Seuss on Film

Dr. Seuss Working, c. 1940sAs a famous author whose life spanned the twentieth century, Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) should have been often in newsreels and on TV, right? From time to time, he does appear on camera — but less often than we might expect. In celebration of what would have been his 112th birthday, here’s a brief (but far from complete) collection of Seuss on film!

Below, are four film clips — two from the 1940s, one from 1958, and one from 1964. All are short: Unusual Occupations (1940) is 2 minutes, he’s only in the first 45 seconds of Making SNAFU (c. 1943), To Tell the Truth (1958) is under 8 minutes, and the New Zealand schoolroom (1964) is under 4 minutes.  However, if you’re running short on time, skip ahead to the New Zealand schoolroom.  That’s my favorite of the group.

Two of these (c. 1943, 1958) were already on YouTube, but the other two (1940, 1964) are — as far as I know — making their YouTube debut today. Enjoy!


Unusual Occupations (1940)

The earliest known film footage of Dr. Seuss is in color!  Sadly, there’s no audio. But you do get to see him with the sculptures he was making. He called them “Unorthodox Taxidermy” and sold them via mail.  Though his fourth children’s book (Horton Hatches the Egg) was published the same year as this clip, Seuss’s main occupation at this time was advertising: the “Seuss Navy” line in the narration references his adds for Esso.  Also, though the narrator describes him as a “doctor of literature,” he wasn’t.  He dropped out of his M.A. program, and never pursued the Ph.D.  But he did use “Dr.” for his professional pseudonym.

Horton Hatches the Egg would be Seuss’s last children’s book until 1947. With the World War raging in Europe and the Pacific, Seuss set aside children’s books and “Unorthodox Taxidermy.” Instead, he began working on propaganda — first, political cartoons, and next, educational videos for the U.S. Army.


Making SNAFU (c. 1943)

In April 1941, Theodor Seuss Geisel — a.k.a. Dr. Seuss — became a political cartoonist for PM, New York’s Popular Front newspaper. Convinced that America would be drawn into the rapidly expanding World War, he feared that isolationism made the United States vulnerable.  As he recalled,

The way I went to work for PM is that I got annoyed with Lindbergh and his America-Firsters. I was already somewhat prominent as a cartoonist, but nobody would print my cartoons against Lindbergh. So I went to work for PM for almost nothing. When the United States got into the war I started receiving a lot of letters saying I was a dirty old man who had helped get us into the war, and I was too old to fight. So I enlisted.

In January 1943, after having written over 400 political cartoons for PM, Geisel left New York and took the train out to Hollywood, California, where he would be a captain in the U.S. Army’s Information and Education Division — “Fort Fox,” headed by Major Frank Capra, the Oscar-winning director.

Capra placed Ted Geisel in charge of the animation branch and assigned him to make educational films that would run in the Army-Navy Screen Magazine, a biweekly newsreel shown to the troops. Ted Geisel and Phil Eastman (later famous for Go, Dog. Go!, but then an ex-Disney animator) teamed up with directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng; vocal impressionist Mel Blanc; composer Carl Stalling; and the other creative minds behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. Exactly who came up with the idea of Private SNAFU is not clear, but the idea itself was simple: Teaching by negative example, Private SNAFU would embody his name, an acronym for (as the first cartoon put it) “Situation Normal All … All Fouled Up.”1

In the clip below, you’ll see Ted Geisel, at the desk on the left (0:15-0:40).  As Jerry Beck says, the clip is “unedited footage shot by the First Motion Picture unit, likely intended to be used for a newsreel or other production.”  They’ve added some of Stalling’s score (from SNAFU shorts) as a soundtrack. Though Beck lists this piece as circa 1944, I think it slightly more likely to have been 1943: once the SNAFU cartoons started being screened (July 1943), they were very popular. By 1944, there would have been no need to create promotional footage. But either date is close enough.


To Tell the Truth (1958)

Up until 1957, Seuss was more famous for his advertising work than his children’s books. Then, he published The Cat in the Hat (spring, 1957) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (fall, 1957) — both of which were very popular and, to this day, remain two of his best-known works. Buoyed by this popularity, he appeared on the April 29, 1958 episode of the TV quiz show To Tell the Truth.


New Zealand TV (1964)

During a book tour in Australia and New Zealand, Seuss visited Auckland’s May Road School, where this film was made. This is my favorite footage of Dr. Seuss because he’s improvising with the children, playfully answering their questions with what he was by then calling “logical nonsense.” I also like it because it refutes the oft-repeated claim that Seuss did not like children. His response to children was similar to his response to adults: he liked some, and not others.


Notes:

  1. All information in this and preceding “Making SNAFU” paragraphs lifted from the opening of my article “Children’s Literature Goes to War: Dr. Seuss, P.D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, and the Private SNAFU Films (1943-46),” The Journal of Popular Culture 40.3 (June 2007), pp. 468-69. <www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00404.x> (Full text available to subscribers.)

Since it is Seuss’s birthday, you might enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss. Here’s a selection:

From time to time, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss:

  • Joshua Barajas, “8 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Seuss,” PBS News Hour blog, 22 July 2015.
  • “New Window into Dr. Seuss’s genius” (26 Feb. 2014). John Wilkens’ article in the San Diego Tribune discusses new Seuss material that his widow, Audrey, donated to the Dr. Seuss Papers at UCSD.
  • “Dr. Seuss: Mini-Biography.”  A&E Biography (2013).  Time: 4 minutes.
  • All Things Considered. Lynn Neary, “‘The Bippolo Seed’ : The ‘Lost’ Dr. Seuss Stories” (13 Apr. 2011): audio & transcript.  Charles Cohen & I talk about the new book of “lost” Seuss stories (edited by Charles).  Time: 3 mins, 30 secs.
  • Diane Rehm Show. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (22 Dec. 2010): audio | transcript. Reverend Derrick Harkins, Maria Salvadore, and I talk with Diane Rehm about the Grinch.  Time: 1 hour.
  • Morning Edition. Lynn Neary, “Fifty Years of The Cat in the Hat” (1 Mar. 2007): audio & transcript. Anita Silvey and I talk with Lynn Neary about the Cat in the Hat.  Time: 7 mins, 20 secs.
  • Talk of the Nation.  Steve Inskeep, “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Dr. Seuss: A New Book Looks Back on the Life of Theodor Geisel” (10 Feb. 2004): audio.  I was a bit nervous at the beginning (I believe it was my first time on live national radio), but after the first few minutes I seem to settle into it well enough.  Time: 1 hour.

Though the website design impedes its utility, Random House’s Seussville‘s author section includes a bio. and timeline I wrote — the former heavily influenced by Judith and Neil Morgan’s excellent Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel.  (If you read only one book about Dr. Seuss, the Morgans’ bio is the one I’d recommend.) Happy Read Across America Day!*


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

Read Across America: An NEA Project

Credit: Photo of Dr. Seuss working from Marcus Ashley Fine Art Gallery.

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Setup Wizard

Setup WizardAttention Harry Potter Fans! While you await Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (script to be published July 31), check out The Setup Wizard, the “Daily Accounts of a Muggle I.T. Guy working at Hogwarts.”  Its premise is that, at Hogwarts, “students and staff alike have finally caved and demanded that their cell phones work on school grounds.” The muggle they hire, Jonathan Dart, having “learned through the grapevine that other magical schools are planning on making the same jump,” decides to write a blog in the hope that his “experiences can help other outsiders down the road.”

This offers him many opportunities to venture into unexplored areas of the Potterverse and consider one of its curious absences — muggle technology. Here’s a sample post:

Have you ever tried to set up wifi under a lake? The damn Slytherin kids almost refused to even let me into their common room until I explained to them what Spotify is and how, with the magical power of the internet, they can stream all the emo music their little hearts could ever desire.

And here’s one more:

If my “improper” spelling of the word ‘color’ hasn’t cued you in, I am originally from the other side of the pond from Hogwarts. Let me tell you, you cannot find a decent cup of coffee anywhere in Hogsmeade. I’m cool with tea, but sometimes a man needs a taste of what singlehandedly got him through his early 20s.

Luckily, I was able to work a Keurig into the budget this month. The Headmaster asked what the device was for and I insisted that it was a flux relay needed to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and maintain the balance of the force of the server’s matrix capacity. Long story short he thinks I’m a technical genius and I have a cup of hazelnut flavored happiness.

To get a sense of the full narrative, I recommend reading the series in order.

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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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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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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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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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A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teen-Ager (in the Iowa Review)

Iowa Review 45.2 (Fall 2015): art by Shaun TanI’m honored to be a part of The Iowa Review‘s special section on children’s literature, and even more honored that the journal has chosen to feature my essay on-line, for free. Two and a half years ago, “A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teen-Ager” began as a blog post.  It means a great deal to me that, revised and substantially expanded, the piece now appears in The Iowa Review‘s fall 2015 issue.

There are several reasons why. Though it’s immodest of me to admit, I think it‘s the best thing I’ve written. Also, I am a scholar: to be in a publication that prints the work of great writers is a singular honor. Yes, I strive to write with precision. I hope that each sentence inspires you to read the next one. But scholarly publication encourages the tendency to over-subordinate, obfuscate, or meander in arcana. As a result, stylish academic writing often seems an oxymoron, even though Helen Sword’s excellent book proves that it need not be.

Perhaps it goes without saying that it’s mind-blowingly amazing to be in the same issue with Shaun Tan (whose art also graces the cover) and Jeanne Birdsall? I mean, wow. To be included alongside writers I admire is wonderful. Finally, I’m also happy that the essay’s publication happens to coincide with the sixtieth birthday of Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955).  Perhaps that fact — coupled with its on-line presence and Shaun Tan’s artwork — will help more readers find their way to it.

So, a hearty thanks to Harry Stecopoulos for encouraging me to expand and submit this essay. Additional thanks to the Iowa Review‘s Deputy Managing Editor Jenna Hammerich, to the other contributors, to HarperCollins and the Estate of Ruth Krauss for letting us use the image, and, of course, to Crockett Johnson.

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