MLA 2017 Call for Papers! Border Conflicts: Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature

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

In September 2015, photos of 3-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 racism and xenophobia, but also awakening compassion and kindness.  As Europe faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II, this guaranteed session (sponsored by the Children’s Literature Forum) will examine children’s literature’s response — both contemporary and historical — to refugees, migrants, and members of diasporic communities.

Subjects panelists might consider include (but are not limited to): 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 (race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexuality), questions concerning human rights, and how the vulnerable figure of the child brings these questions into sharper focus.

The panel will convene at the Modern Language Association Convention in Philadelphia, which will be held from January 5 to 8, 2017.

Send 1-page abstracts by March 15, 2016 to Nina Christensen <NC@dac.au.dk> and Philip Nel <philnel@ksu.edu>.

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

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Running Out of Time

Following a December blog-conversation about Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal (occasioned in part by her own chemo), my friend Alison Piepmeier asked me to send her a contribution to her blog, Every Little Thing. It appeared there on Monday. I’m reposting it here now.

In case you’re wondering, I got permission from the close relative (named below) to quote her. Then, just after this went live on Alison’s blog, the aforementioned relative — not knowing it had just been published — also gave me permission to name her. (I didn’t, initially, because I wanted to respect her privacy.) I’ve decided to leave her unnamed here, too. If you know me, you’ll know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, you can guess.  Anyway.  Here’s the post.


Dear Alison,

Thanks for the invitation to contribute to your blog. Since our correspondence (via the blog’s comments) occasioned the invite, I’ve decided on an epistolary essay. This is it.

As I write, I’m returning from a conference (MLA!), both longing for the continued fellowship of friends and recognizing the need to face my many (and multiplying) tasks. I want the conference to go on, so that I may continue learning from and enjoying the company of smart people, but I also face classes to plan, proposals to write, manuscripts (my own and others’) to edit, and so on.

I always struggle with that impossible balance between the need to create and the need to think, between ambition and reflection, between ticking off one more item on an ever-expanding “to do” list and succumbing to sleep. I think that you do, also — though I know your struggle is more urgent. Indeed, as I share these thoughts, I’m aware that you’re living in much closer proximity to your mortality than I am to mine. Unless I’m struck down by illness, accident, or gunfire (hey, I do live in America), I should have several decades left. There’s no guarantee, but — at the moment — my long-term prospects look, well, longer than yours do. So, I hope you will forgive my presumption in addressing a subject that you (of necessity) have probably thought about more deeply than I have.

 Photo of Jack Hardman (author’s stepfather), 1990s.Although I don’t have a morbid disposition, mortality has been a lingering companion since my early 30s. There are two reasons, the first of which is my stepfather’s passing. Jack’s death was the cancer equivalent of a train wreck: the diagnosis came in December of 2000, and in January (a little over a month later), he died at the age of 72. For months afterward, I used to talk, silently, to Jack. These conversations became a bedtime ritual. Every night, before sleep, I sent my thoughts in his direction, and hoped that somehow they would arrive in his mind, in the great beyond. Though I knew I was not really reaching him, these imagined communications helped me grieve.

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)The second reason was the twelve-year endeavor of writing the biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, two (married) children’s writers. This was a race against time. Both were born in the first decade of the twentieth-century, and the people who knew them — especially during their early days — were dying. I narrowly missed talking to Hannah Baker, Johnson’s editor at the newspaper PM, and to Kenneth Koch, the New York School poet who taught Krauss poetry. Many others I interviewed died before I finished the book: Johnson’s sister, Else Frank; children’s writers Syd Hoff and Mary Elting Folsom; artist Antonio Frasconi; and filmmaker Gene Searchinger. Maurice Sendak died four months before the book’s publication. You don’t need to interview people in their 70s and 80s and 90s to learn this truth: the older we get, the more dead people we know.

But how do we face the inevitability of our own deaths? Religion comforts the devout, though I don’t for a moment imagine that it removes all worry. I was recently talking with a close relative of mine who, like me, is essentially agnostic. She faces the certain prospect of irreversible cognitive decline. We don’t know whether it will be a swift descent into oblivion or a slow slide towards confusion and forgetting. We’re hoping for slowness, and she’s doing her best to keep her mind and body active. She knows that Alzheimer’s or dementia (it’s likely one or the other) will claim her, but — as far as she’s concerned — not without a fight!

Recently, discussing her end-of-life plans with those close to her, she said, “I’ve lived three score and fourteen years. I’ve had a good run.”

A relative of my generation asked her, “If you had a heart attack tomorrow, you’d want to be resuscitated, wouldn’t you?”

She replied, “Not necessarily.”

“Wouldn’t you? You don’t know what the future holds.”

“I know what the future holds. A heart attack, whenever it happens, is a good way to go.”

The frankness of her statement gave us all pause. Yes: I, too, would prefer a heart attack to a slog through the thickets of dementia. But I’m struck by her ability to make peace with her own death. She does not want to say goodbye just yet, but she’s prepared to say goodbye when the time comes.

And that is what we need to learn. Or, at least, it’s what I need to learn. During your struggles with the brain tumor, have you figured this out? Have you learned how to say goodbye?

It’s a question that you shouldn’t have to face in your 40s. This may be why I can’t answer it yet, and why my 74-year-old relative can. But I know that the question confronts you, and has been confronting you, throughout your 40s. This is unfair. In fact, it’s unfair of me to expect you to have arrived at a better answer. So, please feel free to ignore this question — or, for that matter, any question I may pose here.

I know that, whenever I die, I will not be finished living. There will be things I have not learned, friends I have not made, books I have not written, places I have not seen, and many obligations unfulfilled. I also know that when my end arrives, I hope to have done more good than harm. I know, too, that I do not wish to suffer: if my prospects look bleak, others should take no extraordinary measures to revive me. Since I am not religious, I also believe that, as my last breaths evaporate and my heart stops, my consciousness will wane, and then I will cease to be. The End. Roll credits.

I do not know whether I’ll have a chance to say goodbye to the people I love, but I know — as what remains of my self dissipates — I’ll miss them. I hope, too, that, if any mark my passing, they do so not through mourning, but through celebrating life. Throw a party. Help yourself to my records, CDs, and books. Hire a caterer. Hire a DJ. Get to know each other better. Sing. Dance. Eat. Have fun.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)Also, since I vigorously oppose the everything-happens-for-a-reason crowd, they are not invited to this party. Everything does not happen for a reason. To suggest that it does trivializes the suffering of others. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. / It takes, and it takes, and it takes. / And we keep living anyway.” This does not mean that we should respond with indifference. Quite the opposite. It means we should engage fully in the struggle of living. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, “you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope” (71).

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (CD, 2015)This awareness makes me want to live as fully and as thoughtfully as I can. It makes me want to work harder, and to take more time off. It makes me want to write more, and to write less — so that I can spend more time with those I love. In other words, this awareness simply amplifies that tension between increased activity and quiet contemplation, between labor and leisure. It heightens awareness of the problem I described early in this letter. This is why I’m always (to borrow again from Hamilton) “writing like I’m running out of time.” It’s also why I want more time to appreciate “how lucky we are to be alive right now.” (Yes, I am currently obsessed with Hamilton. Why do you ask?)

I don’t know how to find this balance, but I know that it will require me to accept limits, to say to myself: “Look, Phil: if you are lucky, you might have twenty to twenty-five productive years left. What do you want to accomplish during those years? And how do you want to live?” In other words, I need to set two types of priorities, for both work and life. Since I am also an academic, the boundary between working and living is (at best) thin and (often) invisible.

Kieran Setiya, "The Midlife Crisis" (2014)Philosopher Kieran Setiya has what is, I think, at least a partial plan for how to navigate our way through this problem. In his excellent “The Midlife Crisis,” he charts a course by, first, distinguishing between telic and atelic. As he writes, “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). However, there are also atelic activities, projects that “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” (12). Other examples of atelic activities include “hanging out with friends or family,” “studying philosophy,” and “living a decent life.” As he points out, “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” (13): “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 distinction is helpful because (as Setiya argues) the atelic are more fulfilling than the telic. Pursuing goals gives you purpose (which is good), but can ultimately leave you empty because you always have to move on to the next one: “Our achievements, whatever they are worth, are always numbered” (10). So, instead, he suggests, one might pursue telic activities in an atelic fashion: “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). Or, put another way, “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).

These days, this is how I’m trying to approach all projects — I’m seeking atelic joy in telic activities. This means that many of my current efforts are collaborative. For instance, I have just given a paper on allegedly “weird” children’s books, co-written by and co-presented with my friend Nina Christensen. Working on it was fun because, in addition to learning from each other, we could both hang out (on-line, since she lives in Denmark). At the same conference, I chaired a discussion on “Children’s Literature Scholarship and Its Publics”: that was great fun to talk with and learn from smart people whose work I admire. With my friend Eric Reynolds I’m co-editing two more volumes of Crockett Johnson’s comic strip Barnaby. And so on. All of this labor will result in good work that should (we hope!) be useful to others, but it will also be fun — because it will all be accomplished with friends.

I expect that this partial answer — indeed, this entire letter — tells you little that you don’t already know. As I said earlier, my sense is that facing mortality puts these questions into much sharper focus. So, you will (I imagine) have already arrived at better and more complete answers than I have.

I’d like to conclude here by wishing you a long and full life, but I worry that such optimism contradicts your experience. So, let me instead wish you this: sufficient health to enjoy however many years remain, sufficient time to guide your young daughter into an uncertain future, and sufficient energy to pursue those projects that are important to you.

Yours in the struggle,

 

Phil

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Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and Why We Need Diverse Books

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

Here’s some news I’ve been itching to share: Oxford University Press will publish my next book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and Why We Need Diverse Books. Also, this coming Monday, I will be turning in (to Oxford) the complete manuscript of the book. Though it’s too early to confirm a publication date, I’m hoping it will be out by late 2016.

Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat's hatNo, the entire book is not about the Cat in the Hat, though Seuss’s famous feline features prominently in one chapter. The book is about different manifestations of structural racism in the world of children’s books: the subtle persistence of racial caricature, how anti-racist revisionism sustains racist ideas, invisibility as a form of racism, whitewashing young adult book covers, and institutional discrimination within the publishing industry. The book takes its title from the Seuss chapter (which looks at, among other things, the influence of blackface minstrelsy on the Cat) because several of his works illustrate how racism hides openly — indeed, thrives — in popular culture for young people. Since the hidden racism of children’s literature is my central theme, a Cat-in-the-Hat riff on Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s Was Huck Black? became the title.

Here’s my opening paragraph:

        Fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, we have a new civil rights crusade — the Black Lives Matter movement, inspired by the 2013 acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, and galvanized by the 2014 Ferguson protests. Fifty years after Nancy Larrick’s famous “All-White World of Children’s Books” article (1965) asked where were the people of color in literature for young readers, the We Need Diverse Books campaign is asking the same questions. These two phenomena are related. America is again entering a period of civil rights activism because racism is resilient, sneaky, and endlessly adaptable. In other words, racism endures because racism is structural: it’s embedded in culture, and in institutions. One of the places that racism hides — and the best place to oppose it — is books for young people.

As the Publishers Weekly blurb says, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? is indeed an “attempt… to do for children’s books what The New Jim Crow does for the justice system.”

"Nel Walks ‘Cat’ to OUP" (Publishers Weekly)

I realize that this is a tall order: Michelle Alexander’s book is both powerful and beautifully written. But this is indeed my aim. I want not just to get more people thinking about racism’s resilience in children’s literature. I want people to act. I want not merely to recognize the dire need for more children’s and young adult books that better represent the experiences of non-White people. I want people to join the movement for diverse books. So, rather than just conclude, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? ends with a call to action — “A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children’s Literature.”

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)Finishing this book (on top of teaching, writing other things, grading, editing, and everything else) is one reason this blog has recently been a little quieter than usual. As regular or even irregular readers of Nine Kinds of Pie have likely already guessed, fragments of this work-in-progress have appeared here. My earliest (and admittedly flawed) thinking on what developed into Chapter Two started as “Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices?” Parts of an autobiographical post appear in the introduction. Indeed, I gave an earlier, article version of the title chapter its own blog post. Scattered here and there across the blog are glimpses of me thinking about racism in children’s literature. Many of these pieces will vanish when the blog does, but others — almost always in a significantly revised form — find their way into the book.

So, a hearty thanks to those who have read and commented here, answered my questions, offered feedback when I’ve presented portions of this work, or educated me via your books and articles. I’ve learned so much from all of you. (Hint: Look for your names in the book’s Acknowledgments!) I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you.

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Guns vs. Schools

No guns (sign)The National Rifle Association is working to force guns into lecture halls, libraries, offices, dormitories, and stadiums. Their efforts to weaponize college campuses are succeeding.

At the time of the Virginia Tech massacre (32 people killed, 2007), only one state university system (Utah) required colleges and universities to allow guns on campus.  Following the mass slaughter at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University (5 people killed, 2008), you might think that the NRA would have begun backing sensible gun regulation. Instead, the NRA proposed a bill requiring colleges and universities to have guns on campus. Thanks to the NRA’s support and ALEC’s advocacy, there are now 8 states that have adopted a version of this bill, allowing guns on campus: 2 of those for concealed-carry permit holders (Colorado, Utah), and 6 guns in some circumstances (Idaho, Minn., Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin). As of July 1, 2017, Kansas will join these states.

Since I teach at a state university in Kansas, and since I rather enjoy being alive, I hope that our state legislature will repeal its so-called “Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act” or that the Kansas Board of Regents will grant state universities an exemption. As of right now, I do not see conclusive evidence that either will happen. That’s one reason I joined 39 other Kansas State University Distinguished Professors in calling for a change in state gun policy.  As our letter says,

There is no evidence that increased gun presence has decreased death or injury by guns on campuses. Whether on campuses or elsewhere, private citizens have had no appreciable success in preventing deaths by intentional shooters, accidental shooters, or suicidal individuals. Beyond the boundaries of universities, the evidence is that the presence of guns in homes increases the likelihood of death or injury by gunshot. We believe our community is safest without guns in our midst, except in the hands of on-duty law enforcement officials.

And:

We are dedicated teachers, mentors, researchers, and colleagues. We believe that the unrestricted presence of guns in our classrooms, offices, lecture halls and other spaces will make us and our students feel less safe. It will compromise the open door policy many of us maintain, in which students and others are free to drop by our offices to consult or converse. It will make students less open to working together with others whom they may not know well, and will adversely affect their educational experience. We believe that by compromising the safety of our community members, sanctioning guns on campus goes against the mission of the university.

We are not the only educators opposing state legislatures’ attempts to endanger the lives of students, faculty, and staff. I’ve been encouraged to see other organizations and individuals speaking out against the false notion — promoted by the NRA and their legislators — that making it possible for more people to kill other people somehow magically increases the safety of all people.

In its statement opposing “campus carry” laws, the American Association of University Professors says, “State legislative bodies must refrain from interfering with decisions that are properly the responsibility of the academic community.” 29 scholarly societies (including the American Studies Association) issued their own statement against the incursion of guns on campus, saying that Texas’ “Campus Carry law and similar laws in other states introduce serious safety threats on college campuses with a resulting harmful effect on students and professors.”

Will state legislatures actually listen to the people who work in the field of education?  Or will they instead flood campuses with guns, increasing the likelihood that students, teachers, and staff will get added to the next sad, inevitable list of the dead?  Also, if bringing guns into the workplace is such a great idea, then why don’t legislatures allow guns in their workplaces?  (The Kansas legislature, for example, grants itself an exemption from its law.)

As of the middle of October 2015, there had been 25 shootings on American college campuses this year, resulting in 23 dead and 25 injured. These include mass shootings, accidental shootings, and murder-suicides. (Suicide is a leading cause of death for college-aged people and guns are used in the majority of these deaths.) I haven’t checked the statistics as of today (December 2nd), but I know there have been others since mid-October and fully expect there to be more before the end of the year.

Here’s hoping that I’m wrong.

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2016

MLA Convention: Austin, Texas, Jan. 2016

Attending MLA in Austin, Texas this January? These are all MLA sessions devoted* to children’s literature, children’s culture, or comics/graphic novels. There are other panels with individual papers on these subjects, but (to the best of my knowledge) these are the sole panels with a central focus on these areas of inquiry. If I’ve missed any panels, let me know!

_________

* N.B.: For the purposes of this document, “devoted” means that 50% or more of the panel addresses the subject matter. I assembled this via keyword searches of the conference program.


39. The Anxious Publics of Literature for Young People

Thursday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 406, JW Marriott

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

Presiding: Derritt Mason, Univ. of Alberta

  1. “Against the Assumption of Guilty Pleasure: Excavating Adult Readers’ Ethically Engaged Encounters with YA Fiction,” Ashley Pérez, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “Growth, Freedom, and Anxiety: The Displacement of Education in Contemporary School Stories for Young People,” David Aitchison, North Central Coll.
  3. “Young Readers, Young Heroes, and Dime Novel Hysteria,” Martin Woodside, Rutgers Univ., Camden

125. The Counterpublics of Underground Comix

Thursday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 10B, ACC

A special session

Presiding: Margaret Galvan, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Leah Misemer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

Speakers: Ian Blechschmidt, Northwestern Univ.; Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, City Univ. of New York; Aaron Kashtan, Miami Univ., Oxford; Joshua Kopin, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Samantha Meier, independent scholar; Lara Saguisag, Coll. of Staten Island, City Univ. of New York

Session Description:

In the 1970s and 1980s, underground comics provided an opportunity for less dominant groups to form communities by representing alternative kinds of experience. Panelists aim to open up the conversation on underground comics to include the ignored voices, such as those of women, minorities, and LGBT communities in San Francisco and elsewhere in the United States.

137. Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Jewish Children’s Literature

Thursday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 308, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association and the forum LLC Sephardic

Presiding: Meira Levinson, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

  1. “Jewish-American Young Adult Literature and the Missing Global Jew,” June S. Cummins, San Diego State Univ.
  2. “American Novels of the Beta Israel: Narrating Exodus Abroad to Shape Alliances at Home,” Naomi Lesley, Holyoke Community Coll., MA
  3. HaMelech Artus: Concepts of Childhood in a Medieval Hebrew-Italian Arthurian Romance,” Esther Bernstein, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

Responding: Tahneer Oksman, Marymount Manhattan Coll.

180. Print, Materiality, Narrative

Thursday, 7 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., 4BC, ACC

A special session

Presiding: Jeannine DeLombard, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

  1. “The Politics of Format in Early Black Print Culture,” Joseph Rezek, Boston Univ.
  2. “Personifying Periodicals: Big Magazines and Modernist Form,” Donal Harris, Univ. of Memphis
  3. “‘Something to Hold Onto’: Materiality and the Graphic Novel,” Hillary L. Chute, Univ. of Chicago

222. Developments in Comics Pedagogy

Friday, 8 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 8A, ACC

A special session

Presiding: Keith McCleary, Univ. of California, San Diego; Derek McGrath, Stony Brook Univ., State Univ. of New York

Speakers: Maria Elsy Cardona, Saint Louis Univ.; Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State Univ.; Elizabeth Mathews Losh, Coll. of William and Mary; Elizabeth Nijdam, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Joe Sutliff Sanders, Kansas State Univ.; Nick Sousanis, Univ. of Calgary

For abstracts and biographies, visit www.dereksmcgrath.wordpress.com.

Session Description:

Participants discuss how they have used comics and graphic novels to design unique courses in composition, language, literature, and new media, offering overlapping perspectives in program creation, multimodal integration, gender and cultural studies, and project-based learning. The session welcomes audience participation to discuss new approaches in teaching comics.

248. The Afterlife of Popular Children’s Culture Icons

Friday, 8 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 203, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Paul Cote, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

  1. “From Madcap to Mourning: The Muppets after Henson,” Paul Cote
  2. “The Afterlife of the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up,” Carrie Sickmann Han, Indiana Univ.–Purdue Univ., Indianapolis
  3. “How Do You Solve a Problem like Mickey Mouse?” Peter Kunze, Univ. of Texas, Austin
  4. “‘His Active Little Crutch’: The Adaptations and Influence of Tiny Tim,” Alexandra Valint, Univ. of Southern Mississippi

297. Children’s Literature Scholarship and Its Publics

Friday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 303, JW Marriott

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

Presiding: Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.

Speakers: Julie Danielson, Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast; Marah Gubar, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.; Don Tate, Artist and Author; Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Univ. of Pennsylvania

Session Description:

Because children’s literature is so popular, and children’s literature studies is an interdisciplinary field, scholars of young people’s literature have always addressed multiple publics—work continued today through social media. What are the risks and rewards of this more expansive, inclusive kind of work? Who does it? How is it valued? Should it be valued more, and—if so—why?

314. New Work in Language Theory

Friday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 305, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the forum TM Language Theory

Presiding: Thomas F. Shannon, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. “Creating and Translating Ideophones in Italian Disney Comics: A Linguistic and Historical Inquiry,” Pier Pischedda, Univ. of Leeds
  2. “An Aspect of Interdigitations: Lexical Blending in Language Contact,” Keumsil Kim Yoon, William Paterson Univ.

318. Fables, Folktales, Games, and Comics: Folklore and Visual Media

Friday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 407, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the American Folklore Society

  1. “Representing Black Folk: Jeremy Love’s Bayou and African American Folk Culture,” Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, City Univ. of New York
  2. “Animal Terrorism: Adam Hines and the Crisis of the Animal Fable,” Christopher Pizzino, Univ. of Georgia
  3. “Slippers, Pumpkins, and Branches: Resisting Walt Disney in Disney’s Cinderella (2015),” Katie Kapurch, Texas State Univ.

Responding: Alexandria Gray, Univ. of Washington, Seattle

421. Satire and the Editorial Cartoon

Friday, 8 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 311, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Nhora Lucia Serrano, Harvard Univ.

  1. “The Radical Genealogy of the Editorial Cartoon,” Frank A. Palmeri, Univ. of Miami
  2. “Between Words and Pictures: Telling the Graphic Story of United States Slavery in Abolitionist Satirical Cartoons,” Martha J. Cutter, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  3. Punch, Counter-Punch: Mimicry, Parody, and Critique in the Colonial Public Sphere,” Tanya Agathocleous, Hunter Coll., City Univ. of New York
  4. “Pulling John Chinaman’s Queue to Get Him in Line: Domesticating Gestures in Nineteenth-CenturyPunch Cartoons,” Joe Sample, Univ. of Houston, Downtown

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

Friday, 8 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., JW Grand 1, JW Marriott


489. Keep Children’s Literature Weird

Saturday, 9 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 306, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Karen Coats, Illinois State Univ.

  1. “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? Issues of Ownership and Agency in Chloe and the Lion,” Tharini Viswanath, Illinois State Univ.
  2. “The Weird, the Wild, the Wonderful: A Cross-Cultural Look at Normality in Children’s Literature,” Nina Christensen, Univ. of Aarhus; Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.
  3. “Wild and Weird: Delineations in Duhême dessine Deleuze: L’oiseau philosophie,” Markus Bohlmann, Seneca Coll.

494. Latina/o Comics

Saturday, 9 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Lone Star C, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the forums GS Comics and Graphic Narratives and CLCS 20th- and 21st-Century

Presiding: Christopher Pizzino, Univ. of Georgia

  1. “Super-politics: Relámpago and Chicanismo,” José Alaniz, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
  2. “Prepotencia por impotencia: El Santo versus El Santos and the Struggle for Identity,” Christopher RayAlexander, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD
  3. “The Tragic in the Comic: The Use of Childhood Flashbacks in the Work of Jaime Hernandez,” Melissa Coss Aquino, Bronx Community Coll., City Univ. of New York

521. Dystopia and Race in Contemporary American Literature

Saturday, 9 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 4A, ACC

Program arranged by the College English Association

Presiding: Francisco Delgado, Stony Brook Univ., State Univ. of New York

  1. “The Direction from Which the People Will Come: Shifting International Borders in Leslie Marmon Silko and Karen Tei Yamashita,” Francisco Delgado
  2. “Sickness and Cities: Octavia Butler, Speculative Fiction, and the Rise of Neoliberalism,” Myka Tucker-Abramson, Univ. of Warwick
  3. “Redrawing Race Relations: The Use of the Graphic Novel to Rewrite American History,” Scott Zukowski, Stony Brook Univ., State Univ. of New York
  4. “Which Faction Are You? The (Dis)Abled Coding of Race in Divergent,” Jennifer Polish, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

543. Gender in Young Adult Dystopias

Saturday, 9 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 10A, ACC

Program arranged by the forums GS Speculative Fiction and TC Women’s and Gender Studies

Presiding: Madelyn Detloff, Miami Univ., Oxford; Ian MacDonald, Wittenberg Univ.

  1. “‘Black and Fat’: Deviant Gendered Bodies in Patrick Ness’s More Than This,” Erin Michelle Kingsley, King Univ.
  2. “‘A New History’: Alternate Constructions of Gender and Kinship in Queer Dystopian Literature,” Angel Matos, Univ. of Notre Dame
  3. “Mother of Revolution: The Failure of Self-Sacrifice in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games,” Bethany Jacobs, Univ. of Oregon
  4. “Dystopian Feelings: Disciplining Affect in The Hunger Games and Divergent,” Sarah Sillin, Gettysburg Coll.

574. The Verse Novel for Young Readers

Saturday, 9 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 4BC, ACC

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

Presiding: Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus

  1. “Drawing In and Pushing Back: The Verse Novel and the Problem of Distance,” Mike Cadden, Missouri Western State Univ.
  2. “Why Aesthetics Matter: Discovering Poetry in the Verse Memoirs of Marilyn Nelson and Jacqueline Woodson,” Richard McDonnell Flynn, Georgia Southern Univ.
  3. “What Can Verse Novels Tell Us about the Aesthetics of Poetry for Young Readers?” Karen Coats, Illinois State Univ.

741. Charlie Hebdo and Its Publics

Sunday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Lone Star C, JW Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

  1. “‘Jeg er Charlie’: Charlie Hebdo and the Danish Mohammed Cartoons,” Frederik Byrn Kohlert, Univ. of Montreal
  2. “The Other Charlie Hebdo,” Mark Burde, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  3. “‘Comment sucer la droite sans trahir la gauche?’: Charlie Hebdo in Its Contexts,” Bart Beaty, Univ. of Calgary

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27 Words + 18 Watercolor Pictures + 2 Mice = 1 Great Book

Sergio Ruzzier, Two Mice (2015): coverSergio Ruzzier’s Two Mice (Clarion, 2015) exemplifies the elegant efficiency of the picture book. Illustrate just the right moments in the narrative, add a few well-placed words, and you can create an engaging, imaginatively rich story.

Well, I say you. But, most likely, you can’t. Most of us can’t. I certainly can’t. Remarkably, Sergio Ruzzier can. He makes it all look effortless, too.

As Maurice Sendak once observed, a picture book most resembles a poem (Caldecott & Co. 186). Like the poem, the picture book is a compact form, requiring precision, and careful management of all its many parts — artistic style, color palette, layout, design, typeface, diction, pacing,… all of it. As if this weren’t challenging enough, Ruzzier has limited himself to twenty-seven words, created a concept book that also tells a story, and repeated the same numeric pattern —1-2-3, 3-2-1 — precisely four times.

In its precise balance of words and pictures, Two Mice’s narrative unfolds with perfect economy. Before the title page, Ruzzier shows us “One house” — a cozy cottage. On the title-page spread are “TWO MICE” in their beds; the white one is asleep, and the spotted one is just getting out of bed. Their light green bedroom is far more spacious than the house’s outside view (from the previous page) suggested it might be. On the right-hand page, a small mouse hole in the baseboard offers a wink at the common but unacknowledged paradox of those anthropomorphic animals who populate so many children’s stories. (If these mice are stand-ins for people, then what are their mice?) The next page depicts “Three cookies”: in a warm yellow kitchen, both mice are seated at a light blue table. The mouse who rose first is eating two of the cookies; the mouse who rose second has only one cookie, and looks on grumpily at his (or her) housemate.

Sergio Ruzzier, Two Mice (2015): Three cookies.

Initiating the descending numeric pattern, the next two-page spread also launches the mice’s adventure, as they arrive at a dock where there are “Three boats” and “Two oars.” Like Remy Charlip’s Fortunately (1964), Two Mice follows a “reversal of fortune” narrative, in which nearly every two-page spread revises the expectations of the previous two-page spread. The promise of adventure, suggested by the un-spotted mouse, as he (or she) gestures towards the three boats, instead yields — on the next two-page spread — an unfair distribution of labor. There is “One rower”: the spotted mouse rows, while his (her) un-spotted housemate rests. As the story progresses, the narrative intrigue increases. I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but I will divulge that two more of the book’s twenty-four nouns are “shipwreck” and “escape.”

Two Mice is a brief master class in the picture book form, an engaging narrative, an elementary counting book, and a pleasure to read and re-read. So. Read it to the young people in your lives. Or, to borrow Ruzzier’s idiom…

One reader.

Two children.

Three cheers!

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Disagreement, Difference, Diversity: A Talk by Christopher Myers

Christopher Myers, Kansas State University, 22 Oct 2015This is not the title of the talk that Christopher Myers gave here on Thursday. It was called “Please Don’t Agree with Me: the Need for Disagreement in Debates About Literature for Young People.”  However, I’ve aligned these three words — disagreement, difference, diversity — in my title because one of Myers’s central points is that respectful, thoughtful disagreement respects difference, and that this respect makes diversity (in its various forms) possible.

As he says, “the most disturbing” argument is that “difference doesn’t really exist.” Contrary to this claim of absence, “Difference is real. The narrative that we are all the same underneath is a fear of difference.”  I like this idea because we so often hear the “we are all the same” narrative — offered, often, with the very best of intentions, affirming our shared humanity, encouraging us to see past any differences to build upon what we have in common. While these points of intersection can provide moments of connection, if we really wish to understand another person, we need to get to know their different life experiences. Or, to put this another way, we also have difference in common.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary AmericaThough Myers did not invoke color-blindness (in a racial sense), the “difference doesn’t really exist” way of thinking exemplifies what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls color-blind racism, a refusal to acknowledge difference that serves as a kind of “ideological armor for a covert and institutionalized system in the post-Civil Rights era. And the beauty of this new ideology is that it aids in the maintenance of white privilege without fanfare, without naming those who it subjects and those who it rewards” (3-4). As Bonilla-Silva argues, via such color-blind racism, whites can “enunciate positions that safeguard their racial interests without sounding ‘racist.’ Shielded by color blindness, whites can express resentment toward minorities; criticize their morality, values, and work ethic; and even claim to be the victims of ‘reverse racism’” (4). Color-blindness is a myth, and anyone who tells you “I don’t see race” (though they may mean well) is lying to you, or to themselves, or both. We all see race. But racial difference need not be an impediment to understanding, or to friendship, or to love. We have difference in common.

Christopher Myers, JabberwockyMyers did not take his own argument in that precise direction. Or, perhaps, he deliberately preferred to imply that argument rather than state it directly. (Note to Christopher Myers: should you happen upon this and find that I am misrepresenting your claims, please clarify, debate, rebut, etc. in the comments below. Thank you!) Myers instead focused on literature and on learning, noting that, via children’s and YA literature, “we give frameworks for thinking about difference.” He did a wonderful job of contextualizing this argument within canonical works, mentioning (for instance) that Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is a narrative of difference.

I particularly loved his point that agreement can efface difference, whereas “Disagreement recognizes an actual difference.”  As he said, “The narrative of I really, really care” — about diverse books, or about the need to secure human rights for Black citizens of the U.S. — “is really stressing me out right now.”  The reason it was stressing him out is that if everyone did indeed really really care, these problems would not be problems.  As he put it, “The problem wouldn’t exist if we all agreed that these things shouldn’t happen.”  Exactly.

His point about agreement effacing difference also reminded me of this passage from Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978; English translation, 1980):

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978; English translation, 1980)You know what it’s like when two people start a conversation. First one of them does all the talking, the other breaks in with “That’s just like me, I . . .” and goes on talking about himself until his partner finds a chance to say, “That’s just like me, I . . .”

The “That’s just like me, I . . .’s” may look like a form of agreement, a way of carrying the other party’s idea a step further, but that is an illusion. What they really are is a brute revolt against brute force, an attempt to free one’s ear from bondage, a frontal attack the objective of which is to occupy the enemy’s ear. All man’s life among men is nothing more than a battle for the ears of others. The whole secret of Tamina’s popularity is that she has no desire to talk about herself. She offers no resistance to the forces occupying her ear; she never says, “That’s just like me, I . . .”

Saving Kundera’s gender politics for another day (or, perhaps, for the comments, below), Kundera’s “That’s just like me, I . . .” resonates with what Myers was saying. Agreement effaces difference. If we really listen to other people, we hear the differences as well as the commonalities, and we do not try to impose our narrative upon theirs. “That’s just like me, I . . .” is attack disguised as sympathetic engagement. In contrast, disagreement is a great way to talk about and to respect difference.

And I do not mean that we always “agree to disagree”: that can be a valuable approach, of course, but some disagreements are so profound that simply “agreeing to disagree” becomes a way of papering over the depth of disagreement. I mean, instead, that respectful disagreement can be a path to better understanding — of both the other person’s position and your own position, which is another point that Myers made.  Here is another: “Real disagreement is also real connection.”  Yes.

Christopher Myers, Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? (art, photographed, from New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014)Myers himself, by the way, is an excellent speaker — remarkably, he delivers a fluent talk without any notes — and knows a lot about an array of subjects, from art to filmmaking, to censorship, to design. You probably know him for his children’s books, and for essays like “Young Dreamers” and “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” — and he’s eloquent on these subjects. If you don’t know these pieces or his other work, his curiosity, intellect, and versatility make him an artist whose work you should get to know, whether or not you agree.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Use the comments below.  Thanks.

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Harold is 60. So is his purple crayon.

For Crockett Johnson‘s 109th birthday (today!), we’re celebrating Harold’s 60th birthday… with a few tributes from other artists.


URNewYork (2esae & Ski)

First, it’s graffiti artist URNewYork (2esae & Ski), as photographed by Michael Weinstein for C.J. Hughes’ “The East Village Embraces a Colorful Past” (New York Times, 9 Nov. 2015).

Harold by URNewYork. Photo by Michael Weinstein.

The art appeared in an abandoned property at 324 East Fourth Street, in the East Village. The developer decided to photograph the art before renovating the building.


Lane Smith

Harper Collins has invited artists to create their own tributes to Harold. In this one, Lane Smith has his monkey from It’s a Little Book reading Harold and the Purple Crayon to Harold himself!  An appropriately meta tribute to a book that itself reflects on the art of storytelling and picture-making.

Lane Smith: Harold & It's a Little Book


Bob Staake

In another of the tributes solicited by Harper Collins, Bob Staake adds a touch of color to Harold’s Trip to the Sky.

Bob Staake's Harold


Karen Hallion

Dipping into the Nine Kinds of Pie archive for Karen Hallion’s Harold and the Purple TARDIS (April 2012).

Harold and the Purple Screwdriver


Madeline Stuart

In another one from the archive, Madeline Stuart renders Harold in 3-D for a display window at L.A.’s Compas. Johnson’s book plays with perspective, as Harold uses his line to render some items in 2-D, and some in 3-D. So, I particularly like seeing Stuart’s 3-D rendition — viewed, appropriately, through a window.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, at Compas (designed by Madeline Stuart)


Fans of Harold might also enjoy these:

Thanks to Michael Patrick Hearn for alerting me to the Harold mural (in the Times article), and to Lane Smith for sharing his artwork. I’m reposting Bob Staake’s art from his Facebook page. (I hope he doesn’t mind!)

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When will I be shot dead?

GunAs we read the news of yet another shooting at a school (the 17th on a college campus this yearthe 45th school shooting shooting this year*), I cannot help but wonder: when will I be among those murdered?  Earlier this year, a roving gunman had the campus of Kansas State University (where I teach) on lockdown. Fortunately, no one was shot, and — since the lockdown began very early in the morning — few people were on campus at the time. But each time I hear of another massacre, I wonder when I will be among the dead. 

Our governor and legislature have eliminated even the most minimal gun safety laws. In Kansas, all you need to get a gun is a heartbeat and a credit card. I’m not kidding. Our wise leaders have even removed the requirement that aspiring gun owners learn how to use their firearms.  In Kansas as in much of America, it is easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license or to adopt a child.  Think about that.  There are no obstacles to buying a device designed for killing other living creatures.  In the U.S., the right to kill is valued more highly than the right to live.

If there were evidence that increased gun ownership made society more safe (as weapons enthusiasts insist there is), then we could rejoice in the indiscriminate proliferation of firearms. However, the evidence is quite the opposite. Guns in the home do not make that home safer; instead, they increase the risk of homicide. Ordinary citizens wandering around with guns do not make the streets more safe. More guns increase the risk of firearm-related deaths. Period.

Contrary to the claims of gun aficionados, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not say “Every man, woman and child should be armed to the teeth!”  It actually says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I’d be willing to make an exception to this for, say, hunters, or people who enjoy target shooting. That seems fair. But even that exceeds what the amendment itself allows. According to the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” because a free state requires a “well regulated militia.” Guns are for the militia. Indeed, the amendment covers only the militia.  The clause modifying the word “right” is “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.”  That right is therefore accorded to members of this militia.

No guns. Sign on door of ECS Building, Kansas State UniversityAt the moment, people are not supposed to bring guns into campus buildings.  Our buildings even have signage to that effect.  However, the conspicuous absence of full-body scanners and security guards in the doorways of each building suggests that it would not be difficult to bring guns into a campus building.  In any case, it’s not clear how long even this restriction will hold: our legislature wants guns everywhere. To their credit, the Kansas Board of Regents, though dismissive of faculty and staff’s right to free speech, does seem to want us to remain alive.  They’ve supported an exemption for state universities. The sign you see at left (from the building my office is in) is a result.

And so I wonder: when will an armed white man enter my classroom and begin spraying the room with bullets?  (The shooter is usually a white man, but it could be a non-white man, or — very rarely — a woman.  Since a white man is statistically the most likely, that’s what my imaginary shooter always is.)  How will I react?  Can I stop him by talking to him, perhaps buying myself and the students some time?  If not, will I have time to duck?  And will ducking save me?  Perhaps his weapon will jam or he will have to reload, and one of us can intervene in time.  Perhaps not.

I know that, should this day come, the responsible parties will include: Governor Sam Brownback, the members of the Kansas legislature who abdicated their responsibility by supporting these dangerous laws, members of the US Congress and Senate who oppose sensible gun policy, and, of course, the National Rifle Association.  All of these people will be accessories to my murder.  I don’t imagine that they can be prosecuted for their role in the crime, but they should be.  And I would ask those who cared about me to send all responsible (the governor, legislature, congress, the NRA) a photo of my bloody corpse so that the responsible parties can appreciate the results of their handiwork.  Indeed, I would invite people working towards sensible gun laws to use photos of me (alive or dead or both) to support their cause.

I hope that I somehow evade the violent death that reckless American gun laws (and their advocates) have prepared for us all. However, should I be found among the dead, I want my family and friends to know that I love them, and that I’m sorry our time together had to end so soon.

__________

* And over 142 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre.

Correction, 2 Oct. 2015, 8:20 am: Changed the parenthetical in the first sentence. It was the 45th school shooting of 2015, not the 45th mass shooting (as I initially stated).  So far, there have been 294 mass shootings in the US this year.

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Innocent Children and Frightened Adults: Why Censorship Fails (at From The Square: The NYU Press Blog)

NYU PressIn recognition of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, I’ve written a short piece for From the Square: The NYU Press Blog.  It’s called “Innocent Children and Frightened Adults: Why Censorship Fails.”  Here’s a brief excerpt:

While censorship will not keep young people safe, censors and would-be censors are right about two things. First, books have power. Second, responsible adults should help guide young people through the hazards of the adult world.

However, like all attempts to safeguard children’s innocence, removing books from libraries and curricula are not only doomed to failure; they are an abdication of adult responsibility and, as Marah Gubar writes of associating innocence with childhood, “potentially damaging to the wellbeing of actual young people.” A responsible adult recognizes that innocence is a negative state — an absence of knowledge and experience — and thus cannot be sustained. Shielding children from books that offer insight into the world’s dangers puts these children at risk. As Meg Rosoff notes, “If you don’t talk to kids about the difficult stuff, they worry alone.” Books offer a safe space in which to have conversations about difficult subjects. Taking these books out of circulation diminishes understanding and increases anxiety.

Check it out!

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