“The Boundaries of Imagination”; or, the All-White World of Children’s Books, 2014

Christopher Myers, Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? (art, photographed, from New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014)

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?

— Walter Dean Myers, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”

too often today’s books remain blind to the everyday reality of thousands of children. Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination. The cartography we create with this literature is flawed.

— Christopher Myers, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”

In case you missed it, yesterday’s New York Times (16 Mar. 2014) carried two essays that should do what Nancy Larrick’s famous “All-White World of Children’s Books” (Saturday Review, 11 Sept. 1965) did nearly 50 years ago: Sound the call to the publishing business to increase representation of people of color in children’s books. If you haven’t read these articles, please take a moment and do so.

As Walter Dean Myers notes, though there are now more people of color in books for young readers than there were in 1969 (when he entered the children’s book field), there are also more young readers of color. So, “Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious.”

Christopher Myers, Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? (art, photographed, from New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014)

These articles — and many others that I’ve read over the last few years (links below) — should point to a critical mass of support for increased representation of non-white people in children’s books. There are already efforts under way, like The Birthday Party Pledge (promise to give multicultural books to the children in your life) and Hands Across the Sea (promoting literacy in the Caribbean).

The pressing need for books featuring children of color inspires me to share some resources I’ve gathered for my own research and for students in my graduate-level African American Children’s Literature class — a course I’m teaching for the first time this semester (and which will, I promise, improve in subsequent years; this is my first attempt).  I’m aware that these resources are not comprehensive, and so please feel free to add suggestions in the comments.  Indeed, I’d be grateful if you would.

Essays on the Need for More People of Color in Children’s and YA Books

  • Laura Atkins, “White Privilege and Children’s Publishing: A Web 2.0 Case Study,” write4children 1.2 (April 2010). Note: document is a pdf. Scroll down to page 21.
  • Regina Sierra Carter, “YA Literature: The Inside and Cover Story,” The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, 18 Apr. 2013. “America is steadily becoming more diverse. So should YA literature. “
  • Jen Doll, “The Ongoing Problem of Race in Y.A.,” The Atlantic Wire, 26 Apr. 2012.  Great overview, with lots of links to relevant articles.
  • Zetta Elliott, “Decolonizing the Imagination,” Horn Book, Mar.-Apr. 2010. “My goal as a writer of speculative fiction is to engage the tropes of captivity, migration, and transformation in a narrative that is thrilling, compelling, and revealing…. I believe speculative fiction generates the kind of narrative possibility that enables us to revise, re-view, and reclaim the past.”
  • Zetta Elliott, “Stranger Than Fiction: Depicting Trauma in African American Children’s Books” or “One Hot Mess,” Fledgling: Zetta Elliott’s Blog, 16 June 2012.
  • Josh Finney, “Yes, But Is It Racist? Science Fiction and the Significance of 9%,” Broken Frontier, 10 Sept. 2013. “Over the years, I’ve known plenty of writers who’ve shied away from creating black characters due to the perceived consequences of getting it wrong.”
  • Malinda Lo, “A Year of Thinking About Diversity,” Diversity in YA, 19 Dec. 2011. “The concept of diversity is complex, messy, and charged. It means different things to different people. “
  • Jason Low, “Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in eighteen years?” Lee & Low Books, 17 June 2013. Seeking answers, Low talks to Kathleen T. Horning, Nikki Grimes, Rudine Sims Bishop, Debbie Reese, Betsy Bird, Sarah Park Dahlen, Jane M. Gagni, and others.
  • Jessie-Lane Metz, “Ally-phobia: On the Trayvon Martin Ruling, White Feminism, and the Worst of Best Intentions,” The Toast, 24 Jul. 2013. “When a person of colour speaks to their own experiences of racism, they are speaking to a collective pain, and speaking truth to power. When a person with white skin privilege gives an anecdote about racism, whether their own or someone else’s, they are exposing more racialized people to this discrimination, and reasserting their own privilege. The narrative is no longer about Black victims of racist crimes and a deeply flawed justice system, it is about white feelings about Black bodies and their experiences.”
  • Christopher Myers, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014. “children of color… recognize the boundaries being imposed upon their imaginations, and are certain to imagine themselves well within the borders they are offered, to color themselves inside the lines.
  • Christopher Myers, “Young Dreamers,” Horn Book, 6 Aug. 2013. “The plethora of threatening images of young black people has real-life effects. But if people can see us as young dreamers, boys with hopes and doubts and playfulness, instead of potential threats or icons of societal ills, perhaps they will feel less inclined to kill us.”
  • Walter Dean Myers, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?,” New York Times 16 Mar. 2014. “this was exactly what I wanted to do when I wrote about poor inner-city children — to make them human in the eyes of readers and, especially, in their own eyes. I need to make them feel as if they are part of America’s dream, that all the rhetoric is meant for them, and that they are wanted in this country.”
  • Walter Dean Myers, “I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry,” New York Times, 9 Nov. 1986. “if we continue to make black children nonpersons by excluding them from books and by degrading the black experience, and if we continue to neglect white children by not exposing them to any aspect of other racial and ethnic experiences in a meaningful way, we will have a next racial crisis.”
  • Mitali Perkins, “Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids’ Books,” School Library Journal 1 Apr. 2009. “Here are five questions that’ll help you and your students discern messages about race in stories. Try these in the classroom, and my guess is that you may end up engaging teens who had seemed reluctant to share their literary opinions.”
  • Alyssa Rosenberg, “Malinda Lo on Why White Creators Default to Colorblindness,”  ThinkProgress.org 20 Feb. 2013. “Race-blindness is more risk management strategy than a means of actually making television, movies, and books more diverse.”
  • Meg Rosoff, “You can’t protect children by lying to them — the truth will hurt less.” Guardian, 20 Sept. 2013. “There is a theory that children’s literature should uphold the idyll of childhood, offering charming scenarios and happy endings to protect the innocent from life’s harsh realities. But children have extraordinary antennae for the things no one will explain.” This essay isn’t about race. It’s about not lying, and its insights are applicable in this list — that’s why I’ve included it.
  • Shadra Strickland, “Do Great Work and the Rest Will Follow,” Horn Book March-April 2014. “It’s strange being black and a woman in a field that has historically celebrated white male contributions. Before I was published, I wondered if the only way in was to write and illustrate stories about slavery and black history. When all of my graduate school friends landed book contracts before me, at times I thought, ‘Is it because I paint black people?’ I talked myself down from that ledge, but why was I up there to begin with?”

Essays on the Need for More People of Color on the Covers (a.k.a. Essays Against Whitewashing)

Numbers

Resources, Both Historical and Ongoing Projects

Publishers

Twitter

Penultimate note: I’ve not included most of the critical texts on our syllabus, because my students already know what those are (and so will you, if you follow the link!).

Final note: As I said above, suggestions welcome. Thanks!

Page last updated, 4:15 pm CDT, 21 Mar 2014. For their suggestions, thanks to Laura Atkins, Sarah Hamburg, Sheila Barry, Kate Pritchard, Keilin H., Hannah Ehrlich (Lee & Low Books).

Image credits: Art by Christopher Myers, from New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014. I decided to photograph my copy of the newspaper rather than just lift the art from the Times‘ website simply because I like print culture. You can find clearer digital images on the Times‘ site.

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Oh, the Quotations You’ll Forge!

Dr. Seuss poses with The Cat in the Hat and other books, c. 1957Every March 2nd, Americans celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Ted Geisel) by reading his work… and by sharing words he neither wrote nor said.

I understand why. Seuss could be pithy. He’s far from the only aphoristic writer to be credited with phrases he didn’t coin. Mark Twain, Ghandi, Groucho Marx, and many others have posthumously become the authors of many ideas.

But finding something on the internet does not confirm that what you’ve found is true. So, in what will likely be a failed effort to set the record straight, here are some things that Dr. Seuss never said — or, at least, there’s no record of him saying these things. And the historical record is all we have.

1. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

The sentiment here is congruent with Seuss’s public statements and some of his children’s books, but he never said this. (Below: one of many graphics that spread misinformation about Seuss.  He only said numbers 1 and 3.)

3 quotes that Seuss didn't say, and 2 that he did.2. Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.

Not only did Seuss never say this, but he tended to celebrate misbehavior.

3. Don’t cry because it’s over…  Smile because it happened.

You have to be kidding me. Smile because it happened? No. He never said this.

4. Why fit in when you were born to stand out?

This is a Seussian sentiment, but he never uttered it using these words.

5. We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.

Seuss might agree with this sentiment, but he never said it.

6. Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

Nope. Not something Seuss said.

7. Be awesome! Be a book nut!

Seuss wrote lots of books and read many others, but he did not say this. The giveaway is the colloquial use of “awesome.”


Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat's hat25 Things That Seuss Said

There are many quotable lines that Seuss actually did say.  Why not use those instead?  Here’s a sampling.

1. It is fun to have fun.

But you have to know how.

— the Cat in the Hat, in The Cat in the Hat (1957)

2. Today you are you! That is truer than true!

There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!

Thank goodness I’m not a clam or a ham

Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!

I am what I am! That’s a great thing to be!”

— narrator, Happy Birthday to You! (1959)

3. You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose.

— narrator, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax4. UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

— the Once-ler, The Lorax (1971)

5. Outside of my beginner books, I never write for children.  I write for people.

— Dr. Seuss, interview with Michael Lee Katz (1984)

6. From there to here,

from here to there,

funny things

are everywhere.

— narrator, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)

7. I meant what I said

And I said what I meant. . .

An elephant’s faithful

One hundred per cent!

— Horton, Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)

Dr. Seuss, from Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)

8. Don’t give up! I believe in you all!

A person’s a person, no matter how small!

— Horton, Horton Hears a Who! (1954)

9. Adults are obsolete children and the hell with them.

— Dr. Seuss, in many interviews, including Shepard 1968, Dangaard 1976, & Bandler 1977

10. you’re in pretty good shape

for the shape you are in!

— narrator, You’re Only Old Once! (1986)

11. Children are just as smart as you are. The main difference is they don’t know so many words, and you’ll lose them if your story gets complicated.  But if your story is simple, you can tell it just as if you’re telling it to adults.

— Dr. Seuss, lectures at University of Utah (1949), quoted in my Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004)

12. I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,

But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.

Dr. Seuss, Hop on Pop

— Mack, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958)

13. STOP

You must not

hop on Pop.

— Pop, Hop on Pop (1963)

 14. So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

— narrator, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)

Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book (1962)15. A yawn is quite catching, you see. Like a cough.

It just takes one yawn to start other yawns off.

— narrator, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (1962)

16. My uncle ordered popovers

from the restaurant’s bill of fare.

And when they were served,

he regarded them with a penetrating stare . . .

Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom

as he sat there on that chair:

“To eat these things,”

said my uncle,

“you must exercise great care.

You may swallow down what’s solid . . .

BUT . . .

You must spit out the air!”

 

And . . .

As you partake of the world’s bill of fare,

that’s darned good advice to follow.

Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.

And be careful what you swallow.

— Dr. Seuss, “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers” (1977), quoted in Judith and Neil Morgan’s Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel (1995)

17. Nonsense wakes up the brain cells.  And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age.  Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world.  It’s more than just a matter of laughing.  If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.

— Dr. Seuss, in interview with Miles Corwin (1983)

18. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas, . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”

— narrator, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957)

19. children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil, than any other form of literature on earth.

— Dr. Seuss, “Writing for Children: A Mission” (1960)

Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut (1978)20. The more that you read,

the more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

the places you’ll go.

— the Cat in the Hat, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! (1978)

21. It has often been said

there’s so much to be read,

you never can cram

all those words in your head.

 

So the writer who breeds

more words than he needs

is making a chore

for the reader who reads.

 

That’s why my belief is

the briefer the brief is,

the greater the sigh

of the reader’s relief is.

— Dr. Seuss, “A Short Condensed Poem in Praise of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” (1980)

22. Think left and think right

and think low and think high.

Oh the thinks you can think up

if only you try!

— narrator, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975)

Dr. Seuss, from Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975)

23. Whenever things go a bit sour in a job I’m doing, I always tell myself, “You can do better than this.”  The best slogan I can think of to leave with the kids of the U.S.A. would be “We can . . . and we’ve got to . . . do better than this.”

— Dr. Seuss to his biographers, Judith and Neil Morgan, as reported in their Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel (1995)

Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)24. And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTIANS!

— narrator, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)

25. Today is gone. Today was fun.

Tomorrow is another one.

— narrator, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)


In celebration of what would be Seuss’s 110th birthday (March 2nd), you might enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss.  Here’s a selection:

Occasionally, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss:

  • “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 appears to have been designed to impede 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.)And… that’s all.  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’ll be celebrated on Monday, March 3rd. Read more about it at the NEA’s website.

Read Across America: An NEA Project

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Calls for Papers (Children’s Literature): MLA 2015, Vancouver, BC

MLA 2015: Vancouver, BCScholars of Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, Children’s Culture!  Attention! Here are some calls for papers, for the 2015 Modern Language Association, held from January 8 to 11, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia. All are sponsored or co-sponsored by the MLA’s Children’s Literature Division. Send in a proposal to one of the organizers!  Come to Vancouver! (Whether or not you present, do come to Vancouver, if you can. It’s a beautiful city — one of my favorite cities, in fact.)

Geography and Memory in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.  DUE 15 March 2014

Investigating the conference theme of “Negotiating Sites of Memory,” this panel considers the ideological and spatial implications of physical places depicted in children’s and young adult literature. The geographies of these texts demonstrate that constructions of places and people are related processes. In works for young people, the material and the social are mutually constitutive, shaping and reflecting environments that depend on the discursive and/or physical participation of child characters and child readers alike. Importantly, these geographies as produced through literature are imagined representations rather than tangible locations, a gap that explicitly invites the contributions of memory, nostalgia, and fantasy.

Topics prospective panelists might wish to address include, but are not limited to:

  • Place’s role in the development of a children’s literature canon
  • The role of nostalgia and/or memory in shaping depictions of place in writing for children
  • The relationship or interplay between material places and literary representations (for example, Prince Edward Island and Avonlea)
  • The function of maps and illustrations in children’s texts
  • The sustained hold of specific places in children’s and YA literature on cultural imaginations and memory, including the Hundred Acre Wood, Toad Hall, the Four-Story Mistake, Mr. Brown’s antique shop, Hogwarts, Panem, the Island of the Blue Dolphins, and many others
  • Regionalism in children’s and YA literature
  • Virtual places and spaces in digital literature and/or media for young people
  • The geographies of books themselves as physical artifacts of material culture

Please send 500-word abstracts by March 15, 2014 to Kate Slater at slaterks@plu.edu and Gwen Athene Tarbox at gwen.tarbox@wmich.edu. Panelists will need to be members of the MLA by April 7, 2014.

This guaranteed panel is sponsored by the MLA’s Children’s Literature Division. The 2015 MLA will be held in Vancouver, BC from January 8-11, 2015.


Sites of Memory in Children’s Literature. DUE 15 Mar. 2014

Remembering, remembrance, memory, and forgetting shapes children’s literature: authors’ personal memories of childhood that inform their texts or are preserved in cross-written texts or memoirs; larger cultural memories adults wish to pass down to future generations; and events, incidents, and topics elided or “forgotten” in the canon. Indeed, the genre of children’s literature relies on the remembrance, reinterpretation, or revision of past works. This panel invites papers considering all aspects of memory in children’s and young adult literature (historical, literary, nostalgic, patriotic, personal, repressed, traumatic, etc.) as well as papers that explore how literary memory shapes the canon of children’s and YA literature through intertextuality, another site of memory.

Topics prospective panelists might wish to address include, but are not limited to:

  • Adult memories of childhood mined from archives, letters, diaries, memoirs, libraries, school classrooms, or childhood reading practices
  • Cultural and historical events remembered, forgotten, elided, or revised in works of children’s and young adult literature
  • The role of remembrance and nostalgia in canon formation: forgotten texts that are making a comeback (e.g., Henty’s novels in the homeschooling community) or texts that should be remembered
  • How intertextuality functions to challenge, negotiate, or reinterpret ideas of youth, children’s literature, and/or YA literature
  • Genre: historical, theoretical, or institutional practices of remembering and forgetting what constitutes children’s literature
  • Traumatic memories: how they’re represented in individual works as well as how they’re presented to younger readers
  • Iconic texts about remembrance: anything to do with war, but also “holiday” books and texts about important historical events

Please send 500-word proposals by March 15 to Karin Westman at westmank@ksu.edu.

This guaranteed panel is sponsored by the MLA’s Children’s Literature Division. The 2015 MLA will be held in Vancouver, BC from January 8-11, 2015.


World War I in Children’s LiteratureDUE: 27 Feb. 2014

Children at home dream of war; children in war zones dream of home. War poets such as Robert Service, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves were haunted by childhood narratives of home and play, to the point where they were interpreting their own immediate experience through lenses tinted by memory and childish linguistic patterns; novelists such as L.M. Montgomery, Kate Seredy, and Ethel Turner became increasingly obsessed with the identity of place and how war expands (and sometimes explodes) a community’s sense of self. Through picture books and graphic novels, fiction and nonfiction, this session invites us to pause, in this centenary of the Great War, and consider how both immediate and more long-term memories of the war were shaped by children’s literature of the period and how they are continually reshaped by contemporary authors and illustrators using very diverse techniques, including such artists as Michael Morpungo, Diana Preston, Penelope Farmer, Jacques Tardi, Jim Murphy, Kevin Major, David Hill, and Sonya Hartnett. For consideration in this unguaranteed MLA session, please send a 350-word abstract to Jacquilyn Weeks (weeksj@iupui.edu) and Lissa Paul (lpaul@brocku.ca) by February 27th, 2014.

The MLA session will be comprised of three speakers, each of whom will have 15-20min to present their research on this topic. These presentations will be followed by a 15-30min open Q&A. We’ll be looking for a set of three papers that present the strongest and most original arguments while adhering to our general guidelines.

The focus in this context is on research rather than the pragmatic details of publishing or a detailed description of published literature; however, we’d be very interested in a paper that thinks about patterns of contemporary Canadian children’s literature and it’s engagement with the First World War. You would be welcome to offer an analysis of your own work. The 350-word abstract should outline your central argument and give us a sense of what you would discuss in your 15-20min paper.

This non-guaranteed panel is sponsored by the MLA’s Children’s Literature Division. The 2015 MLA will be held in Vancouver, BC from January 8-11, 2015.


Visual Cultures and Young People’s Texts in Canada. DUE 15 Mar. 2014

Exploring visual culture produced by, for, and about young people in Canada, including comics, animation, picture books, photography, and digital forms. 350 word abstracts by 15 March 2014; Jennifer Blair (Jennifer.blair@uottawa.ca) and Catherine Tosenberger (ctosen@gmail.com).

This non-guaranteed panel is co-sponsored by the MLA’s Children’s Literature Division and the MLA’s Canadian Literature in English Discussion Group. The 2015 MLA will be held in Vancouver, BC from January 8-11, 2015.

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Emily’s Library, Part 7: 31 Good Books for Small Humans

Welcome to another installment in my ongoing list of the Best Books for Young Readers.  Admittedly, any such list will reflect the list-maker’s (in this case, my) idiosyncracies. But, since people often ask me about great books for small humans, I’ve been creating the “ideal” library for my nearly three-year-old niece, Emily, and writing about it in this “Emily’s Library” series. I hope it may be of use to other children and the book-buying adults in their lives.  Since she’s growing up speaking English, French, and a little Swiss German (Basel Deutsch, to be precise!), you’ll see some — though not enough — French books, and the occasional German book. English-speakers, don’t panic: all (or nearly all) can be found in English translation as well.

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et les contraires (2011) [Pomelo’s Opposites (2013) in its original French]

Ramona Badescu and Benjamin Chaud, Pomelo et les contraires

A small book starring our favorite little grapefruit-colored elephant, Badescu and Chaud’s Pomelo et les contraires explores not just pairs of opposites but the very concept of opposites.  Not just high and low, but handsome and weird.  Not only black and white, but gastropod and cucurbit.  Not merely hard and soft but everything and nothing. Because Pomelo (or a transformation of Pomelo) illustrates most pairs of opposites, you get the sense of a world measured in units of little pink elephants.  (For more Pomelo, see Part 6 of the Emily’s Library series.)

Istvan Banyai, ZoomIstvan Banyai, Zoom (1995)

A wordless book about perspective. With each turn of the page, we have zoomed out, further away from the view on the previous page. What the Eames’ Powers of Ten does for mathematics, Banyai‘s Zoom does for perspective.  Even after you’ve read it once and so know what’s coming next, it’s nonetheless satisfying to see how each page makes the next page possible, and then the following page, and so on.

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)

An homage to Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and one of the best books of 2013, Aaron Becker‘s Journey follows a young girl’s imagination into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder. It’s a beautiful wordless picture book that rewards re-readings.

from Aaron Becker's Journey

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (2013)

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Since Emily is already a fan of Squeaker (from Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets), the latest Peter Brown book was a natural choice. Echoing Sendak by way of Charley Harper and Mary Blair, Mr. Tiger finds that he has a bit of a … wild streak.  And so, off he goes, streaking into the wild.  It’s a book about sloughing off the expectations of civilization, a tale of releasing one’s inner wildness, and resisting conformity.  It’s also funny.

John Burningham, Mr. Gumpy’s Outing (1970)

Burningham, Mr. Gumpy's Outing

Classic tale of a boat ride that, with each addition of a new animal, sets up the inevitable capsizing. Children can join the boat ride, as long as they “don’t squabble.” A rabbit can get on board as long as it doesn’t “hop about.” A cat may come, but it’s “not to chase the rabbit.” And so on. A gentle, whimsical tale, told with economy and humor.

Those who are not academically inclined should skip this paragraph. The rest of you should read Perry Nodelman’s “Decoding the images: how picturebooks work,” from Peter Hunt’s Understanding Children’s Literature, Second Ed., pp. 128-139. It’s a magnificent close-reading of the book, and a great example of showing how rich and complex the apparently simple picture book really is.

Benjamin Chaud, Une chanson d’ours (2011) [The Bear’s Song (2013) in its original French]

Papa Bear is getting ready to hibernate, but where has Little Bear gone?  On each giant two-page spread, Chaud’s Little Bear is running along chasing a bee, but there’s so much more to see: other animals, hunters, cars, bicyclists, dancers, and much more. So, each two-page spread offers not only the game of finding Little Bear, but also of identifying as many other items (and the subplots they imply).  I think that telling you about the chanson [song] would spoil the surprise.  So, I’ll let you find that for yourself.

from Benjamin Chaud's Une chanson d’ours

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (2013)

A gift to Emily from my stepsister Janet, Daywalt and Jeffers‘ book imagines crayons in revolt. White feels ignored, blue over-used, black irritated by only being used for outlines. And what happened to peach’s wrapper? He feels naked without it. These are among the box of problems that Duncan faces. How can he make all the crayons feel involved?

from Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit

Ed Emberley, Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (1970)

This one is a favorite from my childhood. Emberley shows how, with just a few simple shapes, you can draw all sorts of animals: dogs, cats, birds, a dragon.  The instructions unfold rather like those for assembling Lego: one picture at a time, and each new one clearly indicates what you’ll be adding. At present, the book is an occasion for the (not yet 3-year-old) Emily to ask others to draw the pictures for her.  But, eventually, I think she’ll be drawing the animals herself.  She loves to draw, though — in this phase of her artistic development — most of her art tends to be non-representational.

Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals

Régis Faller, Le Voyage de Polo (2002) [The Adventures of Polo (2006) in French]

Régis Faller, Le voyage de Polo (2002)The first in Faller’s books about a small anthropomorphic dog who (generally) lives on his own, and then embarks upon an adventure. The Polo stories have an associative narrative logic evocative of the Harold stories’ structure.  In this one, he opens the door of his island tree home, walks over to a tightrope, and then starts carefully to make his way along it — shades of Harold’s tightrope act in Harold’s Circus (1959). The tightrope suddenly becomes stairs, which Polo then climbs — reminiscent of the stairs in Harold’s Fairy Tale (1957).  Beyond those direct visual allusions (or, at least, they feel like allusions), the story’s art manages to link each panel to the next, and then to the next. You don’t quite know where Polo is going, but he’s traveling with a purpose, and fun to accompany for the duration of his journey. Like the Harold stories, Le Voyage de Polo recalls the mode of storytelling favored by creative young people: there is a logic, but it makes sense only to the storyteller. However, Faller and Johnson tell the tale in a way that it all makes sense to readers, too.

All wordless (save for the occasional sound effect), the Polo books are among Emily’s favorites. A tip of the virtual hat to Julie Walker Danielson for introducing me to them.

Régis Faller, Polo et le Dragon (2003) [Polo and the Dragon (2009)]

At the onset of winter, Polo dons his coat and hat, and sets off in his boat — only to find himself snowbound and icebound. Fortunately, because he is Polo, he’s able to draw a doorway in the ice (another echo of Harold and the Purple Crayon), open the door, and walk through it.  I could summarize the rest of this story, but why would you want me to?  Just go and read it.

Régis Faller, Polo et la flute magiqueRégis Faller, Polo et la flute magique (2003) [Polo and the Magic Flute (2009)]

In which Polo travels by sea, on foot, atop a snail, and learns that music can make you fly. Which, of course, it can. 

Régis Faller, Polo and Lily (2009) [Polo et Lili (2004) in English because the French edition was unavailable]

Lovely story about Polo and his friendship with the free-spirited Lily [Lili in French]. The two quickly become close friends but — spoiler alert! — Lily stays true to her independent nature, and continues traveling. For me, this book is about having a close friend whom you rarely see in person.

Régis Faller, Polo and the Magician! (2009) [Polo magicien! (2004) in English because the French edition was unavailable]

Régis Faller, Polo and the Magician!A rainstorm! A flood! And Polo drifts into a starring role in the circus. Though it shares the earlier book’s associative logic, Polo and the Magician! features different adventures than Crockett Johnson’s Harold’s Circus (1959). Indeed, one contrast between the two is that while Harold’s adventures are always solitary, Polo frequently makes friends, such as the magician in this book, or Lily in the last (she also makes a cameo appearance in this one). But all other characters Harold encounters are the creation of his crayon.

Régis Faller, Polo: À la recherché de Lili

Régis Faller, Polo: À la recherché de Lili (2010)

As yet unavailable in English, this nearly wordless tale finds Polo seeking Lili [Lily, in English], and is in this sense a sequel to Polo et Lili. A larger-sized Polo book, it’s also a sequel to many of the other books in the series, referencing the Dragon, the Magician, and some new characters, too.

Don Freeman, Corduroy (1968)

Don Freeman, CorduroyThis one is a gift from what we’ll call Emily’s grandmother-in-law once removed (I have no idea if there’s a word for what my mother-in-law is to Emily). If you live in North America, I’ll hazard a guess that you know this one already. But, in case not, Corduroy is a teddy bear whose overalls are missing a button, and so Lisa’s mother elects not to buy him for Lisa. This prompts Corduroy, after hours, to wander all over the department store, seeking a button. And that’s a big part of the fun here: getting to explore, unsupervised, a vast place full of stuff. Corduroy fails in his quest, but Lisa returns the next day, buys him with her own pocket money, and stitches a button on his overalls.

Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (2009)

Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)

Brought to life by Lane Smith’s art and Molly Leach’s dynamic book design, Heide’s final story (she died in 2011) tells of a young girl who is happiest when she’s floating. Her parents worry about her floating off, and so find ways to tether her to the ground. But she resists being tethered. A fine tale that, in the spirit of other books by both Smith and by Heide, celebrates the non-conformist.

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Winter Follies (1955/2012)

Tove Jansson, Moomin’s Winter FolliesDrawn & Quarterly have been releasing Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics (1954-1959) both in large format, featuring the original black-and-white daily strips, and in smaller format, featuring colored versions of the daily strips. This book and the two listed below are the smaller-format ones.

Since the comic strip told a series of (mostly) self-contained stories, dividing them up into these smaller books both makes narrative sense and offers a great introduction to the world of the Moomins and their friends. The comics are a bit looser than the novels, and include characters and situations that never appear in either the picture books or the chapter books. This one introduces the irritatingly enthusiastic Mr. Brisk, who loves winter weather and sports. (As you might expect, the Moomins don’t entirely share his love for competitive athletics.)

Tove Jansson, Moomin Builds a House (1956/2013)

Tove Jansson, Moomin Builds a House

Introducing the character of Little My (whose first line is “I’m Little My! And I bite because I like it!”), this story finds the Moomins coping with trying houseguests, too many small children (Little My’s siblings), and an irritatingly careless parent (the Mymble, mother to Little My). Tired of always having to yield his room to others, Moomintroll decides to build his own house … which proves trickier than he thought it would.

Tove Jansson, Moominvalley Turns Jungle (1956/2012)

Tove Jansson, Moominvalley Turns JungleAfter a drought, Moominvalley gets thunderstorms, watering the tropical seeds that Little My has found. Then, Stinky liberates animals from the zoo… and the Moomins have an adventure in their own backyard (and in their own home). Transforming the home — via flood, winter, absence, or (in this case) plant life — is a recurring theme in the Moomin books. It’s both an exciting transformation of the everyday, and makes the characters even fonder of the home they’ve lost… and which they get back, by story’s end.

Crockett Johnson, La Plage MagiqueCrockett Johnson, La Plage Magique (2006) [French translation of Magic Beach (2005/1965)]

An unusual book, and one of Crockett Johnson’s most developed examinations of the thin boundary between real and imagined worlds. The book is probably better suited for children slightly older than Emily (I’d say 5 or 6), but when I discovered a French translation of something to which I’d written the Afterword, I couldn’t resist sending it to her.

Ole Könnecke, Das große Buch der Bilder und Wörter (2011) and Le grand imagier des petits (2010) [The Big Book of Words and Pictures (2012) in German and French]

Ole Könnecke, Das große Buch der Bilder und WörterWith the enthusiasm and scope of Richard Scarry, Könnecke fills his pages with labeled anthropomorphic animals and their daily lives. Also like Scarry, Könnecke’s two-page spreads tell lots of small stories. There’s a child (represented by a little bear) getting dressed.  There’s an energetic toddler (represented by an elephant) playing a pot like a drum, running around, and merrily heedless of the parent trying to sleep. There’s the cycle of life, told via a bird and his vehicles (baby buggy, scooter, bicycle, car, walker, wheelchair). There’s even an allusion to Harold’s purple crayon. Unlike Scarry, the art is a bit more ligne claire, and the pages are both fewer and thicker — not quite “board book” but headed in that direction. So, a great title for the three-and-under set.

I bought Emily the original German edition, and the French translation.  I should probably send her a copy of the English-language translation also. Then, as she begins to read, she can put all three books side by side and compare the different languages.

Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm

Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm (2007)

Another wordless tour de force from Barbara Lehman, Rainstorm unfolds in comics panels and bright colors. During a rainstorm, a lonely boy in a big house finds a key. The key opens a trunk, revealing a ladder that descends to… where? I’d rather not summarize. If you’ve enjoyed Lehman’s other works (The Red Book, Museum Trip, Trainstop), you’ll enjoy this one — and, I expect, whatever book she publishes next.  Lehman’s one of my favorite contemporary artists of books for children.

Andy Runton, Owly: Just a Little Blue

Andy Runton, Owly: Just a Little Blue (2005)

The second of Runton’s wordless narratives finds the titular protagonist — and his companion, Wormy — wanting to help some smaller birds. Though he has the best of intentions in building the birdhouse, the smaller birds don’t trust him. This makes sense to me: owls are raptors; they prey on smaller animals. Owly, of course, does no such thing. But the birds who don’t know him are wary.

Andy Runton, Owly: Flying Lessons (2006)

Andy Runton, Owly: Flying LessonsAnother peculiarity of Owly is that, though he is ostensibly an owl, he does not fly.  He walks everywhere. The flying in this book gets done by the flying squirrel. Another tale of friendship and attempts to make new friends. And, as always, it all happens without words — or, rather, with only the occasional sound effect or (when speech is required) pictograph. One reason I’ve been giving Emily wordless books is that I like wordless books, but another is that they’re international — you can read them in any language.

Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (1962)

Will a book full of so many fantastic creatures excite the imagination into wakefulness or lull the mind into slumber? I’m not sure and (as with all books) results may vary. But I’ve fond memories of this book from my own childhood, from the brushing of teeth at Herk-Heimer Falls, to the notion of a yawn (and sleep) spreading, to the Chippendale Mupp who bites his tail at bedtime as an alarm clock: “His tail is so long, he won’t feel any pain / ’Til the nip makes the trip and gets up to his brain. / In exactly eight hours, the Chippendale Mupp / Will, at last, feel the bite and yell ‘Ouch’ and wake up.”  As each day and my endurance wanes, I still think of — and feel a bit like — the Collapsible Frink, about to collapse in a heap.

Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book

Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks (1965)

Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks

I’ve long thought that Dr. Seuss intended this book as a prank on parents and other adults. Beginning readers, who read more slowly than adults, actually have a much better chance of pronouncing these tongue-twisters correctly. In contrast, the confident grown-up, sure of his or her ability, begins reading this book aloud, but immediately stumbles. And then stumbles again, and again. This, of course, is one reason the book is so much fun: children get to see adults struggling with words.

Dr. Seuss, Hop on Pop (1963)

Dr. Seuss, Hop on PopGiven (some) small children’s proclivity for seeing the adults in their lives as sophisticated playthings, I expect many a “Pop” has been hopped upon, thanks to this book. Yes, the Pop in the book says, “STOP / You must not / hop on Pop.” But the children do hop on Pop, and the book’s title can be read as advice, supplemented by a demonstration (the cover shows the brother and sister hopping on Pop). That said, the book does of course contain a variety of silliness. As one of Seuss’s concept books, Hop on Pop collects mostly unrelated couplets, some of which sustain narrative over a few pages, but most of which do not. One of the multi-page tales tells of sitting connoisseur Pat. He sits “on hat,” on “cat,” and balances rather precariously on the handle end of a baseball bat. Happily, a character arrives to keep Pat’s sitting mania under control. Just as he’s about to sit on a cactus, this character intervenes: “NO PAT NO / Don’t sit on that.” Mischievous, and fun to read aloud.

Paul Thurlby, Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife (2013)

Since she was an early adopter of Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet (“A is for Awesome!”) and she loves visiting animals in the zoo, Emily seemed the ideal candidate for Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife. Like its predecessor, the book’s bold, humorous art recalls mid-twentieth century posters. In this one, however, each animal is accompanied by an unusual fact. Beneath the poster of a disco-dancing bee, Thurlby’s text tells us that “Bees talk to one another by dancing in patterns.”

Paul Thurlby's Wildlife

Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (2006)

Yes, yes, you know the formula — the direct address from the pigeon, monochromatic backgrounds that convey mood, and the expressive minimalism of the pigeon himself. And Willems knows the formula, too. Happily, with each new pigeon book, he manages to keep it fresh and funny.

Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

Mo Willems, Time to Pee (2003)

Sign-wielding mice help children learn what to do when they “get that funny feeling.” With gentle humor and a keen consideration of children’s feelings, Willems helps young people learn what to do when it’s time to pee! As Emily is currently potty training, this book is of particular interest to her.

Mo Willems, Time to Pee

Jennifer Yerkes, Drole d’oiseau (2011) [A Funny Little Bird (2013) in its original French]

Jennifer Yerkes, Drole d’oiseau

With ingenious use of negative space, Yerkes creates a character who is nearly invisible — on a white page, he only appears when contrasted with other, colored items. Though he at first feels sad, a risky experiment in gathering colorful accouterments teaches him that the ability to avoid detection is in fact a powerful gift. Lovely graphic design aids the book’s gentle moral.

Note: I’ve borrowed the term “small humans” (used in the title of and elsewhere in this blog post) from my friend and colleague Erica Hateley.

When possible, I’ve bought each of these books locally, ordering via Claflin Books & Copies.


Amazon.com is a sweatshop, and (when I can) I prefer to buy from places that are not.

Looking for other great children’s books?  Try these blogs:

Related posts on Nine Kinds of Pie:

That’s the end of this installment, but there will be more “Emily’s Library” features in the future.

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2014

Modern Language Association 2014: logoWith thanks to Craig Svonkin for assembling the children’s literature panels list and Charles Hatfield for assembling the comics panels list, here’s a list of panel sessions on either children’s literature or comics/graphic novels at the Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago, 9-12 January 2014.  Is there anything missing here?  Drop me a line, and I’ll add it.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

97. Children’s Literature and the Common Core

3:30–4:45 p.m., Belmont, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Jan Christopher Susina, Illinois State Univ.

Speakers: Daniel D. Hade, Penn State Univ., University Park; Michelle Holley Martin, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia; Kristin McIlhagga, Michigan State Univ.; Sarah Minslow, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte; Joe Sutliff Sanders, Kansas State Univ.

This roundtable will address how the English Language Arts Standards of the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) will affect the teaching of college courses in children’s and adolescent literature, given that many of the students enrolled in these courses are preparing for careers in K–12 education.

This session has been chosen by MLA President Marianne Hirsch to be part of the presidential theme, “Vulnerable Times.”

Children’s Literature Division Executive Committee Meeting

Thursday, 10 January, 5:15-6:30 pm, Dupage, Marriott


Friday, 10 January 2014

193. Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, and Fin de Siècle Children’s Literature

Friday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the William Morris Society and the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Andrea Donovan, Minot State Univ.

  1. “Laurence Housman’s Field of Clover and the Pre-Raphaelite Politics of Making,” Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson Univ.
  2. “Mapping the Invisible and the Multivalent: Arthur Hughes’s Illustrations for George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind,” Carey Gibbons, Courtauld Inst. of Art
  3. “Illustrated Labors: Text, Textile, and ‘Wise-talk’ in Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song,” Jesse Cordes Selbin, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  4. “Art Critics in the Cradle: Fin de Siècle Painting Books and the Move to Modernism,” Victoria Ford Smith, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs

269. Deliver Us to Normal: Children’s Literature and the Midwest

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Los Angeles–Miami, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Katharine Slater, Pacific Lutheran Univ.

  1. “The American Urban Jungle: Tarzan of the Apes and Chicago,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “Coming of Age in a Divided City: Navigating Chicago Cultures in Sandra Cisneros’s Poetic Bildungsroman and Veronica Roth’s Dystopian Fiction,” Suzanne Hopcroft, Yale Univ.
  3. “When Myth Becomes Truth: Adolescent Identity in Depression-Era Kansas,” Jill Coste, San Diego State Univ.
  4. “Environmental Conservation and Racial Purity in the Fiction of Gene Stratton-Porter,” Sarah Clere, The Citadel

310. Randall Jarrell at One Hundred

1:45–3:00 p.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Chamutal Noimann, Borough of Manhattan Community Coll., City Univ. of New York

  1. “The Child Is the Animal in Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family,” Patricia Oman, Hastings Coll.
  2. “Jarrell the Heroic Reader,” Molly McQuade, American Library Assn.
  3. “Randall Jarrell’s Impossible Children,” Stephen Louis Burt, Harvard Univ.

Respondent: Richard McDonnell Flynn, Georgia Southern Univ.

388. Transnational Comics

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives and the Division on Literature and Other Arts

Presiding: Anke K. Finger, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs; Nhora Lucia Serrano, California State Univ., Long Beach

  1. “Traveling Comics; or, What Happened When Winsor McCay’s Innocents Went Abroad?” Mark McKinney, Miami Univ., Oxford
  2. “Graphic Memories of Revolution: Women on the Verge in Iran and Lebanon,” Julia Watson, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “Transnational Regards from Serbia,” Ioana Luca, National Taiwan Normal Univ.
  4. “Conceiving the Cosmopolitan Muslim Superhero in The 99,” Stefan Meier, Chemnitz Univ. of Tech.

428. Cash Bar Arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature and the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Friday, 10 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Grand I, Chicago Marriott


Saturday, 11 January 2014

437. Diaries of the Young Girl: The Craft of Female Selfhood

Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: June S. Cummins, San Diego State Univ.; Rocío G. Davis, City Univ. of Hong Kong

  1. “Writing to Survive: Child-Writing Characterization in Sade Adeniran’s Imagine This,” Suzanne Ondrus, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  2. “Constructing the Self: Pocket Diaries as Discipline in Nineteenth-Century America,” Martha L. Sledge, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
  3. “‘Okay! Fine! You Can Read It!’: Memory, Adolescence, and Belonging in Lauren Weinstein’s Girl Stories,” Tahneer Oksman, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
  4. “Witness, Re-vision, and the Constraints of Child Authorship in Nadja Halilbegovic’s My Childhood under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary,” Anastasia Ulanowicz, Univ. of Florida

541. Queer Youth: Sexuality and Adolescent Transformations

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago F, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “The Queer Case against Willa Cather’s Paul,” Adam Sonstegard, Cleveland State Univ.
  2. “Queer Sentiments: Tomboys and Familial Belonging in Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding,” Kristen Proehl, State Univ. of New York, Brockport
  3. “When Queer Isn’t So Queer: The Absent Adolescent in the Work of David Levithan,” Kent Baxter, California State Univ., Northridge

Responding: Sarah Sahn, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

563. Postcolonial Graphic Memoirs

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Autobiography, Biography, and Life Writing

Presiding: Linda Haverty Rugg, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. Malamine, un africain à Paris: A Closer Look at Contemporary Postcolonial Unbelonging,”Michelle Bumatay, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
  2. “Self-Construction of a Transnational Feminine Identity in an Andean Context: Power Paola’s Virus Tropical,” Felipe Gómez, Carnegie Mellon Univ.
  3. “Drawing Memories, Visualizing Texts: Transnational Belonging in GB Tran’s Vietnamerica,”Lan Dong, Univ. of Illinois, Springfield
  4. “Illustrating Alternate Narratives: Unconsumable Racialized Bodies of Young Women in Half World and Skim,” Michelle O’Brien, Univ. of British Columbia

575. A Reading and Conversation with Katherine Paterson

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago D, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Conference on Christianity and Literature

Presiding: Roger W. Lundin, Wheaton Coll., IL

Speaker: Katherine Paterson, Barre, VT

595. Comics and Fine Arts

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Lincolnshire, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Hillary L. Chute, Univ. of Chicago

  1. “Art Worlds, War Worlds, Girl Worlds: Henry Darger, Henry James,” Michael D. Moon, Emory Univ.
  2. “Cartoonists Greet the Future: The Antiart of Comics, Modernism, and the Armory Show,” Peter Sattler, Lakeland Coll.
  3. “Not Made to Be Looked at with ‘Aesthetic’ Eyes”: Boxed Works by Chris Ware and Marcel Duchamp,” Jonathan R. Bass, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick

Sunday, 12 January 2014

691. Broadway Babies

8:30–9:45 a.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Donelle Ruwe, Northern Arizona Univ.

  1. “Belting: The Construction of Childhood Voice in Annie,” James Leve, Northern Arizona Univ.
  2. “‘There’s Going to Be a Change in This Workhouse’: Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and Postwar Youth Culture,” Marc Napolitano, United States Military Acad.
  3. “Urchins, Unite: Newsies as an Antidote to Annie,” Marah Gubar, Univ. of Pittsburgh

Abstract:
“Broadway Babies” examines AnnieOliver!, and Newsies, musicals in which the child is at first isolated, unloved, and impoverished and then is brought into a nurturing, albeit non-traditional, “family.” As the panelists demonstrate, these shows’ dual fantasy of the vulnerable child in need of rescue and the redemptive child who rescues others is complicated by the medium of musical theater.

755. Female Rebellion in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Sheffield, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Sara K. Day, Southern Arkansas Univ.

  1. “‘I Am Beginning to Know Myself’: Rebellious Subjectivities in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction,” Miranda A. Green-Barteet, Univ. of Western Ontario
  2. “‘Rebel, Rebel, You’ve Torn Your Dress’: Distractions of Competitive Girlhood in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction,” Amy L. Montz, Univ. of Southern Indiana
  3. “Docile Bodies, Dangerous Bodies: Sexual Awakening and Social Resistance in Young-Adult Dystopian Novels,” Sara K. Day

768. Collaboration in Comics

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Colorado, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Charles Hatfield, California State Univ., Northridge

  1. “Multimodal Composition and the Rhetoric of Comics: A Study of Comics Teams in Collaboration,” Molly Scanlon, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ.
  2. “‘A Story Lived, Photographed[,] Told[,] Written and Drawn’: The Dance of Pen and Camera in Guibert and Lefèvre’s The Photographer,” Birte Wege, Freie Univ.
  3. “The Problem of Collaborative Authorship in the Comics Jam,” Isaac Cates, Univ. of Vermont
  4. “Collaboration as Consciousness Raising: The Bodies of Feminism in Wimmen’s Comix,” Margaret Galvan, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

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Mock Caldecott 2013: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

Time again for the Mock Caldecott Awards, at which we convene not to mock Caldecott-winners, but to predict what the winners will be.  This year, we’re of course predicting the 2014 awards, which will be announced next month. A big thanks to Kansas State University’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (especially Allison Kuehne and Melissa Hammond) for organizing this event, and to the Manhattan Public Library for hosting it.

The Winner:

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)Aaron Becker, Journey

An homage to Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon and (as some of my colleagues pointed out today) to David Wiesner‘s work, Aaron Becker‘s Journey invites us to travel along the line of our imaginations, transporting us into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder.  According to our votes, it was the winner by a good margin.  My own opinion is that I’d be surprised if the Caldecott committee failed to grant this at the very least an Honor.

The Honor Books:

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons QuitOliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (text by Drew Daywalt).

As one of our group observed today, the Caldecott is about telling a story through pictures, and in this book the tools of art are our narrators.  They write letters of protest to their owner, citing misuse (often overuse), and seek redress.  Spoiler alert: By the end of the tale, the child artist hears their grievances, and finds a new way of using color in his work.  Like the above book, Jeffers and Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is also a meditation on the artist’s process.  Only this one is funnier.

Molly Idle, Flora and the FlamingoMolly Idle, Flora and the Flamingo

With beautifully expressive drawings, a line as smooth as Al Hirschfeld’s, and a magnificent use of white space, Molly Idle‘s Flora and the Flamingo offers much to admire.  Flora, a little girl whose physique does not suggest “ballet,” aspires to that sort of physical grace. With the help of the flamingo, the two dance a sublime, gently comic, duet.  Lifting the flaps (on the pages on which they appear) allows the reader to better “see” the movements of both girl and bird.  I’d read nearly all of our finalists prior to the Mock Caldecott conversations, but today was my introduction to Idle’s work. I look forward to reading more of it.

Should’ve Been Contenders!

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes WildAs is always the case, there were many great books that don’t get the votes.  Peter Brown‘s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild came in fourth in our voting.  It’s an hilarious, well-designed story of the need to, well, go a little wild every now and then.  (I read it is a kind of a riff on Where the Wild Things Are.)  Our other finalists were Melissa Sweet‘s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (text by Michelle Markel), Jon Klassen‘s The Dark (text by Lemony Snicket), and Eliza Wheeler‘s Miss Maple’s Seeds.

I really wanted to see Bob Staake‘s Bluebird, Frank Viva‘s A Long Way Away, and David Wiesner‘s Mr. Wuffles among the contenders, but none of these garnered a majority’s worth of votes.  Nor, sadly, did Lizi Boyd‘s Inside Outside, and, ah, I could go on.  But I won’t.

There were many beautiful picture books published in the U.S. in 2013.  As my colleague Joe Sutliff Sanders observed, this has been a great year for book design.  I’m paraphrasing him — but that was the gist of his comment.  And he’s right.

People reading picture books, at the Mock Caldecott, Manhattan, KS, 7 Dec. 2013

What are your favorite picture books from 2013? Which one do you think deserves the Caldecott Medal?

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It’s a Wild World: Maurice Sendak, Wild Things, and Childhood

My fellow Niblings (Betsy Bird, Julie Walker DanielsonTravis Jonker) and I decided a few months ago that it’d be fun to coordinate some blog posts today in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Where the Wild Things Are. It’s 50 years old, having been originally released in Fall 1963. After some research, we figured out that its release was in October of that year. Here’s my contribution.


Maurice Sendak’s work makes adults uncomfortable, and these adults then consequently worry about how children will feel. Will a Sendak book make children uncomfortable, too? they wonder. Or What sort of child does the Sendak book expect as its reader?  Or, even, What is a child? The Sendak book that got us adults asking these questions is Where the Wild Things Are, published 50 years ago, in October 1963.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)

In his infamous 1969 Ladies Home Journal piece, Bruno Bettelheim — who had not then read Where the Wild Things Are (1963) — worried about the book’s effect on “the child.” As he said, “The basic anxiety of the child is desertion. To be sent to bed alone is one desertion, and without food is the second desertion. The combination is the worst desertion that can threaten a child” (48). Yet, as Maria Tatar points out, Bettelheim shares Sendak’s view that reading stories about childhood anxieties can be potentially therapeutic, a way for children to (in Sendak’s words) tame wild things through fantasy. One of our foremost scholars of fairy tales (the darkest genre within children’s literature, and a genre originally not for children at all), Tatar herself wonders whether Dear Mili (1988) — Sendak’s version of a Wilhelm Grimm tale — is suitable for children. “There are good reasons why we do not start out stories with descriptions of widows who have lost all their children but one or end them with images of mother and daughter lying down and dying,” she writes, and then partially disavows this criticism in her next sentence: “This is not to say that children should be shielded from descriptions of material hardships and death, only that they are not necessarily better off when entertained with stories that reflect or take as their point of departure the social and cultural realities of an age other than their own” (220). Kenneth Kidd, Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature (2011)In an essay on allegory in Sendak, Geraldine DeLuca considers In the Night Kitchen (1970) “true to a child’s experience” but Outside Over There (1981) unsuitable for children because “we — particularly children — are left at the end of this work with too much pain” (14, 22).  Kenneth Kidd, whose chapter from Freud in Oz (2011) is one of the sharpest analyses of Sendak, also codifies his notion of childhood in contrast with his assessment of Sendak’s. As he writes, “While Sendak neither romanticizes the child nor minimizes the child’s experiences with trauma, his makeover of monstrosity amounts to a kind of gentling of the child rather than a celebration of childhood’s radical alterity” (131). In other words, for Kidd, childhood is a state of radical alterity, but Sendak minimizes that, offering instead (as Kidd says later) “the domestication of wildness” (135).

While a good deal of literary criticism reveals as much about the critic as it does about the work, Maurice Sendak’s work is especially adept at calling forth our emotional responses. Or, to put this another way, the effect of Sendak’s art is affect. His books are good at making us feel. So, while appeals to emotion or to vaguely defined ideas of “the child” can mar scholarship of children’s literature, Maurice Sendak’s work actually requires us to venture into these potentially risky areas.

As I argue in an essay forthcoming in the January 2014 issue of PMLA, Sendak’s affective aesthetic derives from several sources. (What you are reading now includes only what I had to cut from that essay, plus a few new ideas.)

Part I. A Book is to Feel: Ruth Krauss’s Influence

A major source is Ruth Krauss. Sendak illustrated eight of her books between 1952 and 1960, often spending his weekends at the home of Krauss and her husband Crockett Johnson — a period of time Sendak has referred to as his apprenticeship into the world of children’s books. One thing he learned from her is to embrace the wildness of children. As Sendak told me in a 2001 interview, “Max has his roots in Ruth Krauss. You know, her phrase that kids were allowed to be as cruel and maniacal as she knew they were.  Studying them at Bank Street, she knew what monstrosities children are.”

advertisement for Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, New York Times, 1 Dec 1963

Indeed, Ruth Krauss’s A Very Special House (1953) — the second of her books illustrated by Sendak — might be read as the first version of Where the Wild Things Are. As George Bodmer puts it, each book has “a solitary child who falls into fantastic adventures that spring up from his thoughts” (181). The unnamed child of A Very Special House climbs the chairs, jumps on the bed, and draws on the walls, allowing him (through his art) to bring home “a turtle / and a rabbit and a giant / and a little dead mouse / — I take it everywheres — / and some monkeys and some skunkeys / and a very old lion.” Though the boy wears overalls throughout, in one scene he dons a white smock and a “Valkyries” style horned helmet, a costume that echoes the horns on Max’s white wolf suit. In Where the Wild Things Are, Max is comparably transgressive. He hangs his teddy bear, hammers a nail into the wall, chases the dog with a fork, imagines his room into a forest, and sails off to the land of the wild things — who, like the giant and old lion in A Very Special House, are both much larger than he is and willing to be ruled by him.

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, A Very Special House (1953)

Contemporary reviews also noted both books’ celebration of rule-breaking. The Atlantic Monthly’s reviewer praised A Very Special House’s “unorthodox” qualities and suggested that, while it is “no handbook for deportment,” “in the blowing-off-steam department, it deserves an award” (qtd in Nel 137). Wild Things’ reception was more mixed, but, writing of Max’s “fantasy of rage,” the New York Times noted that the book “projects, releases, and masters a universal experience for the child” (qtd. in Lanes 107). Though neither child faces punishment for his unruliness, there’s more conflict in Wild Things than in the earlier book: in A Very Special House, “NOBODY ever says stop stop stop”; in Wild Things, Max’s mother sends him to bed without supper, though ultimately relents — Max finds “his supper waiting for him” at the end.

Ruth Krauss: Harper advertisement, 1954

One reason that people respond to Max as if he and his adventures were real is that Sendak also learned from Krauss to “keep it real.” As he said, Krauss’s “The Carrot Seed, with not a word or a picture out of place, is dramatic, vivid, precise, concise in every detail. It springs fresh from the real world of children, the Bank Street world of listening to children and recording and re-creating their startling speech patterns and curious, pragmatic thinking processes” (“Ruth Krauss and Me” 286). He’s wrong about the book’s composition: The Carrot Seed (1945) derived from Krauss’s imagined conversation with a 5-year-old neighbor. But he’s right about Krauss’s compositional methods during the period she worked with him. Beginning with A Hole Is to Dig (the first book of hers that he illustrated), Krauss used children’s spontaneous utterances in her books.

As Kenneth Kidd has pointed out, Sendak’s own experience in psychoanalysis (which he entered at roughly the same time he began working on Krauss’s books) also played a role in his art’s realism, as it helped him both access his childhood emotions and use them in his work: “His books also resemble the child-adult playwork practiced by child analysts, which is hardly surprising since Sendak imitates some of their techniques. Sendak, in short, is the consummate picturebook psychologist” (105).

Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, A Hole Is to Dig (1952): "Mud is to jump in and slide in..."

Krauss, who also saw a psychologist, also taught Sendak not to repress his emotions. As he told me in that same 2001 interview, she taught him how to curse. Most interviews with Sendak excise the cursing, but his use of profanity was fluent, even exuberant. His and Krauss’s child characters don’t say “fuck” (as Sendak did), but they do shout at us.  In A Hole Is to Dig, a two-page spread of sixteen muddy children inform us: “Mud is to jump in and slide in and yell doodleedoodleedoo!”  In the Krauss-Sendak collaboration I’ll Be You and You Be Me (1954), an older child stands between two warring smaller children, and asks one “Is there something you want to say to Dickie?” With his fist raised and an angry eyebrow slanted downward, Dickie answers, “Yes! I want to put him in the garbage can.”  In his own work, Sendak also conveys the understanding that using a large, loud voice can be a small person’s main source of power. Where the Wild Things Are alleges that Max tames the wild things “with the magic trick of staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once,” but that “trick” begins with Max’s voice.  He shouts, “BE STILL!”  And they obey.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963): til Max Said "BE STILL!" and tamed them with the magic trick

The impulse to draw from real children also grants Sendak access to a wide range of childhood experiences. Though Max has come to symbolize the Sendakian child, there is no single Sendakian child, no unified field theory of “childhood” that emerges in his work. Nor is there any unified style — in part because Ursula Nordstrom (his editor) and Krauss insisted that he try different approaches. As he told me, “I had to keep changing styles, and this is something Ruth did too.  Beating me over the back not to become a stylist.” I replied, “Don’t fall into a rut.” He said, “Yeah. Don’t get a style where you’re always recognizable.” So, as Leonard Marcus notes, for Sendak, “the visual manner and medium of a book mattered far less than the emotional truth it had to tell” (19).

Part II. The Emotional Landscape of Childhood

Though drawing on his own early childhood, Sendak managed to create books that resonated (and continue to resonate) with readers’ sense of their own childhoods. He understood that, as Mo Willems observed just after Sendak’s death, “However life changes for children, and how childhood is defined over generations, there’s still an inner life. Everything that you do as a child is for the first time. So, when you fail — even by walking and tripping — that’s your first failure.  And it’s massive” (Andersen). Amplifying parts of his own particular experience, Sendak was able to convey something from this shared “inner life,” something that felt universal. This feeling is one reason why critics tend to read his work as saying something definitive about “the child” or childhood. We recognize experiences from our childhoods in the art inspired by Sendak’s.

Maurice Sendak, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993)Granting us access to that “inner life,” the faces of Sendak’s characters telegraph their emotions. In Where the Wild Things Are, Max’s face conveys a full range of emotions — anger (at his mother), joy (as he sets sail on the boat), imperiousness (as he becomes king of the wild things), and melancholy (when he longs for home). When he gets home, his light smile and half-closed eye conveys contentment. But many of Sendak’s later books do not end quite so happily.  As the rat tries to carry him off stage right, the “poor little kid” in We’re All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993) has a black eye, and his mouth open to cry out — likely the word “help,” the sole thing he utters in the book (five times in all). To the left of him, “THE MOON’S IN A FIT”: an angry-faced moon has lifted Jack and Guy up by their newspaper robes; their feet dangling over the ground and their mouths downturned, the boys’ eyes look out at the reader, uncertainly. Just left of them, the other homeless children flee off to the left of the page, defying the typical left-to-right movement across the page.  It’s an unsettling scene in a book that ends with children only temporarily safer, sleeping in a sidewalk shantytown. The ending of Outside Over There is ambivalent at best. Armed only with a “wonder horn,” Ida travels into “outside over there,” defeats the goblins with her music, rescues her younger sister and brings her home to mother. However, as playwright Tony Kushner observes, “The reunion of Ida and her sister with their mother at the end of Outside is reassuring, though … Sendak has taken pains to limit that comfort”: the baby is tearful, and Ida and her mother “look resigned rather than joyful at the news that their absent husband/father will return ‘one day,’ which is not, of course, especially reassuring news — when, exactly?” (The Art of Maurice Sendak Since 1980 22).

Of course, as Sendak observed, “Children know about death and sorrow and sadness” (Zarin).  And attempts to protect them from books that address dark subjects may underestimate them.  Sendak again: “We should let children choose their own books. What they don’t like they will toss aside. What disturbs them too much they will not look at. And if they look at the wrong book, it isn’t going to do them that much damage. We treat children in a peculiar way, I think. We don’t treat them like the strong creatures they really are” (Lanes 106).

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963): That very night in Max's room a forest grewSendak was wise to defend the right to tell stories that may upset us and Bettelheim was unwise to criticize a book he had never read. (Sendak never forgave him for that, either. In conversation, he referred to him derisively as “Benno Brutal-heim.”) However, Bettelheim is also not wrong to suggest that Where the Wild Things Are may upset young readers. I was one of those children who found the book terrifying, though not for the reasons Bettelheim mentioned. The book frightened me because I knew it was true: The boundary between real and imagined worlds was perilously fragile. When the lights went out, my bedroom could very easily turn into a jungle, bringing me far too close to the land of the wild things, who “gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” As an adult, I realize that the wild things’ googly eyes make them look more goofy than threatening. As a child, I focused only on their size, their talon-like claws, and their sharp teeth. As a result, I read Where the Wild Things Are once. After that, I kept my distance. Mine may be a minority opinion. During his childhood, Mo Willems thought it “an empowering book” (Andersen). The vast majority of my students recall enjoying the book during their childhoods. But the book does have the power to frighten.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963): the wild rumpus

However, that power is what makes Where the Wild Things Are such a great book. That power is what has made it endure, and is what helped to establish Sendak not just as one of the great artists but as one of the great interpreters of childhood. Sendak understood the sometimes scary complexities of being a child. He had the courage to convey those truths both in his work, and in his role as spokesperson for both children’s literature and children themselves. As Kidd points out, by the middle of the twentieth century, the picture book author-illustrator began to assume the role of “something like an expert on childhood, even a lay child analyst,” whose expertise “came from proximity to childhood” (123).  For example, those who do not study, read or write children’s literature were a little scandalized by Sendak’s appearance on the Colbert Report, during which the author suggested that the mouse of You Give a Mouse a Cookie “should be exterminated,” claimed that “Most books for children are very bad,” and conceded that it was “a miracle that I have lived this long without having destroyed a person.”  But those of us who do study, read, or write children’s literature laughed and applauded Sendak’s grumpy wisdom. We thought: That “Mouse” book is so relentlessly average — good riddance! And: Children’s literature is art! And: He speaks for us!

Whether we knew him personally or not, he was a giant. He had come to define the field of children’s literature.  So, when Sendak passed away in May last year, we all gathered on the web to mourn his passing and celebrate his work.  As Daniel Handler (best known by his pseudonym Lemony Snicket) said, “It’s almost impossible to overstate his importance. He’s a North Star in the firmament of anyone who makes children’s books, in particular for his dark and clear-eyed view of the world that was kindred to me when I was in kindergarten and kindred to me now. He gives neither the comfort nor the horror of sentimentality” (Italie). Novelist Gregory Maguire, graphic novelist Art Spiegelman, picture-book legend Tomi Ungerer, scholar Maria Tatar and dozens of others all wrote or drew tributes. Neil Gaiman wrote two. As Kenneth Kidd noted at the time, “my Facebook newsfeed is a virtual wake” (“Goodbye, Maurice”).

Sendak has sailed off on the journey from which none return, but his books continue to provide safe passage for us to explore the land of the wild things. The creatures of his imagination speak to the realities of our world — a world in which children shout at adults, get lonely, and dance the wild rumpus. A world in which they are misunderstood, frightened, and (we hope) loved by their caregivers.  It’s a wild world, and it’s getting wilder every day.


Works Cited

Andersen, Kurt. “Mo Willems remembers author Maurice Sendak” Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen 13 May 2012 <http://www.pri.org/stories/arts-entertainment/books/mo-willems-remembers-author-maurice-sendak-9853.html>.

Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Care and Feeding of Monsters.”  Ladies Home Journal Mar 1969: 48.

Bodmer, George. “Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s Early Illustration.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 11.4 (Winter 1986-87): 180-183

DeLuca, Geraldine. “Exploring the Levels of Childhood: The Allegorical Sensibility of Maurice Sendak.” Children’s Literature 12 (1984): 3-24.

“Grim Colberty Tales, Part 1.” The Colbert Report 24 Jan. 2012. <http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/406796/january-24-2012/grim-colberty-tales-with-maurice-sendak-pt–1>.

“Grim Colberty Tales, Part 2.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. 25 Jan. 2012. <http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/406902/january-25-2012/grim-colberty-tales-with-maurice-sendak-pt–2>.

Grimm, Wilhelm. Dear Mili.  Translated by Ralph Manheim with pictures by Maurice Sendak.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Michael di Capua Books), 1988.

Italie, Halel. “Writers Remember Maurice Sendak.” Chicago Sun-Times 10 May 2012: <http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/books/12430172-421/writers-remember-maurice-sendak.html>.

Kidd, Kenneth B. Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children’s Literature.  Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

—. “Goodbye, Maurice. And Thank You.” University of Minnesota Press Blog. 10 May 2012: <http://www.uminnpressblog.com/2012/05/kenneth-b-kidd-goodbye-maurice-and.html>.

Krauss, Ruth. A Hole Is to Dig. Pictures by Maurice Sendak. 1952. New York: HarperTrophy (HarperCollins), 1989.

—. A Very Special House. Pictures by Maurice Sendak. 1953. New York: HarperCollins, 1981.

—. I’ll Be You And You Be Me.  Pictures by Maurice Sendak.  1954.  HarperCollins, 1982.

—. The Carrot Seed.  Illustrated by Crockett Johnson. 1945.  New York: HarperFestival, 1993.

Kushner, Tony. The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Lanes, Selma G. The Art of Maurice Sendak. 1980. New York: Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams, 1993.

Marcus, Leonard S., editor. Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work. New York: Abrams, 2013.

Nel, Philip. Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, September 2012.

—. Telephone interview with Maurice Sendak. 22 June 2001.

Numeroff, Laura Joffe.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Illustrated by Felicia Bond.  New York: HarperCollins, 1985.

Sendak, Maurice.  In the Night Kitchen. 1970. HarperCollins, 1995.

—. Outside Over There. New York: HarperCollins, 1981.

—. “Ruth Krauss and Me: A Very Special Partnership.” The Horn Book Magazine 70.3 (May-June 1994): 286-90.

—. We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

—. Where the Wild Things Are. 1963. HarperCollins, 1988.

Tatar, Maria.  “Wilhelm Grimm/Maurice Sendak: Dear Mili and the Literary Culture of Childhood.” The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Ed. Donald Haase. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993. 207-229.

“Uncensored — Maurice Sendak Tribute & ‘I Am a Pole (And So Can You!)’ Release.” The Colbert Report 8 May 2012. <http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/413972/may-08-2012/uncensored—maurice-sendak-tribute—-i-am-a-pole–and-so-can-you—-release>.

Zarin, Cynthia. “Not Nice.” New Yorker 17 Apr. 2006. Literary Reference Center. Web. 2 July 2013.


A different variation on the argument presented above will appear as “Wild Things, I Think I Love You: Maurice Sendak, Ruth Krauss, and Childhood” in PMLA 129.1 (Jan. 2014).


The Niblings on Where the Wild Things Are at 50


More on Sendak (mostly on this blog)

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What Happens Next? A Review of S. S. Taylor’s The Expeditioners

S. S. Taylor, The Expeditioners, illustrated by Katherine Roy (2012)When will the next book in the series be published?

This was my first thought upon finishing S. S. Taylor’s The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon (McSweeney’s McMullens, 2012). It’s a mystery-adventure-fantasy set in a dystopian parallel universe, where four children seek the answers to a mysterious map, as they evade agents of a corrupt American government, and uncover more mysteries along the way.

I don’t want to give too much away here, but — as in any good mystery — the book has a strong narrative drive, keeping you wondering what will happen next.  In the first chapter, Kit (the narrator) gets chased through a marketplace, and then caught by a man with a clockwork hand. The man gives him a package that seems to have come from Kit’s late father.  And that’s all of the plot I’m going to tell you.

The main characters — two boys, two girls — are fully realized, and I was particularly pleased to note that both of the female protagonists are strong and smart.  The secondary characters are also credible, including Leo and Lazlo Nackley, a powerful father and sneering son who reminded me a little of Lucius and Draco Malfoy. There’s Mr. Mountmorris, a Machiavellian and frog-like historian, who… ah, I again feel I should resist the impulse to describe him further.

On Facebook, my friend Marah Gubar compared The Expeditioners to Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society (2007), suggesting that those who enjoyed that novel will also like this one.  She’s right. I would also add that The Expeditioners is faster-paced, and pulls you in more swiftly than Stewart’s book. Taylor — who I have known for about a dozen years — honed her narrative craft as a mystery writer (for adults), and this well-plotted tale clearly benefits from that experience.

When my two-year-old niece is about seven, I will definitely be adding this book to Emily’s Library. I think she’ll enjoy it. If you love mystery and adventure, you’ll enjoy The Expeditioners, too.

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Strike!

As American fast food workers strike for a living wage, it’s worth remembering that this struggle has a long history. It’s also worth teaching some of this history to children, so that they can learn about collective action, and fighting back against the powerful.  Julia Mickenberg and I collect some of these stories in the “Work” and “Organize” sections of our anthology, Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature (2007), but there are many more such stories out there.  Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet‘s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (2013) is one of those.

Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet, Brave GirlA picture book published earlier this year, Brave Girl tells of newly arrived immigrant Clara Lemlich, who — as Markel’s text tells us — “knows in her bones what is right and what is wrong.”  When “no one will hire Clara’s father,” she gets a job as a garment worker to support her family, and quickly discovers what is wrong: companies hire immigrant girls to make clothing, paying them just a few dollars a month. Markel effectively dramatizes the cruel working conditions: “locked up in a factory,” she and the other young women are “stitching collars, sleeves, and cuffs as fast as they can. ‘Hurry up, hurry up,’ the bosses yell. The sunless room is stuffy from all the bodies crammed inside. There are two filthy toilets, on sink and three towels for three hundred girls to share.”  They’re also fined a half day’s pay for being a few minutes late, fined if they prick a finger and bleed on the cloth, and fired if that happens twice.  With just a few vivid details, Markel’s words and Sweet’s images gives us a sense of the oppressive, stifling working conditions.

“But Clara is uncrushable,” Markel tells us.  That’s one of the key messages of the book.  Clara is a fighter.  Hungry and exhausted, she goes to the library to learn, getting by on a few hours of sleep a night. When the men don’t think that the women are tough enough to join a union and strike, Clara (the book always calls her by her first name, perhaps to create greater intimacy between character and reader) leads them out on strike.  Police arrest her, hired thugs beat her: “They break six of her ribs, but they can’t break her spirit. It’s shatterproof.”

Another key message is that collective action creates change. At the book’s climax, Clara calls for a general strike, and in the winter of 1909 leads 20,000 garment workers out on a general strike.

Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet, Brave Girl

The third important lesson young readers will take away here is that progress is hard-won and imperfect. The garment workers win the right to unionize, gaining better pay and a shorter workweek. However, getting there required them to walk the picket lines in the dead of winter, where they faced police brutality, backed by a legal system indifferent to their cause. In the end, though 339 dress manufacturers agreed to unions, the Triangle Waist Factory — where Clara herself worked — did not. Indeed, two years after this strike, the Triangle Waist Factory’s business practices (such as locking the workers in) killed 146 when a fire broke out in the building.

Amplified by Melissa Sweet’s watercolors and fabric-themed collages, Markel offers a history that should inspire a new generation of activists.  So, as you celebrate Labor Day today, remember the unions that made it possible.

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Dutch Treat

A brief report on the 2013 International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) conference (held this year in Maastricht), including: Dutch children’s literature, street signs, and a loss of confidence in cut flowers.

Tow-Truck Pluck and other tales by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Annie M. G. Schmidt, Tow-Truck_PluckI first read of Annie M. G. Schmidt in Guus Kuijer’s masterpiece, The Book of Everything (if you haven’t read this book, go read it now). Thanks to Kuijer, I bought Pink Lemonade, a collection of her poems. In a bookshop in Amsterdam earlier this month, after picking up her Jip and Janneke (1963), I was talking to a clerk about Dutch children’s literature.  He said yes, Dutch children all know Jip and Janneke, but everyone grew up reading Schmidt’s Tow-Truck Pluck (1971). That’s the one I should get, he said.  So, I bought both books, and have been thoroughly enjoying Tow-Truck Pluck. It’s charming, whimsical, and wise.  Reminds me a bit of Astrid Lindgren, actually.  During the IRSCL, I and some friends also attended the film adaptation (2001) of her book Minoes (1970), the story of a cat who turns into a young lady and assists a shy reporter. More English-speaking readers should get acquainted with Schmidt’s work.  (Bonus: she translated Harold and the Purple Crayon into Dutch — Paultje en het paarse krijtje.)

Dick Bruna, MiffyMiffy!

I think more English-speakers know Dick Bruna’s Miffy books, or at least are familiar with his iconic character.  (My general sense is that she’s better known in the UK than in the US or Canada.) But she’s such a phenomenon in the Netherlands that there’s an entire store devoted to Miffy and other Dick Bruna paraphernalia.  Here is a photo from inside the Miffy store in Maastricht:

The Miffy Store, Maastricht

Anne Frank

The Story of Anne Frank (book)The most famous Dutch child is actually German. As I learned at the Anne Frank House, Otto Frank moved his family from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in order to escape Nazi persecution. (Before Maastricht, I spent a few days wandering Amsterdam and visiting my cousin.) If you are ever in Amsterdam, definitely visit the Anne Frank House. I had to wait a little over an hour in line, but it was well worth it. The museum is very well-organized, and contains lots of illuminating artifacts — including videos, photos, and the diary itself. It’s actually in the building where she and her family hid until they were betrayed to the Nazis. You can climb the stairs to where the family lived while in hiding. I was most struck by something Otto Frank — the sole survivor of the two families who lived two years in the Annex — said, on one of the videos. He said that the Anne Frank he encountered in the diaries was not the daughter he knew. The diaries revealed a side of her that he never saw. From this, he concluded that no parents ever truly know their children.

Bart Moeyaert

Bart Moeyaert at the Selexyz Bookstore in Maastricht

“All of us are composed of compost.  And all of us are capable of sewing seeds of happiness.”

— Bart Moeyaert

As I mentioned, I was in Maastricht for the IRSCL (Aug. 10-14), and while it would be impossible to offer a full account of that conference (there were about 9 concurrent sessions), here are a few highlights.  Bart Moeyaert‘s dinner speech on Sunday was magnificent.  He began by greeting us, “Good evening ladies and 11 gentlemen.”  (There are far more women who study children’s literature than men, and IRSCL attendance reflected that.)  Then, he started his speech with the sentence “Recently I lost confidence in cut flowers.” What followed was a wise, witty, beautiful speech about hope, happiness, and, yes, cut flowers.

Bart Moeyaert's Dani Bennoni: Long May He Live

The way he spoke reminded me of Guus Kuijer’s Book of Everything — which, as I say, is a favorite (and seems to be the sole Kuijer book in English).  So, I now want to read Moeyaert’s books, about five of which have been translated into English.  I have just placed an order for his Dani Bennoni: Long May He Live (2004) and It’s Love We Don’t Understand (1999).

Keywords for Children’s Literature, International Edition

“Imagine a conference on Literature.”

— Emer O’Sullivan

Until IRSCL, I’d not even heard of Bart Moeyaert, despite the fact that he is an award-winning novelist and poet.  This is why I went to his talk and why I attend IRSCL in the first place: I want to learn more about the vast world of children’s literature. As Emer O’Sullivan observed, “There are very few conferences so international [as IRSCL]. Imagine a conference on Literature.”  And she’s right. That’s what makes the field so unmanageable and so interesting.

She made that comment during our roundtable, “Towards an International Version of Keywords for Children’s Literature,” which featured (from left to right, below), me (co-chair), Emer O’Sullivan, Nina Alonso, Nina Christensen, and Lissa Paul (co-chair).  (Photo by Sarah Park Dahlen).

Roundtable: Towards an International Version of Keywords for Children's Literature (IRSCL, Maastricht): Philip Nel, Emer O'Sullivan, Nina Alonso, Nina Christensen, Lissa Paul

If Keywords for Children’s Literature (NYU P, 2011) does well enough commercially, Lissa and I will edit a second edition that adds missing keywords and missing perspectives.  The original book’s contributors are from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; one editor (me) is American, and the other (Lissa) Canadian.  So, it’s very focused on children’s literature in English (as its introduction acknowledges). At a Nordic Children’s Literature Conference in Oslo last August, attendees asked us: Where’s the Nordic Literature?  And we thought: Right. Good point. So, thanks to Nina Christensen and the encouragement of Mavis Reimer (both of whom were at the conference), we convened this panel, during which we both gained many valuable suggestions on how we might proceed, and learned how challenging such a task would be.  Should one “internationalize” an extant entry by simply weaving in references to texts from non-Anglo countries?  If so, then which texts?  And what about keywords that emerge out of a particular linguistic or cultural context?  We need more contributors from different countries, and (we think) an editor from a non-English speaking country.  Should we get the opportunity, creating a more international edition will be a daunting task, but one very much worth pursuing.

A specialist in empathy

My life as a dogWe go to conferences to learn from other people. Here are a few of the good ideas I heard.

I keep coming back to the line, “I am a specialist in empathy,” from Ingemar, the 13-year-old narrator of Reidar Jönsson’s novel My Life as a Dog. Ingemar says, “I also keep track of other peoples’ accidents. Not only my own. One must compare. In reality, I am a specialist in empathy.”  I’m as intrigued by the notion (how would one become a specialist in empathy?) as I was by the paper in which it appeared: Nina Christensen’s analysis of three iterations of Laika in children’s culture.  (The other two were Lilian Brøgger’s picture book Nina Sardina, and the short film The Little Dog Laika).

The disabled thing

Shaun Tan, The Lost ThingNicole Markotic interpreted the title character of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing as a metaphor for disability. It’s out of place in other ways than just being lost — its non-normative body also marks it as different in this society.  I’d never thought about that, nor that the boy himself’s anti-social behavior and obsessive collecting also aligns him (metaphorically) with an autistic child.

Against empathy

Lydia Kokkola‘s “Limiting Empathy: Refusing to Care About Literary Characters” taught me about affect and its limits in literary criticism.  I especially liked her willingness to interrogate assumptions she had thought to be true.  She had wanted to believe that empathizing with a character, feeling her trauma, would help us grow in understanding. But she’s changed her mind.  I can’t do her argument justice, but her bibliography (incomplete, compiled from my notes) forms a great reading list for anyone interested in affect.

  • Kenneth B. Kidd, “‘A’ is for Auschwitz: Psychoanalysis, Trauma Theory, and the ‘Children’s Literature of Atrocity’” Children’s Literature 23 (2005): 120-149. I’ve read this one, and recommend it.
  • Eric Tribunella, Melancholia and Maturation: The Use of Trauma in American Children’s Literature (2009). I also recommend this one.
  • Simon Baron-Cohen, Zero Degrees of Empathy (2012). Haven’t read this.
  • Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought (2001). I’ve read about 100 pages of this one. Very interesting.
  • Anastasia Ulanowicz, Second Generation Memory and Contemporary Childrens Literature: Ghost Images (2013)Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity (1997). Haven’t read this.
  • Blakey Vermeule, Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? (2011). Haven’t read this one either.
  • Suzanne Keen, Empathy and the Novel (2010). Lydia Kokkola thinks this and Vermeule are better than Nussbaum, which catches my attention because Nussbaum’s work is smart. (I haven’t read this one.)
  • Anastasia Ulanowicz, Second-Generation Memory and Contemporary Children’s Literature: Ghost Images (2013).  I edited this one!  While that was a pleasant recognition for me, all credit goes to Anastasia. The ideas are all hers.

What does it mean to love and act morally?

Deb Dudek‘s “‘Caring Gets You Dead, huh?’ or ‘all their wonderful nakedness’: Love and Moral Action in the Vampire Diaries” caught me immediately with a great hook of an opening line: “Don’t you just hate it when two beautiful men are in love with you?” But its central question (about the relationship between love and moral action) is what kept me thinking. The paper — which is part of a book project on BuffyTwilight, and (obviously) The Vampire Diaries — ended with a close-reading of Moby’s cover of New Order’s “Temptation.”  If you haven’t heard that cover, you really need to, and so I’m embedding it below.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I missed so much, including Naomi Hamer‘s reading of the Harold and the Purple Crayon app, Libby Gruner on “Misreading the ‘Classics’: Dorks, Wallflowers, and The Catcher in the Rye,” Erica Hateley on Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (film and book both), and many others!  (Too many to list here.)

It says, “This book is worth reading”

Robin Bernstein won the IRSCL book award for Racial Innocence, which is the fifth (or sixth? or more-th?) award that book has won, and rightly so.  She recorded a speech to be played at IRSCL, but… the sound failed.  So, here’s what everyone should have heard.

Walk — Don’t Walk

Challenging the de facto masculine figures that appear in your typical traffic signs, here is one spotted in Maastricht.

walk (Maastricht traffic sign)
don't walk (Maastricht traffic sign)

Half of myself

My favorite part of this conference — and of conferences in general, these days — is people.  I like to learn (as the preceding indicates), but I love seeing friends and making new friends. A note to younger readers who may have read that it’s nigh impossible to make good friends once you’re over 30: don’t believe it.  You can still make good friends in your 30s and 40s (and, I’ll wager, after that!).

Though I have very good friends I met in my late ‘teens / early 20s (and before then), I think that more of the people to whom I am close I have met more recently. This is partly because I’ve moved or because people change. But it’s more because I now understand more acutely that friends are all we have. It’s not that I took friendships for granted when I was younger. I was aware of their necessity and fragility then, too. It’s more that — well, I don’t know that I can articulate precisely why.  Friendships are vital, sustaining, impermanent, though (I think) I now have a stronger sense  of which ones are more likely to endure. I can’t think of anything profound on which to conclude this thought, so I’ll leave you with a quotation from Matteo Ricci’s On Friendship: One Hundred Maxims for a Chinese Prince:

My friend is not an other, but half of myself, and thus a second me — I must therefore regard my friend as myself.

This is not a table

And finally, we bring you:

Do not use this table

(a) Making an ironic point, a sign uses a table in order to advise others not to use it.

(b) An unlikely alliance between table and sign, in which latter defends former.

(c) A firm refutation of the table’s table-ness: if the sign is using that flat surface, then that flat surface cannot be a table.

(d) A table having an identity crisis. And a sign mocking it.

(e) All of the above.

(f) None of the above.

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