The Cat, Seuss, and Race

Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat's hatLast June, on rather short notice, the Artistic Director for the Adventure Theatre Company asked if I would write a program note for their upcoming production of The Cat in the Hat (June 18-August 21, 2019). They had read my work on Seuss and racism, shared these concerns, and asked if I could provide something, ideally including “‘questions for the ride home’ (a series of questions that parents and kids can talk about, after they leave the theatre).” I’m posting the result today, on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, in case this condensed version of these ideas might be of use to others.

Here is a link to a pdf directly from the program.

Here is the full text (below).


        Was the Cat in the Hat Black? After all, he’s a cat, isn’t he?    

        Seuss’s Cat is racially complicated. Like a lot of 20th century popular culture (i.e. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse), the Cat is partially inspired by blackface minstrelsy, a popular theatrical entertainment in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, in which performers blackened their faces to impersonate and mock Blackness. The Cat in the Hat’s outrageous fashion sense (white gloves, brightly colored hat and bow tie), exaggerated styles of movement, breaking rules that he pretends to follow, and his confidence-man behavior all derive from a common minstrel character.

        Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991) did both racist work and anti-racist work, often at the same time. In the 1940s, he drew political cartoons, some of which dehumanized people of Japanese descent, and others of which opposed both anti-Semitism and racism against African Americans. In the 1950s, Seuss published Horton Hears a Who!, hailed by one reviewer as “a rhymed lesson in protection of minorities and their rights.”  He also wrote his first version of The Sneetches, an anti-racist fable, and he published an essay that critiques racist humor. During that same period, he used racist caricature in his books. In If I Ran the Zoo, protagonist Gerald McGrew travels to “the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant / With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,” and to the “African Island of Yerka” where he meets two stereotypically rendered Black men.

        That Seuss is doing both racist and anti-racist work at the same time can be confusing because many of us see racism as an “either/or”: people are either racist or not racist. Indeed, that’s how Seuss himself understood racism. Unfortunately, racism is more of a “both/and.” It’s not unusual. It’s ordinary. It’s embedded in culture — such as the cartoons and books of Dr. Seuss.

        It’s upsetting to learn that a beloved children’s author used racist caricature. So, many people — especially White people — seek excuses. In response to recent criticism, his grand-nephew Ted Owens has said of Seuss: “I know one thing for sure — I never saw one ounce of racism in anything he said, or how he lived his life, or what his stories were about.” Mr. Owens’ claim relies on perception and intent. But racism does not require either. People can perpetuate racism without intending to. I don’t think Seuss intended to. Because he was unaware of the degree to which his visual imagination was steeped in caricature, he used racist stereotypes even as he was also writing anti-racist stories. We might see Dr. Seuss as the “woke” White guy who wasn’t as woke as he thought.

        “Now, wait just a minute,” you might object. “People thought differently then.” But all people at any given time do not think about race in precisely the same way. As Robin Bernstein has shown in her work on nineteenth-century anti-racism, the range of available racial beliefs remains constant over time, but the distribution of those beliefs change. Both extraordinary and ordinary people have opposed White supremacy. Both extraordinary and ordinary people have supported White supremacy. To claim that people 60 years ago were racist but people now are enlightened both suggests that past racism was inevitable and implies that social change is a natural, ongoing march. Yet, progress makes gains and endures setbacks, and always requires people committed to making a positive difference.

        So, what do we do with the Cat in the Hat? Do we say that the blackface influence would probably not be noticed, and so is not damaging? Does a gentle caricature prepare us to accept a more harmful caricature? Should the race of the actor playing the Cat in this production influence your response? And what do we do with Dr. Seuss?

        These are not easy questions. But these are conversations we need to have.


For a more fully developed version of the above, take a look at the title chapter of my Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, 2017; paperback edition with new afterword, 2019). With luck, it will be available in your local library. If not, it’s available via all the usual venues.


Some previous posts on Seuss

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Call for Papers: MLA, Jan. 7-10, 2021, Toronto

Comics and Graphic Narratives for Young Audiences

Co-sponsored by the MLA Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives and the MLA Forum on Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

This panel for the 2021 MLA Convention in Toronto (Jan 7-10, 2021) explores intersections between children’s literature and comics (including manga and graphic novels). All periods and nations welcome.

Children’s comics and graphic novels have emerged as the dominant commercial force in the industry, with authors like Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey selling millions of books. Yet comics studies still pays relatively little attention to comics for children. As Jared Gardner writes in PMLA, “Comics studies as a whole remains largely oblivious to the world of comics for children and young adults, by far the fastest-growing demographic in the field” (597). While there has been some recent scholarship on children’s comics, including an edited collection by Michelle Ann Abate & Gwen Athene Tarbox (2017) and monographs by both Lara Saguisag (2019) and Qiana Whitted (2019), the children’s segment of the comics market remains insufficiently theorized — thanks to the field’s historical focus on comics for adults. This panel seeks to fill this gap by calling attention to both contemporary and historical connections between comics, children, and childhood. 

Some questions panelists might address include (but are not limited to):

  • Do comics scholars pay enough attention to children’s comics? Why are children’s graphic novels not viewed as being the same medium as adult comics? 
  • Having conferred legitimacy on a once-maligned genre (“comics”) via language suggestive of adulthood (“graphic” can mean both sophistication and pornographic), does the term “graphic novel” sever the genre’s historical connections to children or encourage the ambitions of (what we might now call) “children’s comics”? What are the impediments and possibilities of “graphic novel” for discussing comics read by children?
  • How should the intersections between histories of comics and of children’s picture books inform our analyses and/or teaching of each?
  • What sort of reactions have children’s comics gotten from parents and teachers? Is there still suspicion of children’s comics? Why or why not? 
  • How do child readers engage with comics? How are children’s comics reading practices different from those of adults? In particular, how has the digital age affected the ways in which children access and read comics? 
  • What do the changing boundaries of “children’s comics” reveal about the social constructions of childhoods? 
  • How is childhood represented in comics that are not specifically intended for children? 
  • What is “childish” about comics? How have accusations of childishness helped to shape the history of comics? 
  • How do children’s comics fit into the larger debate over diversity and inclusion in children’s literature? 
  • What do the differences and similarities between children’s comics across cultures reveal about the medium and its audience(s)? How might a dialogue between histories of the “big three” comics producers (U.S., France, Japan) and histories of producers from other cultures (say, India and Mexico) improve our understanding of the field?
  • How do the histories of comics in countries that imposed some version of a “comics code” (say, U.S., U.K., Australia) compare with the histories of comics in countries that have not (say, Japan)?
  • How might we draw upon new research — such as that by Lara Saguisag (2019) and Qiana Whitted (2019) — to rewrite histories of comics for young readers, more carefully examining the genre’s racialized visions of childhood, citizenship, and activism?

CV and 350-word abstract to Aaron Kashtan (aaronkashtan@gmail.com) and Philip Nel (philnel@ksu.edu). Deadline: March 10, 2020.

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How to diversify the classics. For real. (Oxford UP blog)

Penguin Random House / Barnes & Noble’s “Diverse Editions” covers.

As last week’s failed attempt at diversifying classic literature recedes in your memory (the pace of news can overwhelm, I know), over at Oxford University Press’ blog today is a piece I turned in on Friday. I offer five better ways that publisher might bring diversity to the classic novels. Here’s an excerpt:

Publishers and booksellers might — as the We Need Diverse Books organization suggests — champion “new editions of classic books by people of color and marginalized people, particularly if those books have been largely ignored by the canon.” Need recommendations? Instead of consulting the company’s chief diversity officer, ask experts. Marilisa Jiménez García, a scholar of Latinx literature at Lehigh University, recommends the Nuyorican writer Nicholasa Mohr’s Nilda (1973), “the first novel by a Latina.” Professor Sarah Park Dahlen, co-editor of the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, suggests Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey to Topaz (1971) “for the important work it does to inform young readers of the racist incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.” Katharine Capshaw, a scholar of African American children’s literature at the University of Connecticut, proposes June Jordan’s His Own Where (1971), “a poetic young adult novel about two teenagers in love, which was nominated for a National Book Award.”

Read the rest at Oxford UP’s blog! Comments & critique welcome, of course — preferably at their blog. Thanks!

And particular thanks to Marilisa Jiménez García, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Kate Capshaw for responding to my query so swiftly!


UPDATE, 12 Feb 2020, 2:10 pm:

The lists in the Oxford UP blog post are suggestive, not exhaustive. There are many more complete recommended lists out there. I gestured to one of those in the post: Christina Orlando and Leah Schnelbach’s “23 Retellings of Classic Stories from Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors.” But there are many other titles that could be included! If you send them to me, I’m glad to include other titles here, on this blog!

I’ll start with a recommendation I received this morning from Debbie Reese: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Hearts Unbroken, which (in Dr. Reese’s words) “does critical work on Baum by making his desire to exterminate Native peoples part of the story.”

Other suggestions? Make ’em below, and I’ll add the titles here. Thanks!


Related writing (by me) on this blog and elsewhere

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Children’s Literature, Comics/Graphic Novels, and Childhood Studies at MLA 2020

With thanks to Ramona Caponegro for creating the initial document, here are the panels devoted to Children’s Literature, Comics/Graphic Novels, or Childhood Studies at the 2020 Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle. Hope to see you there!

Also, if anything is missing, please alert me and I will add it. Thank you!


080. Diverse Destinies: Envisioning Futures for Youth of Color

3:30 PM–4:45 PM Thursday, Jan 9, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Presentations

1: The Best of All Worlds: Empowered Multiracial Characters in Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Aleisha Smith, U of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2: Black Feminist Mythmaking and New Girlhood

Alvin Henry, St. Lawrence U

3: Kin-Making in Laurence Yep’s Early Science Fiction

Kai Hang Cheang, U of California, Riverside

Presider

Kaylee Mootz, U of Connecticut, Storrs

Sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association and MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States

Session Information


120. Gothic Childhood

5:15 PM–6:30 PM Thursday, Jan 9, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

1: Gothic Pedagogies and Adolescent Development in Victorian Children’s Stories

Christie Harner, Dartmouth C

2: ‘The Stain Was Gone’: Taming the Gothic in Young Adult Literature

Maude Hines, Portland State U

3: ‘The Rest Is Confetti’: The Gothic in Family Therapy and The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

Michael Harwick, Georgetown U

Presider

Katherine Renee Henninger, Louisiana State U, Baton Rouge

Special Session

Session Information


315. Humanizing the Young Trans Body

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 3

Presentations

1: ‘Take Advantage of the Pleasures’: Youthful Desire, Transness, and Seduction in Les Garçons Sauvages

Jacob Breslow, London School of Economics

2: Toward a Theory of the Human in #OwnVoices Trans Young Adult Literature

Gabrielle Owen, U of Nebraska, Lincoln

3: Transgender Girlhood and Fairyland Form

Annie Sansonetti, New York U

4: The Possibilities and Limits of Normalization in I Am Jazz

Mary Zaborskis, U of Pittsburgh

Presider

Julian Gill-Peterson, U of Pittsburgh

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information


325. Webcomics and/as Digital Culture

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

1: Webcomics in India: Dissenting Voices at the Time of Hypernationalism

Debanjana Nayek, Presidency U

2: Player versus Player? Redefining Gamer Identity through Thirty Years of Webcomics

Anastasia Salter, U of Central Florida

3: Stonetossingjuice: Iterability, the Alt-Right, and the Webcomics of Online Culture War

Bren Ram, Rice U

4: Connecting Queerly: Queer Webcomics and the Alternate Archive

Misha Grifka-Wander, Ohio State U, Columbus

Presider

Leah Misemer, U of Wisconsin, Madison

Sponsored by the MLA GS Comics and Graphic Narratives Forum

Session Information


348. Futures and Pasts in Indigenous Comics and Graphic Novels

3:30 PM–4:45 PM, Friday 10 Jan. 2020

WSCC – 211

Presentations

1: Deer Woman Regenerations: Reactivating First Beings and Rearming Sisterhoods of Survivance in Deer Woman: An Anthology

Joshua Anderson, Ohio State U, Columbus

2: Indigenous Futurisms and Graphic Narratives: Jeffrey Veregge’s Janus 1

Carrie Louise Sheffield, U of Tennessee, Knoxville

3: The When and Where of Haida Art: Time and Place in Michael Yahgulanaas’s Red: A Haida Manga

Jeremy Carnes, U of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Presider

Jeremy Carnes, U of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Respondent

Becca Gercken, U of Minnesota, Morris

Session Information


408. Bodies, Borders, and Boundaries: Embodiments of Multicultural and Transnational Children

5:15 PM–6:30 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

WSCC – Chelan 4

Presentations

1: Constructing Bicultural Identity through Comics and Cuisine: Quan Zhou Wu’s Gazpacho agridulce (‘Sweet and Sour Gazpacho’)

Jennifer Nagtegaal, U of British Columbia, Vancouver

2: Out of Time: Aetotemporalities and Hawaiian Young Adult Literature

Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, U of Hawai‘i, West O‘ahu

3: ‘[S]he No Longer Recognized [Her Hands] as Her Own’: Bodily Transformation as Resistance in Latinx Youth Literature

Cristina Rhodes, Shippensburg U

Presider

Nithya Sivashankar, Ohio State U, Columbus

Tharini Viswanath, Illinois State U

Sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association

Session Information


431. Vision and Sight in Children’s Literature and Culture

8:30 AM–9:45 AM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Presentations

1: Angelic Instruments: Child Mediums and the Contradictions of Children’s Vision

Victoria Ford Smith, U of Connecticut, Storrs

2: Blindness as a Denial of Difference: Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Theodore Taylor’s The Cay

Yvonne Medina, U of Florida

3: Activism and the Hegemony’s Gaze: Visibility in Two Illustrated Texts by Duncan Tonatiuh

Cristina Rhodes, Shippensburg U

4: The Appreciative Documenting Child Gaze in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family

Amanda M. Greenwell, Central Connecticut State U

Presider

Kate Slater, Rowan U

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information


447. Political Imagination in Iberian and Latin American Graphic Narratives

8:30 AM–9:45 AM, Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 203

Speakers

On Memory à la Spiegelman (or Not): A Millennial Reading of the Palace of Justice Massacre

Héctor Fernández-L’Hoeste, Georgia State U

Dystopian Steampunk: Politics and Intermediality in the Graphic Novel Policía del Karma

Eduardo Ledesma, U of Illinois, Urbana

Antonio Altarriba’s El ala rota and Ana Penyas’s Estamos todas bien: A Gender Approach to Historical Memory

Esther Claudio, U of California, Los Angeles

Presider

Xavier Dapena, U of Pennsylvania

Session Information


GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum: Business Meeting

10:15 AM–11:30 AM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

Fremont Room of the Sheraton


519. Childhood and Violence in Latin America

12:00 PM–1:15 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 212

Session Information

Description: The forced separation of children and families at the United States border has opened the question about how violence against children has been normalized. Panelists examine film, literature, and other cultural practices concerned with the roots of violence in Latin America embedded in colonialism, practices of extractivism and neoliberal accumulation, and link their effects to present-day cultures of violence. 

Speakers

Nadia Celis, Bowdoin C

Alberto Fonseca, North Central C

Tatjana Gajic, U of Illinois, Chicago

Ana Puga, Ohio State U, Columbus

Presider

Pablo Dominguez, Princeton U

Sponsored by the MLA LLC 20th- and 21st- Century Latin American Literature Forum

528. Graphic Narratives and Multiple Marginalities

12:00 PM–1:15PM, Saturday, 11 Jan. 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Description

Lately, perhaps following the success of the culturally and critically renowned Maus and Persepolis, the comics scene has seen a rise of intimate graphic memoirs that deal with diaspora, war, disability, and queerness. This panel is dedicated to graphic narratives that address such marginalized identities. What makes graphic memoirs and the image-textual form conducive to articulating complex liminal positions of their subjects?

For related material, write to sohini.kumar@stonybrook.edu

Speakers

Esra Mirze Santesso, U of Georgia

Susan Jacobowitz, Queensborough Community C, City U of New York

Martha Greene Eads, Eastern Mennonite U

Chase Gregory, Bucknell U

Helis Sikk, U of South Florida, Tampa

Tesla Cariani, Emory U

Sayanti Mondal, Illinois State U

Janene G. B. Lewis, U of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Mike Lehman, Emory U

Session Information


567. Critical Childhood Studies and Intersectionality: The State of the Field

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 619

Description: Panelists explore the current state of the field of critical childhood studies (CCS). Why is intersectionality so central to CCS? What kinds of generative possibilities emerge when we foreground childhood in literary and cultural studies? In what new directions is the field moving, and how might an articulation of its history and future trajectory invigorate conversations between CCS and such fields as queer studies, temporality studies, critical race studies, and disability studies? 

Related Material: For related material, visit www.ccsproject.org after 16 Dec.

Speakers

Sarah E. Chinn, Hunter C, City U of New York

Brigitte Fielder, U of Wisconsin, Madison

Maude Hines, Portland State U

Kenneth Byron Kidd, U of Florida

Carol J. Singley, Rutgers U, Camden

Courtney Weikle-Mills, U of Pittsburgh

Presider

Allison Giffen, Western Washington U

Lucia Hodgson, independent scholar

Session Information


587. A Decade in Comics

3:30 PM–4:45 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Description: On the tenth anniversary of panels sponsored by the MLA Forum for Comics and Graphic Narratives, established and emerging scholars reflect on the history, the present, and the future of the field of comics studies. 

Speakers

Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay C of Criminal Justice, City U of New York

Charles Hatfield, California State U, Northridge

Joshua Kopin, U of Texas, Austin

Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant U

Rachel Kunert-Graf, Antioch U

Valentino Zullo, Kent State U

Presider

Margaret Galvan, U of Florida

Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State U

Sponsored by the MLA GS Comics and Graphic Narratives Forum

Session Information


659. Comics and the Digital Humanities

8:30 AM–9:45 AM, Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

Which Came First, Comics or Film or . . . ? A Media Archaeology of Comic Book Sequentiality

Roger Whitson, Washington State U

Comics Architected: Translation Augmentation with Structural Integrity

Madeline Gangnes, U of Florida

‘I’ll Figure It Out on the “Page”’: The Digitization of a Comics Methodology

Nicholas Brown, Texas Christian U

Born-Digital Comics in Academic Archives

Kathryn Manis, Washington State U, Pullman

Presider

Aaron Kashtan, U of North Carolina, Charlotte

Respondent

Patrick Jagoda, U of Chicago

Session Information


737. Here We Are Now: Grunge and the Humanities, Thirty Years On

12:00 PM–1:15 PM, Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 2

Presentations

1: From Grunge to Public Radio: Pedagogies of Authenticity in the Nineties

Douglas G. Dowland, Ohio Northern U

2: My Own Private Aberdeen: Grunge Celebrity and Gen-X Politics in the Films of Gus Van Sant

Mike Miley, Loyola U, New Orleans

3: Rebel Girls and Grunge Groupies: Feminist Activism in Young Adult Novels

Jill Coste, U of Florida

4: Black Lives and Dead White Guys

Deanna Koretsky, Spelman C

Presider

Alexandra L. Milsom, Hostos Community C, City U of New York

Special Session

Session Information


740. Romanticism and Idealism

12:00 PM–1:15 PM Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Chelan 5

Presentations

1: Natura Naturans: Restoring Nature in Literature and Philosophy

Steven Lydon, Durham U

2: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Philosophical Poetics of Childhood

Lauren Stone, U of Colorado, Boulder

3: Emerson’s Radical Empiricism

Austin Bailey, Graduate Center, City U of New York

4: Literary Mechanology

Andrew Barbour, U of California, Berkeley

Presider

Lauren Stone, U of Colorado, Boulder

Sponsored by the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism

Session Information


766. Transmedia Storytelling in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 1

Presentations

1: Is There a Text (Message) in This Book? Premediation and the Digital Potentialities of Contemporary Kid Lit

Scott Diffrient, Colorado State U

2: Follow Me: Youth Participation in Transmedia Life Writing

Rachel Rickard Rebellino, Ohio State U, Columbus

3: Exploding the Canon for Fun and Profit: Fan Communities and Disney’s Transmedia Empires

Niall Nance-Carroll, U of Southern Indiana

Presider

Carrie Sickmann, Indiana U–Purdue U, Indianapolis

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information

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Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth. (Public Books)

Anne Villeneuve, illus. from Dear Donald Trump (2018)

Public Books (logo)Over on Public Books today, my essay “Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth” recommends some good books for educating young people about “President” Trump, and brings in a few examples of the type of books that ought to be avoided — indeed, that a conscientious publisher would have never published in the first place.  (Also: given the pace of news these days, I should add that I turned in the piece back in August….)

I had more to say than Public Books could use. Here are the most important bits that got cut, woven together with a few additional reflections.

“Rich Rump”: Trump’s first appearance in a children’s book

Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski, Christmas in July (1991)

Public Books didn’t publish the image (above) from Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski’s Christmas in July (1991) — a whimsical picture book featuring Rich Rump, a thinly disguised version of Donald Trump. As I say in the essay, the earliest children’s books in which he appears “depicted the basic truths of the man: selfish, vain, heartless, dishonest.” After he became “President,” children’s literature strove for a more “balanced” approach. However, the “both sides” approach to representing Trump — in children’s books or any media — is a very dangerous lie.

Destroying the boundary between truth and falsehood disorients us

It’s become something of a cliché to quote Hannah Arendt, but we should keep quoting her until more people heed her warnings. So: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”[1]

This quotation comes up a lot these days. But I also think not enough people are paying attention to this fact. Because Trump’s prolific lies damage the psyche — both individually and collectively.

Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years

As of August 12, 2019, Trump had made over 12,000 false and misleading claims during his presidency, averaging over thirteen lies per day. In contrast, Barack Obama made eighteen false or misleading statements during his eight-year presidency. Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years.[2]

Trump “children’s books” for adults

There are some fun satirical works in the guise of children’s books — one of which, Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal’s A Child’s First Book of Trump (2106), also works as a story for children. Black’s ersatz Seussian verse and Rosenthal’s sketches represent Trump as part unreformed Grinch and part Sylvester McMonkey McBean (the salesman who profits from the Sneetches’ prejudice). As in all allegorical children’s picture books about Trump, he is a negative example.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Since they are adult satires delivered via the medium of the picture book, too much of the humor in Ann TelnaesTrump’s ABC, Erich Origen and Gan Golan’s Goodnight Trump, P. Shauers’ Donald and the Golden Crayon (all 2018) and Faye Kanouse and Amy Zhing’s new If You Give a Pig the White House (2019) may go over the heads of children under ten, but all remind us that the humor in allegorical Trump picture books is a vital part of their truth-telling. And anyone over that age — such as most people reading this post, I imagine — might find the books’ dark humor restorative. (If you want recommendations, my favorite three of these picturebooks-for-adults are Trump’s ABC, Donald and the Golden Crayon, and Goodnight Trump.)

Slice through the fog of lies

One of the surprises of writing this piece was that the work actually proved restorative and clarifying. Facing the prospect of writing this (for the Children’s Literature Association Conference, in June), I dreaded reading lots of children’s books about the evil orange bloviator. But reading them — all of the good ones, but especially Martha Brockenbrough’s Unpresidented — helped me awaken from the nightmare in which we are living. It helped me slice through the fog of lies. It reminded me once again that this is not normal.

This is not normal

To any who may find my truth-telling advice too partisan, I would cite historian Dave Renton’s point that “one cannot be balanced when writing about fascism, there is nothing positive to be said of it.”[3] And yes, Trump lacks sufficient belief in the state to be a fascist in the traditional sense; he is more an authoritarian kleptocrat who uses fascist tactics. But my point is this: if identifying evil as evil is now a partisan behavior, then children’s books and publishers must take a side.

This position challenges the “marketplace of ideas” approach we learn in school — the liberal idea that, to quote Mark Bray, “the key to combatting ‘extremism’ is to trust in the allegedly meritocratic essence of the public sphere: If all are allowed their say, then the good ideas will float to the top while the bad sink to the bottom, like live-action Reddit.”[4] But, historically, the public sphere has not triumphed over totalitarian movements. And some topics — such as people’s humanity — should not be subject to debate.

That our shared humanity is now subject to debate shows how Trump’s poisonous ideas have become normalized.  Remember when, in the early days of the regime, people used to say “This is not normal”? Even as Trump’s behavior grows stranger and more dangerous, we hear this far less often.

Only the truth can liberate the lie-entangled mind

Motivating this essay — though absent even from its draft versions — is postwar Germany’s need to reeducate children raised under the lies of the Third Reich. For the past few years, America’s children have been growing up in a country whose leader is a kleptocratic white-supremacist sociopath — a man who not only brags about sexual assault, but who appointed sexual-assault-hobbyist “Blackout Brett” Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. They’ve been living in a world where this sort of behavior gets normalized — where a pathological liar’s lies get treated as if, perhaps this time, they may have some truth value, and so on tonight’s program, we invite an expert and a con artist to debate the cloak of lies in which the Trump administration has swathed the day’s cruelty.

Enough! Trump is and has always been a liar. Draw on this irrefutable basic fact of the man’s character when you report on, write children’s books about, or say anything at all about Trump. Call out his lies. Tell the truth. As Michael Chabon recently wrote in a different context, “Truth lives. It can be found. And there is no encounter more powerful than the encounter between the slashing, momentary blade of truth and a lie-entangled mind.”[5]

In sum: Children’s books can be that blade of truth.


Thanks…

For the Public Books article, thanks to Nina Christensen for introducing me to Dumme Donald bygger en mur i børnehaven (Stupid Donald Builds a Wall in Nursery School), and for translating the title. Thanks to Elina Druker for translating the book’s original Swedish title. Thanks to Jules Danielson for introducing me to The Wall and to both Jules and Betsy Bird for confirming that Christmas in July is the first children’s book to feature Mr. Trump.


Related posts:


[1] Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” Between Past and Future (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 252-3.

[2] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days,” Washington Post , 12 Aug. 2019.

[3] Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice (Pluto Press, 1999), 18.

[4] Mark Bray, ANTIFA: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Melville House, 2017), 146.

[5] Michael Chabon, “What’s the Point?” The Paris Review, 23 Sept. 2019.

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Mundo Azul, Berlin

Mundo Azul, Choriner Straße 49, Berlin

This is the bookstore I want to live in. Mundo Azul (Choriner Straße 49, Berlin) is an international celebration of beautiful children’s picture books — some of which I knew, many of which I did not, and all of which are well worth reading. While browsing, I had the sense that the proprietor, Mariela Nagle, had selected each one intentionally. She displays them not because they are popular — though there are some well-known titles, along with many that were (to me) discoveries. She displays them because they’re art that she wants to spend more time with, and that her patrons should get to know.

And then there’s the space itself.

Two rooms of books, carefully displayed on wooden shelves, many book-covers facing outward — catching the eye, drawing you in for a closer look.

There are places for sitting and reading.

(Or for taking silly selfies with your friends.)

Ada Bieber and Philip Nel display 3 books: Jessica Love’s Julián Is a Mermaid; Megumi Iwasa’s Viele Grüße, Deine Giraffe (German translation illus. by Jörg Mühle); Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s Löcher Gibt’s, Um Sie Zu Graben (A Hole Is to Dig in German).

And what is that tiny sign in the middle of that bookshelf over there?

Yes! That one! On the little easel.

“Silent books”? Does that mean what I think it means…? Yes. Perusing the books confirms that they are all wordless. An entire shelf devoted to wordless picture books! When Mariela Nagle noticed my interest, she strolled over with a new one she had just gotten in — from Portugal, which (she says) has more independent children’s book publishers than anywhere.

I think I got that right. Mariela, if I am mistaken, please correct me! I visited the shop with no intention of writing about it — so, I took no notes. I only decided to write about it afterwards, as I walked away thinking of all the people who would love this shop! Instead of writing only to them, I decided to shout it from the rooftops! Or, at least, from the laptops — via this blog.

This is the book Mariela showed me. It’s a wordless, anti-capitalist parable.
On the subject of anti-capitalist parables, I like this one even better. It has words — Karl Marx’s. (Thanks to Ada Bieber for directing me to it… and to the store!)

If ever you are in or near Berlin, you must visit Mundo Azul. Plan to spend the afternoon. Yes, all of the afternoon. And it is OK if you do not speak German. Mariela speaks German, English, and Spanish (and possibly other languages — I neglected to ask).*

If you cannot get to Berlin, I highly recommend browsing…

After you’ve done that, you’ll of course start saving up for a trip to Berlin….

Vielen Dank an Mariela und Ada! Es war wunderbar!


* Update, 11 July 2019: I met up with Mariela this evening at “Drawings from East & West: Sino-German Picture Book Exchange Salon,” and I asked. She also speaks Italian and French.

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“The Cat Is Out of the Bag”

At left: Dr. Seuss, from “Four Places Not to Hide While Growing Your Beard” (Life, 15 Nov. 1929). At right: Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

As we reconsider the works of Dr. Seuss on what would have been his (well, Theodor Seuss Geisel’s) 115th birthday, I encourage you to take a look at Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens’ “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books,” just published in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature last month. To give you a sense of the article’s impact, it has been downloaded over 18,000 times (as of this writing) and is mentioned in an NPR story.

I don’t have anything further to add, having written quite a bit on Seuss — including the influence of blackface minstrelsy on the Cat in the Hat. You can find that in the title chapter of Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (2017), which will be out in paperback on the 29th of this month. The paperback includes a new Afterword on “Why Adults Refuse to Admit Racist Content in the Children’s Books They Love” — in which I read some of the hate mail that the hardcover inspired, with the goal of educating people who are reluctant to reflect on their “problematic faves” from childhood.

Philip Nel, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (Oxford UP, July 2017)
Was the Cat in the Hat Black? (paperback out 29 Mar. 2019)

Posts related to Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, including glimpses of the work in progress:


Some previous posts on Seuss

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2019

MLA 2019 logo

Going to the MLA Convention in Chicago? Here are all the sessions on children and YA literature, and on comics.  Or, at least, this is what I could find.  If I’ve missed anything, please let me know.  Thanks!


012: Comics Fandom in Transition

 12:00 PM–1:15 PM Thursday, Jan 3, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Roosevelt 3

Presentations

1: Fandom as Import and Export in the Digital Age: Dojinshi, Comiket, and Fujoshi around Latin American Boys’ Love

Camila Gutierrez, Penn State U, University Park

2: Hi-Diddly-Ho, Tetsuo! How Bartkira’s Fandom Reimagined and Remixed Akira and The Simpsons

Charles Acheson, U of Florida

3: ‘The Concrete Representation of Our Most Subtle Feelings’: Comics Fandom in the Digital Era

Jaime Weida, Borough of Manhattan Community C, City U of New York

4: The Hybrid Lettercol: Ms. Marvel and #KamalaKorps

Leah Misemer, Georgia Inst. of Tech.

Presider

Aaron Kashtan, U of North Carolina, Charlotte

Sponsored by the GS Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives


029: Selling Childhood

 12:00 PM–1:15 PM Thursday, Jan 3, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Atlanta

Presentations

1: Pricing Black Girl Pain: The Cost of Black Girlhood in Street Lit

Jacinta Saffold, Assn. of American Colleges and Universities

2: Selling the Ferocious Child: Riot Grrrl’s Radicalization of Consumption

Katherine Kruger, U of Sussex

3: Teenage Writers, Marketplace Consciousness, and the Deregulation of Childhood in the Age of Neoliberalism

David Aitchison, North Central C

Presider

Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State U, Columbus

Sponsored by the GS Forum on Children’s and Young Adult Literature


076: The Graphic Novel in Spain

 3:30 PM–4:45 PM Thursday, Jan 3, 2019

 Sheraton Grand – Ontario

Presentations

1: Picturing Peripheries: Basque Identities and Blackness in the Graphic Novel Black Is Beltza

N. Michelle Murray, Vanderbilt U

2: Espacios en blanco: Migration, Memory, and Oblivion in Contemporary Spanish Graphic Narrative

Lena Tahmassian, U of South Carolina, Columbia

3: ‘Nobody Expects the Spanish Revolution’: Forms of Politicization in Gran Hotel Abismo (2016), by Marcos Prior and David Rubín

Xavier Dapena, U of Pennsylvania

Presider

H. Rosi Song, Bryn Mawr C


150: Girlhood Teleologies: Age, Sexuality, and Development in the Long American Nineteenth Century

 7:00 PM–8:15 PM Thursday, Jan 3, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Michigan 3

Presentations

1: The Girl in the Contract: Slavery, Consent, and True Girlhood

Lucia Hodgson, Texas A&M U, College Station

2: Settler Discourses of Ability and Reform in The Scarlet Letter

Jessica Cowing, C of William and Mary

3: Perpetual Childhood: Cognitive Disability and the Representation of Childish Women

Allison Giffen, Western Washington U

Related Material: For related material, write to luciahodgson@tamu.edu after 17 Dec.

Presider

Nazera Wright, U of Kentucky

Respondent

Anna Mae Duane, U of Connecticut, Storrs


166: Archives of Images, Archives of Texts: Comics as Sources for Historical Research

 7:00 PM–8:15 PM Thursday, Jan 3, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Randolph 3

Description: Comics studies is a growing interdisciplinary field, largely (although not always) grounded in critical literary techniques. As comics scholarship grows, however, the potential of comics for researchers in other disciplines, history among them, is quickly becoming apparent. Panelists address the variety of ways that scholars can use comics as sources for historical research by showcasing projects that utilize sequential narratives in this way.

Presiders

Joshua Kopin, U of Texas, Austin

Patrick Jagoda, U of Chicago

Speakers

David Carlson, writer

Elizabeth “Biz” Nijdam, Whitman C

Margaret Galvan, U of Florida

Maryanne Rhett, Monmouth U

Rachel Miller, Ohio State U, Columbus


307: Image-Text Encounters in South Asian Graphic Narratives

 1:45 PM–3:00 PM Friday, Jan 4, 2019

 Sheraton Grand – Colorado

Presentations

1: Pulping India in Imperial Britain: Sarath Kumar Ghosh’s Short Fiction

Monika Bhagat-Kennedy, U of Mississippi

2: The Golden Age of Bangla Comics: Narayan Debnath’s Bantul the Great and Handa-Bhonda

Anwesha Maity, U of Wisconsin, Madison

3: Tracing the Creation of an Indigenous Visual Idiom in Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva and Sauptik

Anuja Madan, Kansas State U

4: Graphic Migrations: Stories about Refugees, Gender, and Citizenship

Kavita Daiya, George Washington U

Related Material: For related material, write to amadan@ksu.edu or kdaiya@gwu.edu

Presider

Kavita Daiya, George Washington U


322: Visual Translations of Early Japanese Literary Texts

 3:30 PM–4:45 PM Friday, Jan 4, 2019

 Sheraton Grand – Ohio

Presentations

1: Visualization as Participatory Reception: The Thirty-Six Immortal Waka Poets from Text to Image

Gian Piero Persiani, U of Illinois, Urbana

2: Filling the Empty Center: (Fe)Male Voices in the Manga Comics Afterlives of The Tale of Genji

Lynne Kimiko Miyake, Pomona C

3: Chihayafuru and the Future of the Classics

Lindsey Stirek, Ohio State U, Columbus

Related Material: For related material, visit mla.hcommons.org/groups/japanese-to-1900/after 1 Oct.

Presider

Naomi Fukumori, Ohio State U, Columbus


325: Climate Change and Contemporary Young Adult Fiction

 3:30 PM–4:45 PM Friday, Jan 4, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Atlanta

Presentations

2: Solarpunk: A Growing Trend in Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Jennifer Harrison, East Stroudsburg U

3: Growing Down: Coming of Age in a Time of Climate Crisis

Lauren Rizzuto, Simmons C

Presider

Clare Echterling, U of Kansas

Allied organization: Children’s Literature Association.


410: Fandom Spaces

 8:30 AM–9:45 AM Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Columbian

Presentations

1: The Leather Pants Phenomenon: Fan Affect and the Rise of Fandom Stars

Sarah Olutola, McMaster U

2: The Curriculum of Fandom: What Are Writers Learning on Wattpad?

Jen McConnel, Queen’s U

3: Professional Spaces for Fan Fiction: Prolonging the YA Series

Carrie Sickmann Han, Indiana U–Purdue U, Indianapolis

Presider

Susan M. Strayer, Ohio State U, Columbus

Sponsored by the GS Forum on Children’s and Young Adult Literature


438: Sesame Street at Fifty

 10:15 AM–11:30 AM Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Roosevelt 1

Presentations

1: ‘Culture Free’? The Adaptation and Demarcation of Sesame Street in 1970s Europe

Helle Strandgaard Jensen, Aarhus U

2: Tell Me How to Get to Sesa(meme) Street: The Lore and Language of Digitally Street Smart Internet Users

Bonnie Tulloch, U of British Columbia

3: How Sesame Street Saved My Life

Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, Ithaca C

Presiders

Philip Nel, Kansas State U

Naomi Hamer, Ryerson U



528: Making Comics, Making Meaning

 1:45 PM–3:00 PM Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Randolph 3

Presentations

1: Epistemologies of Slowness: Teaching Visual Literacy Using Comics

Joshua Kopin, U of Texas, Austin

2: Panel/Page: A Research Drawing Jam

Leah Misemer, Georgia Inst. of Tech.

3: Drawn Words: The Significance of Lettering in the Pedagogy and Work of Kevin Huizenga

Alexander Ponomareff, U of Massachusetts, Amherst

Respondent

Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State U

Presider

Margaret Galvan, U of Florida

Sponsored by the GS Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives


GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum: Business Meeting

3:30–4:45 PM Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

Hyatt Regency – Burnham


615: Cash Bar Arranged by the Forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

 7:15 PM–8:30 PM Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Plaza Ballroom A


661: Visuality, Race, and Childhood in the Golden Age of American Print Culture

 10:15 AM–11:30 AM Sunday, Jan 6, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Columbus H

Presentations

1: Black Girls’ Nineteenth-Century Autograph Albums

Nazera Wright, U of Kentucky

2: Rainbow Work: Color Sense and Colonial Enchantment in Golden Age Picture Books

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay, U of Wisconsin, Madison

3: Performing Black Childhood: Leigh Richmond Miner’s Photographic Illustrations of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Poems

Katharine Capshaw, U of Connecticut, Storrs

4: A Black Modern Childhood: Illustration and Photography in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Brownies’ Book

Shawna McDermott, U of Pittsburgh

Presider

Shawna McDermott, U of Pittsburgh


697: Graphic Narratives of Disability as Multisensory Transactions

 12:00 PM–1:15 PM Sunday, Jan 6, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Columbus G

Presentations

1: You Are Not Your Illness: Narrativizing Identity in Disability and Illness Memoirs

Sohini Kumar, Stony Brook U, State U of New York

2: A Visual Cure: Exploring the Role of Drawing in Marion Milner’s The Hands of the Living God: An Account of a Psycho-analytic Treatment

Emilia Halton-Hernandez, U of Sussex

3: Traumatic Narrative Drawing in Jacques Tardi’s ‘Basket Case’

Anthony Cooke, Georgia Southern U


704: Graphic Medicine’s Textual Transactions

 12:00 PM–1:15 PM Sunday, Jan 6, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Toronto

Presentations

1: Graphic Medicine and Patient Education: Using Graphic Narrative to Improve Patient Care

Brian Callender, U of Chicago

2: Subject to or Subject Of: Medicine, Subjectivity, and the Representation of Disability in Una posibilidad entre mil

Elizabeth Jones, U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

3: Multimodal Graphic Medicine and the Material Question of Spoons

Rachel Kunert-Graf, Antioch U

Respondent

Erin Lamb, Hiram C

Presider

Lan Dong, U of Illinois, Springfield

Sponsored by the GS Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives


722: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Postcolonial Graphic Narrative

 1:45 PM–3:00 PM Sunday, Jan 6, 2019

 Hyatt Regency – Gold Coast

Presentations

1: Comic-Chronotope in Postcolonial Graphic Narratives: Contextualizing Clandestine Immigration

Susmitha Udayan, U of New Mexico, Albuquerque

2: Human Rights in the Postcolonial Islamic Graphic Novel

Esra Mirze Santesso, U of Georgia

3: Graphic Narrative and the Aesthetics of Complicity

Muhib Nabulsi, U of Queensland

4: Graphic Narratives, Transnational Aesthetics, and Political Critique in Singapore: Sonny Liew’s Frankie and Poo

Weihsin Gui, U of California, Riverside

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Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature (ChLAQ)

Children's Literature Association Quarterly 43.4 (Winter 2018): coverSeparating children from their parents is a violation of basic human rights and does not deter asylum-seekers.  Hostile to facts and compassionate only towards himself, Mr. Trump has pursued this policy with reckless indifference to its consequences.  As of the end of last month (over four months after the court-imposed deadline to reunite these families), over 140 children had still not been reunited with their parents.  And that figure does not include the over 15,000 children locked up in Trump’s child detention centers.

Writing about Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature — the theme of this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly — will not stop the US government’s (or any other government’s) crimes against humanity. And yet, I edited this special issue, which features smart essays by six sharp scholars: Debra Dudek, Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Leyla Savsar, Anastasia Ulanowicz, Maria Rosa Truglio, and Sara Van den Bossche.  Why?  Not because we expect our words to awaken the consciences of those in power — if, indeed, the people who support these policies possess consciences.  We write because we speak as we can, in the venues available to us.  Because all scholarship is, in some measure, a record of the time in which it was written.  Because children’s literature can cultivate empathy.  Because children’s literature can (to borrow Rudine Sims Bishop’s famous term) serve as a mirror to young people who have been displaced — geographically, culturally, emotionally.  Because words and images can change minds.

Or, at least, that is what I believe. As I write in my introduction,

When children’s literature cultivates an empathetic imagination, it can bring people of all ages closer to understanding the displacement felt by migrants, refugees, and those in diasporic communities. Such literature can affirm the experiences of children in those communities, letting them know that they are not alone….

As scholars of children’s literature, we are not, alas, in charge of shaping humane policies for our governments. But we can, to borrow the words of Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, help people to envision “a world without borders as we have known them—a world in which nation-states are not prized or assumed.” We can guide readers to books that harness the imagination’s power to nourish empathy, and we can steer them away from those that reinforce bigotry. Thanks to our professional training, we understand that such work is necessary and complicated: A work’s propagation of prejudice can be both subtle and overt. Art is often ideologically ambivalent, humanizing in some ways and dehumanizing in others. Another thing we can do, then, is to teach people how to spot the difference. Careful, thoughtful readers can resist lies, misinformation, and scapegoating. By helping us develop the necessary critical literacies, the articles in this issue foster these vital skills.

The issue is available via ProjectMuse.  If you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to Project Muse, please access the articles that way.  Doing so generates revenue for the Children’s Literature Association — an organization of which I am a member.  If you lack access to the issue, I am glad to send you a pdf of my introduction.  Just drop me a line.  (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s,” even though I have long since removed mp3s from this blog.)

I’ll conclude with the two autobiographical paragraphs from my introduction:

I proposed this special issue, in part, because I am from a family of immigrants and am the descendant of refugees. The Nels were among those 2 million seventeenth-century French Protestants (Huguenots) whose flight from persecution introduced the word refugee into the English language. Today, my extended family (nuclear family plus cousins, uncles, and aunts) lives in five countries on four continents. We are a migratory group. In migrants, refugees, and the diasporic, I see my own family.

But I also see my family in the people who caused such displacement—from the active Islamophobe who supports a “Muslim ban” to the passive inheritors of White supremacy. I am aware that my being born in the US has everything to do with my parents being White South Africans and not Black South Africans. Their Whiteness granted them access not just to the education that made finding an American job possible, but also to the basic human rights that significantly increased the chances that they would survive and flourish. Indeed, my own flourishing is built upon a range of intersecting structures of oppression.

I’ve written more on this subject elsewhere on this blog — perhaps most directly in “Charleston, Family History, and White Responsibility” (June 2015).  For the past few years, that post has only been available via its archival presence on the Wayback Machine, for reasons explained in the footnote below.*  But there are plenty of other autobiographical posts hosted here, some of which address White Privilege and White Responsibility.

But,… returning to the special issue.  Remember: human rights do not depend upon citizenshipHumanity has no borders.


Thanks to the editorial consultants for this issue: Evelyn Arizpe, Clare Bradford, Ann Gonzalez, Gabrielle Halko, Gillian Lathey, Kerry Mallan, Robyn McCallum, Mavis Reimer, Lara Saguisag, Lee Talley, Jan Van Coillie, Lies Wesseling


Other writing (by me) on this subject:


* My father was furious at me for speaking the truth. In an effort to keep the peace, I deleted the post (though, while writing this post now, have added a link from that post to the Wayback Machine’s archival record). This effort failed; dad stopped speaking to me shortly thereafter. Incidentally, ideas expressed in it emerge in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (notably, the end of Chapter 3), but (unlike the original post) do so without identifying specific individuals.

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Fight Stupidity; Keep Reading: A Dispatch from the Internationale Jugendbibliothek (on KSU English blog)

Over at Kansas State University’s English Department blog, I have a post on my three months at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Munich.  I’ll excerpt a little bit here (the first paragraph, and the conclusion) but go over there to read the whole thing (and to see more photos).


Since the first of September I have been at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek (IJB) in Munich, Germany. Why? As part of a larger cross-cultural study of diversity in children’s literature, I’m exploring how multiculturalism functions in Germany, via German picture books — chosen in part because they pose the smallest barrier to my limited (but improving!) German, and in part because what we read when we are young can have a profound impact on the adults we become. We read these books when we are still figuring out who we are and what we believe.

*        *        *

Internationale Jugendbibliothek, early November 2018

Founded in 1949, the Internationale Jugendbibliothek does a version of this work in its advocacy for international cultural education, via promoting good books for young readers. Embodying that international spirit, its staff and the fellows who study here come from around the world. During my three months at the IJB, I’ve met — and befriended — people from France, Iran, Japan, Lichtenstein, the Philippines, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Tunisia, Ukraine, and of course Germany.

Getting to know people from around the world has not only expanded my own perspective, but has developed professional relationships and friendships that will last throughout my life.

I will leave you with a phrase I saw on a shoulder-bag in Pasing train station one morning: “Lesen gefährdet die Dummheit,” which means “Reading endangers stupidity.” While combating ignorance does of course depend upon what we read, I nonetheless endorse the optimism of that statement. Fight stupidity. Keep reading.


As I say, this is but an excerpt. So, for the rest, go over to the English Dept. blog to for the rest (plus more photos).

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