moonlit Night,” Maria Elena Tisi, Università di Bologna

For abstracts, write to cde13@psu.edu.


212. Geography, Memory, and Childhood

Friday, 9 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 1, VCC East

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Katharine Slater, Rowan Univ.; Gwen Tarbox, Western Michigan Univ.

  1. “Arresting Images: Childhood, Apocalypse, Miyazaki,” John Grayson Nichols, Christopher Newport Univ.
  2. “Fording the Platte, Shooting a Buffalo, Dying of Cholera: Negotiating Sites of Imagination and Sites of History in The Oregon Trail Video Game,” Jennifer Kraemer, Univ. of Texas, Dallas
  3. “Children’s Mapping as Projective Place,” Laura D’Aveta, Penn State Univ., University Park
  4. “Book, Screen, and Space in the Spaces of the Sylvie Cycle,” Keith Dorwick, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette

348. Not an Exit but a Shift: Changing Children’s Literature

Friday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 114, VCC West

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Ramona Anne Caponegro, Eastern Michigan Univ.; Abbie Ventura, Univ. of Tennessee, Chattanooga

  1. “Changing Childhood, Changing Children’s Literature,” Ramona Anne Caponegro; Abbie Ventura
  2. “Not an Exit but a Bang: Posthumanism and Polyphony in the Young-Adult Novel,” Amanda Hollander, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
  3. “Both an Overhaul and an Augmentation: Toward a ‘Child-Centered’ Critical Metaframe for Children’s Literature,” Michelle Superle, Univ. of the Fraser Valley
  4. “Literature for Beginners,” Kenneth Byron Kidd, Univ. of Florida

459. Visual Cultures and Young People’s Texts in Canada

Saturday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 113, VCC West

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Canadian Literature in English and the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Jennifer Blair, Univ. of Ottawa; Catherine Tosenberger, Univ. of Winnipeg

  1. “Everybody Calls Me Roch: Harvey, The Hockey Sweater, and the Invisible Québécois Child,” Cheryl Cowdy, York Univ., Keele
  2. “Daughters of a Single Parent: ‘Lives of Girls and Women’ in Quebec Cinema Today,” Miléna Santoro, Georgetown Univ.
  3. “Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam: A Canadian Case Study of Transmedia Storytelling with Picture Book Narratives,” Naomi Hamer, Univ. of Winnipeg

For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/groups/canadian-literature-in-english/.


565. Writing Home: Memories of Battlefront and Home Front in Children’s Literature of the First World War

Saturday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 224, VCC West

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Lissa Paul, Brock Univ.

  1. “‘Stop Talking and Go Home': Endless War in Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree,” A. Robin Hoffman, Yale Univ.
  2. “Here and Over There: L. M. Montgomery’s War Geographies,” Katharine Slater, Rowan Univ.
  3. “The Orphans of Poetry: War and Childhood in the Poetry of Robert Graves,” Michael Joseph, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
  4. “‘I’m Goin’ ‘Ome': The Linguistics of Loyalty in Robert W. Service’s Rhymes of a Red Cross Man,” Jacquilyn Weeks, Indiana Univ.–Purdue Univ., Indianapolis

For abstracts, visit http://research.ncl.ac.uk/fww-child/.


624. Immigration and Comics

Saturday, 10 January5:15–6:30 p.m., 16, VCC East

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives and the Division on European Literary Relations

Presiding: Sandra L. Bermann, Princeton Univ.; Nhora Lucia Serrano, Harvard Univ.

  1. “‘Home of the Cannibals': Interracial Contact and Immigration in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Timothy Paul Caron, California State Univ., Long Beach
  2. “Aya in the Ivory Coast and Abouet in France: Immigration in Aya de Yopougon,” Michelle Bumatay, Willamette Univ.
  3. “From Immigrants to Privateers: The Curious Case of Hogan’s Alley and the Yellow Kid,” David M. Ball, Princeton Univ.
  4. “Comedy of Errors: Lessons of Identity and Agency in American Born Chinese,” Judy Schaaf, Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org/ after 1 Dec.


643. A Creative Conversation with the Canadian Poet JonArno Lawson

Saturday, 10 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., 118, VCC West

Presiding: Craig Svonkin, Metropolitan State Univ.; Joseph Terry Thomas, San Diego State Univ.

Speaker:JonArno Lawson, Toronto, ON

Session Description:

A creative conversation about avant-garde children’s poetry, Canadian poetry, and Canadian children’s poetry with the award-winning poet JonArno Lawson. Lawson is a three-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry.


644. Cash Bar Arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives


654. Virtual Women: Webcomics

Sunday, 11 January8:30–9:45 a.m., 3, VCC East

A special session

Presiding: Leah Misemer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

  1. “‘Straw Feminists': Webcomics, Parody, and Intertextuality,” Sarah Sillin, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
  2. Ménage à 3: Gender and Sexual Diversity through Women’s Perspectives,” Nicole Slipp, Queen’s Univ.
  3. “One Click Wonder: How Female Comics Creators Leapt from Private to Public in a Single Bound,” Aimee Valentine, Western Michigan Univ.

Responding: Hillary L. Chute, Univ. of Chicago


712. Why Dystopian Young-Adult Literature? Why Now?

Sunday, 11 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 114, VCC West

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: June S. Cummins, San Diego State Univ.

  1. “Reclaiming Adolescent Power in Young-Adult Dystopia,” Jessica Seymour, Southern Cross Univ.
  2. “The Dystopian Present: Recolonizing America in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities,” John David Schwetman, Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth
  3. “Power Play: The Seduction of Games in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction,” Jonathan Hollister, Florida State Univ.; Don Latham, Florida State Univ.
  4. “The Emancipatory Power of Hopelessness: Discourses of Political Failure in Recent Young-Adult Literature,” Oona Eisenstadt, Pomona Coll.

720. Comics Theory Roundtable

Sunday, 11 January12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 214, VCC West

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

Speakers: Michael A. Chaney, Dartmouth Coll.; Hugo Frey, Univ. of Chichester; Jared Gardner, Ohio State Univ., Columbus; Fabrice Leroy, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette; Barbara Postema, Ryerson Univ.

Session Description:

This roundtable analyzes interdisciplinary approaches to studying comics. Comics theory includes semiotics, film theory, linguistics, visual studies, and narrative theory, among other disciplines. The scholars examine to what extent these discourses are in conversation with one another and seek connections among them.

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Mock Caldecott, 2014: Manhattan, Kansas edition

Just back from our Mock Caldecott, held today at the Manhattan [Kansas] Public Library, and again organized by KSU’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (special thanks to Allison Kuehne and Becca Rowe!). In anticipation of the Caldecott Awards (held in January), we spent a few hours looking at and discussing what may or may not be the best American picture books of year.  That is, we try to look at the best, but we can’t always get everything we need in time.  (For example, omitted this year were Sergio Ruzzier’s A Letter for Leo and Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors — both books that I expect other Mock Caldecott groups, and the Caldecott Committee itself, are looking at.)  The process is imperfect, but it’s still fun to spend the afternoon looking at picture books, and debating their merits!

The Winner:

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown 

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown (2014)

Wordless tale of an unlikely friendship. In well-designed, dynamic layouts, Frazee‘s book tells the story of a young clown who falls off the train of a traveling circus, and gets adopted by a farmer.  The friendship that develops between the unlikely pair touched our group this afternoon, as did the unexpected resolution of the tale.  (I don’t want to give anything away here….)

The Honor Books:

We had quite a few honor books.  Here they are, in the order of how many votes they received.

Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend (2014)Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

Where do imaginary friends come from? And what if some imaginary friends fail to get imagined by children? In answer to both questions, Dan Santat has Beekle — an imaginary friend — set off in search of a young human who will befriend him. A book that bears a bit of influence from Shaun Tan (especially The Lost Thing), The Adventures of Beekle is already in Emily’s Library.  (Coming later this week: a new installment in my attempt to build for my niece the “ideal” children’s library.)

The next two books were tied with the same number of votes each.

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear

In his hyperreal artistic style, Nelson paints an animal story that is at once an adventure of a lost bear trying to get home, and a philosophical meditation on how we find our place in the world. It’s a different kind of book for Nelson (I don’t think he’s done other animal books), and he does it very well.  Sustained by its striking artwork and compelling child surrogate (baby bear, of course!), this beautiful book is also already in Emily’s Library.

Mike Curato, Little Elliot, Big CityMike Curato, Little Elliot, Big City

With illustrations that really draw you in, Curato‘s tale of a small cupcake-loving polka-dotted elephant (Elliot) has heart. I think, too, that its treatment of the central character’s height will resonate with younger readers: to be a child is to exist in a world designed for giants, where everything is too large, too long, or out of reach. Curato captures that experience well. It’s sweet without being pat — and that’s a delicate balance to achieve.  It’s a future addition to Emily’s Library.  (I hadn’t seen it until today.)

J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters (2014)J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters

Also a book I encountered for the first time this afternoon, Harlem Hellfighters was my top pick of the 25 we looked at today. In spare, poetic text, and striking images, the book tells the story of the most decorated African American combat unit to serve in the First World War.  With a great use of comics layout, and words both suggestive and specific, it does the impossible job of conveying historical detail and nuance all within the confines of a picture book.  It shows how the same group of people who were being lynched here in the U.S. were serving abroad with valor and distinction — juxtaposing their European heroism with American lynchings. And, though it has a strong moral message, Lewis and Kelley convey that without moralizing. Probably not a book for the youngest readers, Harlem Hellfighters should be required reading for American children of 7 and up in the Ferguson Era. (I don’t know if we have a term for the legal murder of people of color, as practiced in contemporary America — so, I’m using “Ferguson Era” as shorthand.)

Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders, Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (2014)Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual

This one — the last of our Honor Books — blew me away, and was also on my short list. I’d read about it before today, but had never actually seen it.  In the guise of a catalogue for the (fictional) Aviary Wonders Inc., Samworth teaches us about anatomy, flight, and extinction. With a dark sense of humor and design evocative of both contemporary catalogues and nineteenth-century science, Aviary Wonders Inc. tells the sad story of our loss of biodiversity. In offering instructions for how to make birds, Samworth commemorates those species that humans have destroyed. If this sounds impossible to you, then all I can say is check it out. It sounds impossible to me, too — only because I’ve read Samworth’s book can I report that it’s not only possible but a remarkable achievement.  One of the year’s best picture books.

What are your favorite picture books from 2014?  (Though the Caldecott recognizes excellence in American picture books, there’s no need to restrict yourself to ones from the U.S.)

Related links:

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Play It Again, Jon: Songs vs. Performance Pieces

Jon Brion at the piano

Composer/producer/musician Jon Brion distinguishes between songs and performance pieces. What’s the difference? In a 2006 episode of Sound Opinions (rebroadcast in a 2012 episode of 99% Invisible), he cites Led Zeppelin as an example of the latter. Though he’s “a big fan” of Zeppelin, their songs “are the ultimate performance pieces.” He explains,

And the way I can sort of prove my point is: have you ever listened to anybody else play a Led Zeppelin song and gone “Oh, that was a great satisfying experience”? Except for Dread Zeppelin, who I loved. What people like is that specific guitar sound, that specific performance, in concert with that specific drum sound, with that specific drummer playing that specific part.

Another example of the performance piece, Brion says, is most punk rock.

In contrast, a song stands on its own, separate from any individual performance. As examples of that, he cites George Gershwin, Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke, and Thelonious Monk.  In the interview, which I’ve excerpted below (and to which you should listen), he demonstrates his point by playing songs on the piano — including a lovely arrangement of a few bars from Nirvana’s “Lithium.”

His distinction between songs and performance pieces is a really useful way of thinking about different types of music.  However, like all such paradigms, the more you look at it, the more the boundaries between songs and performance pieces start to blur.  For example, a key marker for Brion is the cover version.  As he says, you could play a Gershwin song “in the style of Led Zeppelin, and have a completely satisfying experience,” but “when you start playing Zeppelin songs, say, in the style of, like, 1920s music, suddenly it’s laid bare that, oh no, it was about those people, and those people were in a room, and it was great.”

Led Zeppelin in 1970, performing at the KB Hallen in Copenhagen, Denmark

There are two flaws in that otherwise compelling argument.  First, there are great covers of Zeppelin, and of punk. Bonerama does a fantastic version of “The Ocean” (2007). You listen to it and think: why didn’t Zeppelin ever tour with a trombone section? (Or, at least, this is what I think when I listen to it.) Dolly Parton does a lovely bluegrass cover of “Stairway to Heaven” (2002). And then there’s Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra’s swing version of “Black Dog” (1999)

Bonerama’s “The Ocean” (2007)

Dolly Parton’s “Stairway to Heaven” (2002)

Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra’s “Black Dog” (1999)

For punk rock, I could point you to Yo La Tengo’s surf-rock-lite cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” (1976) or the Indigo Girls’ acoustic version of the Clash’s “Clampdown” (1979)

Yo La Tengo’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” (1996)

Indigo Girls’ “Clampdown” (1993)

So, if (according to Brion’s rubric) punk or Zeppelin resists the cover version, well, there seem ample examples to contradict that claim.

The second problem is that a lot of Zeppelin and a lot of punk are already cover versions. In the case of Zeppelin, they tended to take from African American artists without attribution. “Moby Dick” (1969) borrows liberally from Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (1961), “Whole Lotta Love” (1969) lifts a fair bit from Muddy Waters’ version of “You Need Love” (1963, a cover of Willie Dixon).  And those are just a few examples.

Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (1961)

Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” (1969)

Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love” (1962)

Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (1969)

Some of the most famous punk songs are covers — the Clash’s “I Fought the Law” (1979) and Patti Smith’s “My Generation” (1976). The latter is a cover of the Who, and the former a cover of the Bobby Fuller Four (who were covering Sonny Curtis & the Crickets).


The Clash, performing in London, 1979

Patti Smith Group, performing in Germany, 1979

In sum, the line between song (which can be covered) and performance (which cannot) seems blurrier than Brion’s distinction admits.

Patti Smith, New York City, 1976I don’t think his distinction lacks utility, though. As a connoisseur of covers, I would add — in defense of his argument — that there are far fewer good covers of Zeppelin than there are of Nirvana or Radiohead. In this sense, we might see my examples above as exceptions to the rule. Similarly, what’s punk about Patti Smith’s cover of the Who is her performance. You can do a good cover of the Who’s version, but you can’t do a good cover of Patti Smith’s version. The only way to cover of Patti Smith’s version would be as a Patti Smith tribute band, a mere imitation of the original. (In my view, by definition, a good cover brings forth a facet of the song that the original version does not. In their attempts to be faithful, tribute bands don’t meet this standard.)

Brion’s song-vs.-performance-piece distinction is handy, even if it’s not quite the paradigm that it at first seems. That is, his idea is useful less for distinguishing songs from performances and more for giving us a way of thinking about musical taste.

George GershwinUltimately, that’s what his distinction highlights: Jon Brion prefers Gershwin and Cobain to, say, Page, Plant, and Ramone. His too-frequent mentions of his alleged “love” for Led Zeppelin are him protesting too much, giving him rhetorical cover for saying that Led Zeppelin didn’t write songs. And yet, even while his rubric is just disguising personal preference in the language of objectivity, this is one key function of criticism. We find formal terms to talk about what moves us, or fails to move us. Or, to put this another way, we need to find these terms in order to have a conversation with people whose likes and dislikes differ from our own.

Terms like Brion’s help us talk about taste. They don’t need to be perfectly theorized to be useful.

Related posts:

Photo credits: Jon Brion from MTV, Led Zeppelin from Performing Musician, Patti Smith from Morrison Hotel Gallery, George Gershwin from Music Times.

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#BlackLivesMatter — A Twitter Essay

#BlackLivesMatter

I’ve also posted this over on Storify, for those who prefer that.

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A Thanksgiving Fable You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): coverBefore Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith‘s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), there was Tomi Ungerer‘s  I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories (1971) and Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief’s Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To (1978). They’re stories with unexpected morals, or (in the case of Ungerer) that sometimes just end absurdly. Since Heide and Van Clief have a Thanksgiving-themed tale and since we live in bleak times,* I thought I would share with you something amusing. So, here is “Chester,” illustrated (as are all the tales in this book) by Victoria Chess in ink with wash. The book is out of print, but perhaps someone at the New York Review of Books’ Children’s Collection (or another imprint) will see this tale, and then reprint all of Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To? Let us hope so….

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 36

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 37

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 38

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 39

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 40

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 41

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 42

Florence Parry Heide and Sylvia Worth Van Clief, Fables You Shouldn't Pay Any Attention To (1978, illus. by Victoria Chess): "Chester," p. 43

Text copyright © 1978 Florence Parry Heide and William C. Van Clief III. Illustrations copyright © 1978 by Victoria Chess.

If you enjoyed this, then definitely check out other books by Florence Parry Heide (1919-2011), such as The Shrinking of Treehorn (1971) and its two sequels (all illustrated by Edward Gorey), Alphabet Zoop (1970, illus. by Sally Matthews), and her final book, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (2011, illus. by Lane Smith).
_______

* I’m thinking, at the moment, the structural, lethal racism embodied by Ferguson (but present around the world) and of the rampant rape culture embodied by the University of Virginia (but present around the world). And, yes, of course, this list could be much longer, depending where on our warming planet you turn your attention. Sigh.

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The Meaning of Life; or, How to Avoid the Midlife Crisis

Kieran Setiya, "The Midlife Crisis" (2014)Why do successes sometimes feel like failures? As philosopher Kieran Setiya points out in a wise new essay, “Our achievements, whatever they are worth, are always numbered” (10). Each time we accomplish something, it’s done, finished, and we must move on to the next thing: “the completion of your project may constitute something of value, but it means that the project can no longer give purpose to your life” (12). And so, in “pursuing a goal, you are trying to exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were trying to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye” (12).

What’s the solution? Key, Setiya argues, is to distinguish between telic and atelic activities:

  • Telic: “Almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete” (12).
  • Atelic: “not all activities are like this. Some do not aim at a point of termination or exhaustion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance,… you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. The same is true of hanging out with friends or family, of studying philosophy, of living a decent life. You can stop doing these things and you eventually will, but you cannot complete them in the relevant sense…. they do not have a telic character” (12-13). So, “If you are going for a walk, hanging out with friends, studying philosophy, or living a decent life, you are not on the way to achieving your end. You are already there” (13).

This, however, does not mean that one should only invest in the atelic. The issue is where you derive value: locating the majority of life’s meaning in the telic will leave you unfulfilled, and often precipitates a midlife crisis. As Setiya writes, “it is at midlife that the telic character of one’s most cherished ends are liable to appear, as they are completed or prove impossible. One has the job one has worked for many years to get, the partner one hoped to meet, the family one meant to start — or one does not. Until this point, one may have had no reason to dwell on the exhaustion of one’s ambitions” (14).

To avoid or resolve the midlife crisis, yes, you can (as Setiya puts it), “invest… more deeply in atelic ends. Among the activities that matter most to you, the ones that give meaning to your life, must be activities that have no terminal point. Since they cannot be completed, your engagement with atelic ends will not exhaust or destroy them” (15).

But you can — and should — also continue pursuing telic activities. Just pursue them for their own sake instead of for the end product: “Instead of spending time with friends in order to complete a shared project […,] one pursues a common project in order to spend time with friends” (15). As Setiya advises, “Do not work only to solve this problem or discover that truth, as if the tasks you complete are all that matter; solve the problem or seek the truth in order to be at work” (15).

Setiya’s “The Midlife Crisis” appears in Philosophers’ Imprint 14.31 (Nov. 2014), pp. 1-18. Just follow the link. As you may have guessed from my summary, I highly recommend it.

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Commonplace Book, Too

Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985)From time to time, I post quotations that strike me as interesting — my blog version of the Commonplace Book, a tradition dating to the sixteenth century, in which (if I may quote the OED) “one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement.”  I’ve done three exclusively devoted to children’s literature (1, 2, 3), and one earlier one not. Here’s the second one of general quotations, featuring the wisdom of Don DeLillo, Laurie Anderson, Ogden Nash, George Herriman, Vic Chesnutt, & five others!

I am the false character that follows the name around.

— Jack Gladney, in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985)

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.

Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

— Bruce Cockburn, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” Stealing Fire (1984)

The world has gone insane

and you don’t know what is right.

You got to keep on keepin’ on:

get on that pig, and hold on tight.

— Parry Gripp, “Baby Monkey (Going Backwards on a Pig)” (2010)

I’ve always had a feeling that life is a series of non-sequiturs, and that we’re all untrustworthy narrators.

— Richard Thompson, creator of Cul de Sac, in article by RC Harvey (June 2011)

I don’t care how unkind the things people say about me so long as they don’t say them to my face.

— Ogden Nash, “Hush, Here They Come,” The Face Is Familiar (1941), p. 36

George Herriman, Krazy Kat, 6 Jan. 1918

lenguage is that that we may mis-unda-stend each udda.

— Krazy Kat, in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, 6 Jan. 1918

Max Brod, Franz Kafka: A Biography (1937/1947)Plenty of hope, … — no end of hope — only not for us.

— Franz Kafka, quoted in Max Brod, Franz Kafka: A Biography (1937), translated by G. Humphreys Roberts and Richard Winston (1947), p. 75

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

— Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (1983)

I’m not an optimist. I’m not a realist.

I might be a sub-realist.

— Vic Chesnutt, “Myrtle,” About to Choke (1996)

What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed man walks into a flower shop and says:

“What flower expresses ‘Days go by, and they just keep going by, endlessly pulling you into the future. Days go by endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future?’” And the florist says: “White lily.”

— Laurie Anderson, “White Lily,” Home of the Brave (1986)

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Freedom of Speech Returns to Kansas Universities?

Good news for employees of Kansas universities. Freedom of speech appears to have been restored!

Kansas Board of RegentsYou see, the Kansas Board of Regents’ recently passed social media policy says employees of Regents-governed Kansas universities do not have the right to freedom of speech. To be specific, employees can be fired for speech that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” “has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty” is necessary, or is “contrary to the best interests of the employer.” According to a separate policy on political activity, “personnel are free to express opinions speaking or writing as an individual in their personal capacity and not as a representative of the institution in signed advertisements, pamphlets and related material in support of or opposition to parties and causes.”

So, then, what of Coach Bill Snyder’s public endorsement of Senator Pat Roberts?  Does it violate either policy?  If not, then what precedent does it set?  Given the lack of public criticism from either the Regents or Kansas State University, it seems to suggest that outspokenness is welcome.

Snyder endorses Roberts (Facebook ad)

Note that, in the ad above (from the Pat Roberts for Senate 2014 Facebook page), it’s Coach Bill Snyder. The Roberts campaign has carefully Photoshopped the K-State logo from Snyder’s jacket and cap. But the title “Coach” only has meaning in the context of “Kansas State University.”

1. Political Activity.

But does this violate the “political activity” policy? I asked the Kansas Board of Regents yesterday.

Here’s the Regents’ response.

To clarify, I followed up with this question.

The Regents did not answer that one.

This morning, however, President Kirk Schulz issued a “reminder about university policy,” which does offer an answer: “Kansas State University does not endorse political candidates, and employees do not speak for the university when they endorse candidates. Employees should also avoid using their university-affiliation in any endorsements or statements.” On the one hand, since Snyder’s university affiliation is not specifically named in the advertisements, his endorsement is within the letter of the law. On the other hand, this statement distances the university from Snyder’s endorsement and reminds university employees that they should “avoid using their affiliation” in public statements on political candidates. In the video below, some of the photos indicate that Snyder and Roberts were taken at K-State. And, of course, that word Coach can only be meaningful in the context of “Kansas State University” — even if you omit those three words, they’re there by implication.       

Facebook: Coach Snyder & Pat Roberts (1)What I take away from this is that, though President Schulz isn’t crazy about the idea, faculty can endorse any political candidate they like and can use their title in doing so.  So, for instance, a sentence like “University Distinguished Professor Philip Nel endorses Paul Davis for Governor of Kansas” is acceptable speech — even if President Schulz would prefer that such statements were not made. As evidence, I would point to the Coach-Snyder-for-Pat-Roberts advertisements appearing on Facebook today.

2. Social Media Policy.

Facebook: Coach Snyder & Pat Roberts (2)That this passes muster with the architects of the social media policy is also welcome news. For example, in the ad, Coach Snyder says that Senator Roberts is “as good as it gets for the state of Kansas,” is “a great friend of the state of Kansas,” and “he genuinely cares about the people of the state of Kansas.”  As anyone who has followed the Senator’s career in government knows, he’s an advocate of torture, in favor of workplace discrimination, against student loan affordability, and believes that guns are more important than human lives (or, at least, that massacres like Sandy Hook are acceptable collateral damage).  Now, it strikes me as at least possible that some people might look at Roberts’ record and say that the university’s most famous employee’s endorsement of such record is “contrary to the best interests of the employer.”  I mean, one presumes that Kansas State University might want to stand against workplace discrimination, for student loan affordability, and might even want to prevent a Virginia-Tech-style massacre on its campus. Evidently, though, Coach Snyder’s employer would prefer that he not make such statements, but is unwilling to take any public action against him.

The most intriguing line of Coach Snyder’s endorsement is his claim that Senator Roberts is “an honest individual.” His campaign advertisements against Greg Orman and statements in debates all provide ample evidence to the contrary. His ads allege that a vote for Orman would be a vote for President Obama, but in fact Orman (running as an independent) has said he will caucus with whichever party wins the Senate.  Roberts said he missed a Senate committee hearing on Sept. 16 about on threat of the Ebola outbreak because “The hearing was held out of session, during September.” However, as The Kansas City Star points out, “The Senate was in session that day.”  Roberts misses quite a few votes, actually — and most of those he attends are simply to vote “no” (on immigration reform, on Steven Burns as a new member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, etc.).

Yes, a cynic might argue that Coach Snyder’s speech is not facing censure from the Regents because their leaders also support Roberts, but — either way — this political advertisement sets a precedent. Employees can publicly say whatever they like, regardless of whether it’s true, false, or good for the university. While Coach Snyder’s standards for political office are remarkably low, I support his right to speak in favor of the candidate of his choice.  And I’m glad that, in doing so, he’s set a precedent for the rest of us to support the candidates we favor.  As Ms. Rosenberg (on Twitter) says,…

UPDATE, 31 Oct. 2014, 10:20 pm:

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Art for Art’s Sake; or, OK Go Videos Make Me Happy

OK GoOK Go videos: They’re surprising, clever, and eminently re-watchable. They also have an appealingly handmade feel to them, harkening back to a time when digitally manipulating images was too expensive for a music video. For the stop-motion classic “Sledgehammer” (1986), Peter Gabriel had to lie still for hours, beneath a plate of glass, while people from Aardman Animations manipulated fruit above him.  And they’re unapologetically Art with a capital “A.” Yes, OK Go hopes you’ll buy the band’s music, but the videos don’t feel like they’re trying to sell you anything beyond the sheer enjoyment of watching creative minds trying to create something beautiful. If this were the 1980s, I would be waiting by the TV, ready to hit “Record” on the VCR when the next OK Go video came on. Fortunately, today, I can simply collect eighteen of them right here, on this webpage.

I Won’t Let You Down (2014)

You see, there’s a new OK video out today: “I Won’t Let You Down,” directed by Kazuaki Seki and Damian Kulash, Jr., with choreography by Furitsukekagyou Airman, art direction by Jun Nishida, and creative direction by Morihiro Harano.  The whole thing is done in one take, shot with a drone (!) — one reason, I gather, that it had to be filmed in Japan. In Billboard article about the creation of the video, OK Go bassist Tim Norwind described the experience as “the best hour of my life.”


Unless I’ve miscounted (always a possibility), this is the eighteenth video from the band’s art-for-art’s-sake era, the latest in a nine-year period of video innovations that began with “A Million Ways.”

A Million Ways (2005)

The first OK Go video choreographed by Trish Sie (sister of lead singer Damien Kulash), “A Million Ways” is also OK Go’s first viral video.  Co-directed by Sie and OK Go, it establishes a key piece of the band’s video aesthetic: performed live, all in one take. It also introduces dance as a recurring motif.

It’s not that their pre-“Million Ways” videos are bad. “Get Over It” (2002), “Don’t Ask Me” (2003), “Don’t Ask Me (Dance Booth version)” (2003), and “You’re So Damn Hot” (2003) are all visually compelling, and some even buck convention — the ping-pong pause in the middle of “Get Over It,” for example. But “A Million Ways” starts their period of video innovation.

Here It Goes Again (2006)

Also choreographed by Trish Sie and co-directed by her and the band, “Here It Goes Again” is in many ways synonymous with the term “viral video.” If you’ve been on-line in the past eight years, you’ve almost certainly seen this one.

It ups the ante on “A Million Ways”: not only are they performing choreographed dance moves, but they’re doing it all on treadmills (all of which, incidentally, were set up in Sie’s basement).  It inspired many fan videos, a Simpsons tribute, and the band even performed the dance live (on treadmills!) at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Invincible (2006)

Directed by Tim Nackashi and OK Go, “Invincible” is… well, actually, less of an eye-opener than the previous two. Using multiple takes, it juxtaposes shots of the band performing (on one side of the screen) with stuff getting blown up (on the other side of the screen). It harkens back to the pre-“A Million Ways” period. But you can’t expect genius every time. And, anyway, it still has sharp visuals, and is fun to watch.

Do What You Want (2007)

There’s actually an earlier video for this song, directed by Olivier Gondry, but I can’t find it on-line.  This video, directed by Damian Kulash, finds the group back in risk-taking mode. Wearing outfits that match the wallpaper behind them, the band and other performers rock out. But because the costumes prevent us from seeing their faces, even the rock stars become oddly anonymous, phantoms launched from the wallpaper.

I think also of the masked couple in Magritte’s The Lovers (1928) — intimacy obstructed by cloth. Here, we have improbably energetic performers, encased in wallpaper suits. But there’s still a tension between what you expect (stasis) and what you get (activity).

WTF? (2009)

With “WTF?”, the first video from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go is fully back in innovation mode. Directed by Tim Nackashi and OK Go, the band creates another video which prompts you to wonder OK,… so, how did they do that?

Knowing that we’d wonder how they did it, the band also created what I think is their first making-of video, something that would become a regular feature.

This Too Shall Pass (Marching Band) (2010)

The first, and less famous, of the two “This Too Shall Pass” videos features the University of Notre Dame’s Band of the Fighting Irish and took 20 takes to get right. Brian K. Perkins and OK Go directed the piece, shot in a single take.

I love that they recorded a whole new arrangement of the song for the video, too.

This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Machine) (2010)

Directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs, this is the better-known version of “This Too Shall Pass.” In some ways, it inaugurates an even more ambitious period of video-making for the band — and establishes the Rube Goldberg Machine as a key part of the OK Go aesthetic.

There’s a series of behind-the scenes videos, of course!

End Love (2010)

Filmed over the course of 18 hours (including a period when the band sleeps!), and then sped up (at different speeds), “End Love” also features… a goose! They shot the video in a park, and the goose, evidently, wanted to be a part of it. Hey, can you blame her?  Directed by OK Go, Eric Gunther, and Jeff Lieberman.

White Knuckles (2010)

Bringing back choreographer Trish Sie, “White Knuckles” shows the band mastering the art of… stacking!  Yes, stacking. And working with dogs. Again, shot in one take!

And, yes, there’s a series of behind-the-scenes videos for this one!

Last Leaf (2010)

A stop-motion video using over 2000 pieces of toast, each laser-cut with art by the band and Geoff Mcfetridge. The notion of telling a story via animation on toast compliments this quiet song’s themes of longing and impermanence. Sure, it’s an unusual way to express these ideas, but that sense of novelty is what makes it an OK Go video. 

Back from Kathmandu (2010)

In this video, OK Go takes its fans on a GPS-led parade through L.A. Their goal? To use a GPS app to spell out “OK Go.”  The New Orleans vibe of the parade has its pleasures, but the concept is more fun than actually watching the video documenting the concept. Still, though, I give them credit for trying something different.

All Is Not Lost (2011)

Fearturing the dance troupe Pilobolus, and directed by OK Go, Pilobolus, and Trish Sie, “All Is Not Lost” brings us back to the Wow! How did they do that? for which OK Go has rightly become famous.  There is also an interactive version of this one, which is well worth checking out.  Really.  It is “way cooler,” just as the video (below) tells you.

Also, for those who want to know how it was made, there’s a series of behind-the-scenes videos.

Needing/Getting (2011)

Directed by Brian L. Perkins and Damian Kulash, the band drives a Rube-Goldberg’d car through a Rube Goldberg’d landscape. Instead of making a Rube Goldberg machine that choreographs movement and image to the song (as in “This Too Shall Pass”), this machine actually performs the song it accompanies. According to the YouTube page, “The video took 4 months of preparation and 4 days of shooting and recording. There are no ringers or stand-ins; Damian took stunt driving lessons.”

And you bet there’s a behind-the-scenes video series for this one!

Skyscrapers (2011)

The final video from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, “Skyscrapers” features choreographer Trish Sie dancing the tango with Moti Buchboot.  Sie also directed it.  Brightly colored, elegant, and absorbing, the video is a reminder of the band’s understanding that we (its audience) don’t require Rube Goldberg machines to hold our attention. It’s also nice to see Sie — who launched the band’s career as video auteurs — move to a starring role.

Muppet Show Theme Song (2011)

If you’ve watched the preceding videos, now… watch the meta-video!  OK Go and the Muppets pay homage to the OK Go oeuvre and, of course, to the Muppets!

Primary Colors (2012)

For Sesame Street, OK Go did a stop-motion video explaining the primary colors. Watching it again reminds me, too, that their post-“A Million Ways” videos all have an almost childlike playfulness to them.  There’s a sense of hey, what if we tried this?  The end result requires careful planning, of course. But the band and their collaborators seem animated by a spirit of adventure and experimentation.

The Writing’s on the Wall (2014)

And that brings us full circle, back to the first video from their latest record (Hungry Ghosts, which I strongly recommend).  It’s another single-shot video, but this time the emphasis is on optical illusions.  It reminds me a bit of the optical-illusion street art where, from the correct angle, the street has suddenly become (for example) a cliff. Directed by Aaron Duffy, Damian Kulash, Jr. and Bob Partington, “The Writing’s on the Wall” is great fun to watch. And that, friends, is the theme of the OK Go videos. They are fun. The band is making art because it is fun to make art.  They’re art for art’s sake in the very best sense of that term.

On this one, they’ve gone one better on their making-of videos, creating an interactive making-of video. It’s as fun as the video itself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of OK Go’s music-video oeuvre. I wonder what they are planning now…?

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Harold Around the World

Harold and the Purple Crayon in ten different languages

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverFor Crockett Johnson‘s 108th birthday, it’s… Harold around the world!  Whether you know him as Valtteri, Paultje, Pelle, Tullemand, Harold, or something else, you can read about his adventures in at least 14 languages. I have copies of Harold and the Purple Crayon in nine languages (Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, and its original English) and have found some additional covers in other languages (German, Polish, Swedish) on-line.

So, grab your crayon, draw up a chair, and take a look at the many versions of Harold!


Chinese

The book is available in at least two versions in Chinese. Here’s the one published by Hsinex International Corporation in 1987. On the cover, Harold’s skin tone is a darker shade of tan than it is inside the book (where it is the same light tan color that it is in the English-language edition).

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Chinese edition, 1987)

And here’s the one published by Jieli Publishing House in 2004.  This publisher also translated the other six Harold books — including Harold’s ABC, which must be strange to read. The letters are in English, and the items they name are English words, but all the print narrative is in Chinese — followed by a parenthetical mention of the English word named by the letter.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Chinese edition, 2004)


Danish

Tullemand!  Translated by Bibi & Thomas Winding.  Published by Gylendal.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Danish edition, 2000)

(For this copy, my thanks to Stewart Edelstein, Executor of Ruth Krauss’s Estate.)


Dutch

For the Dutch edition, one of the Netherlands’ greatest children’s writers did the translation: Annie M.G. Schmidt, author of Jip and Janneke, Tow-Truck Pluck, and many others (most of which have not been translated into English).  Published by Lemniscaat.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Dutch edition, 2011)


Finnish

Translated by Riitta Oittinen. Published by Pieni Karhu (Little Bear).

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Finnish edition, 1999)

(Thanks to Leena Reiman, who sent me this copy back in 1999 — during the earliest days of my Crockett Johnson Homepage.)


French

In French, Harold’s crayon is pink.  Translated from the American by Anne-Laure Fournier le Ray. (Really — from the American, not from the English. “Traduit de l’américain par Anne-Laure Fournier le Ray.”)

Harold and the Purple Crayon (French edition, 2001)

In the latest French edition (same translator), Harold’s crayon is now violet.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (French edition, 2013)


German

According to GoogleTranslate, this German title translates to “I’m making my own world.” I don’t have a copy of this, but if I remember correctly (I’ve seen a copy with those of Johnson’s papers housed with Ruth Krauss’s), the crayon is red in this edition.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (German edition)

There’s a new German edition, which (mostly) retains Johnson’s title: “Zauberkreide” is “magic chalk,” which makes this much closer to Harold and the Purple Crayon than the above version.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (current German edition)


Hebrew

Note that the binding is on the right side here. The pages are all mirror images of the English-language version.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Hebrew edition)


Italian

Translated by Giulio Lughi. Published by Einaudi Ragazzi.  Contains both Harold and the Purple Crayon and Harold’s Trip to the Sky.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Italian edition, 2000)


Polish

Translated by Tomasz Zając. Published by Media Rodzina.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Polish edition)


Spanish

Translated by Teresa Mlawer. Published by HarperCollins.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Spanish edition, 1995)


Swedish

The 1958 edition — specifically, Ole Könnecke‘s childhod copy. Note that Harold’s crayon is also red here.  As Könnecke explains, “‘Och den röda kritan’ means ‘And the red crayon.'”  Yet, he adds, “when I added a belt to Harold’s pyjama, I used a purple crayon.”

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Swedish edition, 1958)

(Thanks to Mr. Könnecke for sharing this! Incidentally, if you’ve not read his children’s books, start with Anton Can Do Magic.)

The current edition, translated by Eva Håkansson.

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Swedish edition)


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