Purple Crayons in Connecticut: Two Talks This Week

People of Connecticut! This week, I’ll be giving two talks on two children’s-literature luminaries of the Constitution State — Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  One is free and open to the public, and the other is $5.  Both are lavishly illustrated.  Here’s what you need to know:


Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 4:00 pm

Not So Simple: The Genius of Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon

“Not So Simple: The Genius of Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon.”  Co-op Bookstore at Storrs Center, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.

I’ve since changed the title to “How to Read Harold: A Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson, and the Creation of a Children’s Classic.” Yes, that’s a nod to Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels (Fantagraphics, Nov. 2014), the book-length version of their classic essay, “How to Read Nancy” (1988). In this 50-minute illustrated talk, I offer 14 ways of thinking about Harold and the Purple Crayon. My goal in doing so is to consider how complex an apparently simple story can be, and, in so doing, offer a case study in what we miss when we underestimate, trivialize, or simply fail to look closely at children’s literature.


Friday, September 26, 2014, 7:30 pm

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

“Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.” Rowayton Community Center, 33 Highland Ave., Rowayton, CT.

In other words, I’m giving the talk based on my biography in the town where Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss lived for nearly 30 years.

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More Expeditioners! A Chat with S. S. Taylor

S.S. Taylor, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton's LairGreat news for fans of S. S. Taylor’s The Expeditioners! The second book is out! OK, officially, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair will be published on September 23, but Barnes & Noble says that it’s already shipping. So, I would guess that you can order it now — from there or (preferably!) your local bookseller. If you have not read the first book, The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon (2012), well, you’ll want to start there, of course. And then — lucky for you — you can dive right into book two!

S.S. TaylorS.S. Taylor kindly took the time to chat with me about The Expeditioners, via Gmail chat, earlier today. At only one point did I mention a spoiler, but I’ve blotted out that sentence so that you’ll need to select the text in order to see what it says. In addition to discussing her influences, her thoughts on dystopias, and other matters, I also learned that the Expeditioners will be more than a trilogy. So, that’s even better news for fans of the first book!

Enough prologue.  Here’s our conversation.

Philip Nel:  Thanks for taking the time to chat about The Expeditioners!

S.S. Taylor:  Thank YOU!

S. S. Taylor and Ben Towle, Amelia EarhartNel:  My pleasure!  First question.  Prior to The Expeditioners, you wrote mysteries, and a graphic novel about Amelia Earhart. Were there any ways in which those writing experiences prepared you for this one (if, indeed, they did)?

Taylor:  Absolutely. I think I’ve always liked writing about ordinary people who have extraordinary things happen to them. That’s pretty much the definition of an amateur detective novel and Amelia Earhart sort of fits that bill too. She was a social worker before she became a famous pilot.

Nel:  Ah. Good point. Even real-world extraordinary people (often) start as ordinary people. We just forget that fact because we only know them — or, really, know of them — because of their extraordinary achievements.

Taylor:  Exactly. That was what drew me to the early part of Amelia’s career, which I focus on in the graphic novel. She (and we) didn’t know who she was going to be yet. And obviously adventure novels for kids are about extraordinary things happening to kids, which is every kid’s fantasy. Even though Kit’s father was an Explorer, he is surprised at being drawn into this crazy adventure.

Nel:  Right, right. And you really get the sense in The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair that — hmmm, I want to phrase this in a way that isn’t a spoiler — as in a classic fantasy narrative, there are people who are “chosen” to follow certain paths.

(Incidentally, if we do get into any “spoiler” territory, I can just reproduce that part of the interview so that people have to select the text in order to read it.)

Taylor:  Yeah. It’s a trope, but for good reason. I think every kid — I know I did — feels like she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to DO, what her purpose it. Do I matter? Why am I here? All that great existential stuff that comes up around age 10 or 11 or 12. And characters who discover that they are meant for great and important things let kids try on a huge and important destiny, if that makes sense, while they figure out what their real one is.

Nel:  Heck, I think many adults feel like they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. “Do I matter? Why am I here?” I ask those questions all of the time.

Taylor:  Me too!

Nel:  Well, perhaps one day we’ll grow up and find our destiny, eh?

Taylor:  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone just said, “You? Oh you’re supposed to save the world from evil”?

Nel:  Would it?  That sounds terrifying.

Taylor:  But clear!

Nel:  True. Clear and terrifying!  A winning combination!  Well, if you survive….

S. S. Taylor, The Expeditioners, illustrated by Katherine Roy (2012)So, speaking of combinations, I wonder if you think in terms of genre at all.  Do you?  I ask because, if I had to classify these novels, I’d say they’re steampunk adventure fantasy mysteries, with a bit of science fiction, too.  (I love the attention given to the alternate world’s technology.)  They don’t neatly fit into one genre, and I like that. But, as a writer, do you worry about these labels?

Taylor:  I started out thinking of them as straight-up adventure novels. But I discovered that a lot of the things I wanted to say about the world put it firmly in SF and steampunk territory. It’s funny because I think a lot of the inspiration came out of my interest in colonialism and imperialism and sort of trying to reimagine the age of exploration with a more contemporary view of colonialism and imperialism but in order to do that, I needed to create this futuristic, SF world.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing anything that doesn’t have a mystery in it.

Nel:  Ah! I was picking up on that anti-colonialist / anti-imperialist bent.  I love it when Coleman says, “I don’t say ‘discovered’ because as far as the Arawak people who were living here were concerned, they didn’t need to be discovered. They’d been here for a long time. They hadn’t wanted to be found.”

Taylor:  A long way of saying that I don’t worry much about labels. I still describe them as adventure novels. I love Katherine Roy‘s illustrations for the book and I think she’s done such a great job of capturing that mix of genres, of old-fashioned adventure stories, but also the steampunk and SF elements.

Nel:  I’m glad you mention Roy’s art — love her work, too. Perfectly compliments your text. And, returning to what you said a moment before, having the mystery gene (if that’s what it is) is a great gift, I would think — because that sense of mystery keeps people turning the pages.

Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of ThikaTaylor:  Yeah, I loved novels like The Flame Trees of Thika and Agatha Christie as a kid and I think this is my attempt to retain some of the romance of that literature, but to hopefully ask the questions that will make readers think about what it is to be the colonized person.

Nel:  Nicely put. I was thinking of these as like classic adventure narratives from the early twentieth-century, but with a critique of colonialism instead of a passive (or active) endorsement. The first Expeditioners novel, too. They “find” this “lost” civilization, but have the good sense to let it stay lost.  OK, that’s a spoiler to anyone who’s not read the first book.  I’ll blot that out.

Taylor:  Yup. I was just reading about uncontacted people in the Amazon and how the Brazilian government is grappling with how to protect them. It’s so complicated.

Nel:  Indeed. That also brings me to another question I have. What sort of research do you do in creating the world of The Expeditioners? The world of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials was heavily influenced by the research he did into Victorian England for the Sally Lockhart books. I would guess that research on Amelia Earhart may have helped with Sukey (especially in the first book). But I’m going to guess there was a fair bit of research involved for the rest, yes?

Taylor:  Yeah. I did some research on Victorian technology, steam, clockwork mechanisms, etc., but also on the early days of petroleum exploration. I think it was more casting my imagination into this alternate world though, and saying, “Okay, if petroleum hadn’t been discovered in great quantities yet, what would have been available to people?” I also did a lot of research into fascist/totalitarian governments and how they did things, how they created bureaucracy. That was fun

And I read a lot about the golden age of exploration, trying to imagine if it had happened later than it did.

Nel:  Fun with fascism! (Well, in a fictional sense.) Indeed, if I had to add another genre to my “genre” mix, above, I notice a dystopic strain running through the Expeditioners books — food shortages, oligarchical / totalitarian government. If you’re doing research into fascist/totalitarian governments, I assume you’re conscious of that strain(?). If so, were there any particular dystopian works that inspired you?

Cormac McCarthy, The RoadTaylor:  Yeah. Like everybody else, I loved the Hunger Games, though I read it after I’d mostly written the first book. I loved The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and I’m sure that was an influence. I’ve now read some more YA dystopia, and I find it really interesting that kids are so drawn to it. Lots of people have written about this, but I think it’s both a reflection of their anxiety and maybe also some sort of desire for a fresh start or to be able to remake the world.

I think there’s something attractive to kids about a world where the usual rules don’t apply and you get to make your own, form a society.

Nel:  Yes, I’m also interested by the current popularity of dystopian fiction. As you say, it’s likely a reflection of contemporary anxieties about the world. I also wonder what dystopian fiction’s popularity (especially YA dystopian fiction) tells us about how we imagine our collective futures.

Taylor:  Yeah, when I talk to kids, I actually see that they find these stories exciting because they make adventure and freedom possible. After a nuclear holocaust, nobody cares whether you make your curfew or not! I think so much of children’s lit is about vicariously experiencing freedom and independence.

Nel:  I like your optimistic reading — dystopia can also provide the impetus to challenge the rules, to create a new and better world.  So, you know, the West kids & others are completely justified in defying authority because the authorities are corrupt.

Taylor:  Yes!

Nel:  So, I don’t have a natural transition to this question, but one thing I really enjoy about the novels is that they avoid gender stereotypes. M.K. (the youngest West child) is an inventor & engineer. Kit, our narrator and the middle West child, is introspective.  Sukey is brave.  So is Joyce.  Indeed, they all have a combination of strengths and weaknesses that aren’t especially gendered. Even the pirates – Monty Brioux has both men and women on his crew. How conscious are you of avoiding stereotypes?

Taylor:  Very conscious, though I think you have to be conscious of not being too conscious, if you know what I mean. They have to be themselves first. Part of creating an alternate world for me was about creating a world where there is less rigidity about gender roles. One of the things about having kids of my own that has been such an eye opener is how gender roles are transferred so early. I especially wanted to show girls who are capable and brave and mechanically minded, but I realized I also wanted the boys to have flexibility. That may be part of why Kit is the first person narrator.

So yeah, I’m very conscious of it and I’m happy to see that many other writers seem to be. There are a lot of brave, capable heroines on the shelves right now.

Nel:  Even the names give you flexibility.  M.K. is a girl, but the initials don’t tell you that.  And, when I started reading The Expeditiioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair, I’d forgotten whether Kit was a boy or a girl.  It took me a few pages, before a pronoun tipped me off!

Taylor:  Yeah, I’m inside his head and I really want to show his emotions and insecurities as well as his developing competence and bravery.

Free to Be . . . You and Me (LP, 1972)Nel:  Excellent! Those are helpful to see, and (since I was an insecure kid, myself), I know I’d have liked that when I was a younger reader, too.  Oh, I like your point, also, about being “conscious of not being too conscious.”  You don’t want it to seem forced (and it doesn’t!).  But, you know, since you grew up with a consciousness of gender roles — or conscious of their existence — perhaps that sort of non-stereotypical writing comes more easy to you than it may have come to writers of earlier generations?  Out of curiosity, were you a Free to Be … You and Me kid?  Did you grow up on that record or book?

Taylor:  Yes. Free to Be … You and Me, marching at ERA rallies, the whole deal. I think those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s had a better situation than kids do today, to some extent. Certainly the merchandizing has changed.

Nel:  A couple of final questions because I’ve just realized we’ve been chatting for nearly an hour.  For how long had you been planning The Expeditioners, and was it always a trilogy?  How much of the story did you know when you began, and how much do you discover as you write?

Taylor:  It’s actually a six-book series! It says trilogy somewhere but that’s not right. I had been thinking about it for maybe a year before I started writing, not terribly long. The first book really was a process of discovery. The second book was hard to write because I was actively figuring out the whole rest of the series in order to write it. I now know most of it, but I didn’t until I was about halfway through the second one.

Nel:  Oh boy!  Six books!  Well, that’s the best news I’ve had all week.  I thought there were going to be just three.  Hooray!

Taylor:  I’m glad that’s your reaction!

Nel:  Well, of course it is!  You see, Sarah, it is your destiny to write these novels.  YOU are the one chosen to do it.

Taylor:  Thank you. I feel very relieved now!

Nel:  Glad I could help you sort that out. :-)  One final question and then I’ll let you go (promise!). Can you tell your avid readers when we might expect to see The Expeditioners, Volume 3?

Taylor:  I’m working on it right now. I’m so excited about it. There’s espionage and a trek across a desert and  . . . I can’t say anything more. But, we think it will be out in spring of 2016, if all goes according to plan.

Nel:  Hoo boy!  Looking forward to it!  Thanks so much for taking the time to chat!

Taylor:  Thank you so much. I really appreciate it!

Nel:  My pleasure!


Author portrait & cover art: Katherine Roy.

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Ferguson: Response & Resources

This post has two parts: my response and some resources for teaching about Ferguson. Feel free to skip ahead to the resources section.


My Response

Watts 1965 & Ferguson 2014For two weeks now, I have been wanting to write something about the state-sponsored terrorism in Ferguson — and all that it represents (structural racism, police brutality, militarized cops, etc.). But it makes me so angry. And depressed. And fills me with despair. (Indeed, Ferguson is one reason I’ve kept a lower profile on social media lately. The horrors of the world have been too overwhelming.)

Also, where does one begin? Can’t exactly open with a joke. Q: What’s the Ferguson police’s motto? A: To protect and to serve… white supremacy.  And NO, this isn’t funny. It’s simultaneously sad and infuriating. I mean, surely I am not the only person wondering why the entire Ferguson police force has not been disarmed and dismissed? Yes, after the establishment of a competent police chief and responsible hiring practices, ex-officers would be welcome to reapply for their former jobs. But, at present, the police force there inspires no confidence whatsoever, and represents an ongoing threat to public safety. Indeed, in my fantasy solution, the United Nations sends in peacekeepers to Ferguson. I picture Canadian soldiers wearing those baby-blue UN helmets. They could protect the citizens from the local cops, until Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri get their act together — which, frankly, means that the UN troops would be in Missouri for a long time.

Michael Brown (1996-2014)You see? I start to write, and then that turns, first, into a rant against the corrupt cops who delayed naming the officer who murdered Michael Brown for jaywalking, in order to grant themselves time to construct an implausible alibi — an alibi that quickly unraveled (because Darren Wilson didn’t even know about the robbery at the time he killed Brown). Second, it turns into an anguish I cannot articulate. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Ezell Ford. John Crawford. Trayvon Martin. But also…. James Byrd Jr. Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Medgar Evers. Emmett Till.  And less well-known people like Recy Taylor. And the many, many other victims of American racism — an institution as old as the republic itself.

Emmett Till & Trayvon Martin

The myth of America is that it’s the land of the free and the home of the brave. The truth is that, for most of its history, America has been a white supremacist police state. Most people have bought into the American myth so thoroughly that when you confront them with this fact, they refuse to acknowledge it. So, let me rephrase this: for most of American history, people of color have had no rights that white Americans were bound to respect. For the sake of argument, let us make the provisional (and demonstrably false) claim that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 “ended” racism. Were that true (and it is not true), then we would have 50 years in which African Americans had rights — well, sort of. Or more rights than before 1964 — um, usually. The common date for the United States’ founding is either 1789 (adoption of US Constitution) or 1776 (Declaration of Independence), but we could also use 1619 (first enslaved Africans brought to Jamestown) or 1492 (when Columbus “discovered” a continent where people already lived, and so helped kill them via smallpox-infected blankets). So, let’s do some math for each date. The percentage at the end represents the amount of American history during which people of color have had some (although certainly not full) civil rights in the U.S.

  • 1789: 50 years out of 225. 22%
  • 1776: 50 years out of 238. 21%
  • 1619: 50 years out of 395. 13%
  • 1492: 50 years out of 522. 10%

50 years of partial civil rights — or what we might call “racism lite” — is a piss-poor record for a nation that promotes itself as the world’s greatest exemplar of democracy.

What’s more, President Obama’s election seems to have inspired a renaissance in American racism. He gets elected, and then all the racists come out in full force. There’s the structural kind of racism, such as the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, or the fake “Voter Fraud” laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters, or Stand Your Ground laws (applied unequally to white gun-owners and black gun-owners). And then there’s the more personal kind, like the many racial caricatures of Obama or, yeah, whites who murder blacks and get off scot-free.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary AmericaI don’t mean to suggest that Obama’s election and re-election indicate no progress whatsoever since the founding of the republic or even since 1964-1965. Even when he won the presidency in 2008, the notion of a president of color was literally unimaginable to many people — and that’s people of all backgrounds and political persuasions. I know liberals who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries because Americans would never elect a black president. Instead, I mean to suggest that the success of Obama has helped usher in a new era of “racism without racists” (to use Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s term), in which the successes of a few people of color get used to deflect attention away from the persistence of structural racism — a racism personified by the police force in Ferguson, Missouri.

All of what I’ve said above has been better-articulated by others, I know.  So, now, here is what will I hope be a more useful contribution to the conversation — an aggregation of resources for teaching about Ferguson.


The Resources

I’m sure this is incomplete. Please add your own in the comments, below, and I will do my best to add them to these links.

Teaching Ferguson

Steve Sack, "The Talk," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 16 July 2013

Literature

Clay Bennett, "Community Relations." Chattanooga Times Free Press, 15 Aug. 2014

Children’s & YA Literature

Art

Kevin Siers, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Editorial cartoon. Charlotte Observer, 14 Aug. 2014

Analysis & Context

  • Charles P. Pierce, “They Left the Body in the Street.” Esquire. 22 Aug. 2014. “Dictators leave bodies in the street. Petty local satraps leave bodies in the street. Warlords leave bodies in the street…. A police officer shot Michael Brown to death. And they left his body in the street. For four hours. Bodies do not lie in the street for four hours. Not in an advanced society.”
  • Matt Zoller Seitz, “Different Rules Apply.”  MZS.  19 Aug. 2014.  “I went home. The other guy didn’t. That’s white privilege.”
  • Adam Serwer, “Eighty Years of Fergusons.” Buzzfeed. 25 Aug. 2014. “We have had 80 years of Fergusons. We may have more. Violence — as harmful and self-destructive as it is — sometimes works.”
  • Michael Denzel Smith, “Strange Fruit in Ferguson.” The Nation. 20 Aug. 2014. “The police didn’t hang Michael Brown, but they made a public display of his killing. They left his body lying there for all to see. The psychic toll that exerts on a community calls to mind the eerie words once sung by Billie Holiday: ‘Southern trees bear strange fruit/ blood on the leaves and blood at the root…’”
  • St. Louis American‘s Editors. “For the sake of Michael Brown.”  St Louis American. 14 Aug. 2014. “We can’t bring Michael Brown back. But we can insist on a prompt, credible, transparent investigation – under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice, we urge – and that his killer be brought to justice. The officer should receive the constitutionally guaranteed due process he did not give to his victim.”
  • Jesse Washington, “Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code.” Huffington Post. 24 March 2012. Not on Ferguson in particular but on the separate-but-unequal treatment of young black men: “Across the country this week, parents were talking to their children, especially their black sons, about the Code. It’s a talk the black community has passed down for generations, an evolving oral tradition from the days when an errant remark could easily cost black people their job, their freedom, or sometimes their life.” Thanks to Sarah Park Dahlen.
  • Janee Woods, “12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People.” The Root 19 Aug. 2014. “White people who hate racism should work hard to become white allies. Here are some ways for a white person to become engaged, thoughtfully and critically, in examining the crisis in Ferguson and systemic racism in America.”

Primary Resources

Jim Morin, "911? I'm being followed by a stranger, and I'm scared...." Editorial cartoon. Miami Herald, 1

Activism

As I said above, I’m sure I’ve omitted useful resources.  Please let me know, and I’ll add them. (I’ve not followed this as closely as some of you have, I know. As noted at the very beginning of this blog post, the news lately has been rather overwhelming & so I’ve had to retreat a bit from social media. Ferguson. Gaza. Ukraine. Robin Williams’ suicide. Too much to take.)

Thanks to everyone who has shared links via Facebook and Twitter. I’d not have found half of these links without you all.


Update, 3:10 pm, 31 Aug: Added a short, smart response by Robin Bernstein (@RobinMBernstein), and a cartoon by Ben Sargent.

Update, 1:35pm, 29 Aug: With thanks to Kate Slater (@slaterka), added Ezekiel Kweku’s “The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a N*****r Nation” (under “Analysis & Context”); thanks to Julie Danielson (@SevenImp), added a coupe of pieces, including one on a foolish school superintendent who has banned classroom discussion of Ferguson; thanks to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@Ebonyteach), added the MichaelBrownsCrime tumblr. And a few others…

Update, 9:00 pm, 27 Aug: With thanks to Libby Gruner, added Kia Makarechi’s Vanity Fair piece. Also added a few other pieces, many of which are thanks to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@Ebonyteach), who — as I note above — is someone you really ought to follow on Twitter (though I think I actually found these pieces [Adam Serwer's "Eighty Years of Fergusons" & Shaun R. Harper's "Race Lessons from Ferguson: Back to School, Not Back to Normal."] via her Facebook feed).

Update, 8:00 pm, 26 Aug: Added the Mary Engelbreit artwork (in “Children’s & YA” section), and a link to related news stories (under “Art”).

Update, 2:40 pm, 26 Aug: Added resources from Sarah Park Dahlen (SarahPark.com), Sophylou (True Stories Backward), Sandy Brehl (@PBWorkshop), & one or two others.

Update, 10:30 am, 25 Aug: I’ve added resources culled from Kelly Jensen’s Stacked post, and from Elisabeth Ellington’s Dirigible Plum post.

Update, 10:45 pm, 24 Aug: I will add, tomorrow, some great links from Kelly Jensen’s Stacked post, and from Elisabeth Ellington’s Dirigible Plum post. I’ve added a few other links.

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Making Mischief of One Kind and Another: Wild Things!

Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta's Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's LiteratureIf you follow The Niblings (via Twitter or Facebook), you’ll know that two of us — Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) and Julie Walker Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) — have co-written a new book, Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. It’s out today! It’s great! Go get it!

Oh, I should probably tell you what it’s about first. Right. It has been described as follows:

With tales of banned bunnies, drunken ducks, and gay penguins, Wild Things! leads the battle against the ignorance, half-truths, and just plain foolishness that afflict so much writing about children’s literature. Punchy, lively, and carefully researched, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in books for the young. So. Stop reading this blurb, and buy the book.

Yes, that’s me, in my blurb. There are other even more notable blurbs, from the likes of Lane Smith, Jack Gantos, Jon Scieszka, Jules Feiffer, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney.

But you don’t have to believe the blurbs. (I mean, I don’t know why you’d doubt any of us, but you could doubt us, of course….)  For the past month, they’ve been posting the deleted scenes — the many great stories that did not fit in their entertaining book — on the Wild Things! Tumblr.  You can learn of famous feuds in children’s literature, and great children’s books that were almost never published, and many other things. The stuff in the book is even better.

They also have a piece in today’s Huffington Post (in which Trina Schart Hyman gets up to mischief). And there’s an interview over at the Let’s Get Busy! podcast (where you’ll learn, among other things, where Fuse #8 got its name!).

Since I haven’t yet figured out a way to include the book’s third co-author, Peter D. Sieruta, let me do that here. He passed away a couple of years ago, while the book was in its editing phase. But you can still read his blog.

So. To conclude, the book — which I read an ARC of, last October — is out. Let’s de-romanticize children’s literature! Unleash Wild Things! in your libraries, classrooms, and homes!

[Please insert comically maniacal laughter here. Thank you.]

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Imagination & Survival: 2 Picture Books from Australia

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer (2013) is only one of the great Australian children’s books of the past couple of years. Here are two more. Neither appears to have found a publishing home in the U.S., U.K., or Canada. So, attention publishers of North America and Great Britain! Bring out these two books in your countries:

  • Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City (Scholastic Australia, 2014)
  • Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box (Penguin Group Australia, 2013)
Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014) Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City invites readers to a “world without edges,” where anthropomorphic animals and people coexist, the subjects of paintings reach beyond their frames, buses are giant flying fish, and bears ride bicycles. The art makes the book feel that is both very contemporary and classic. Her pen-and-ink drawings feel like they’ve time-traveled from another era — Edward Ardizzone, E. H. Shepard, or maybe Winsor McCay. The visual motifs (especially the flying fish) recall Shaun Tan and David Wiesner. It’s as if she’s brought her sketchbook into a parallel, surreal world, and this book collects sketches of what she saw during her travels.

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Hurst’s book suggests that books allow us to imagine worlds, and Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box also finds hope in books. In watercolors, ink, and collage, Blackwood illuminates Wild’s tale of a boy, displaced by war and sustained by the memory of a red book. The story begins, “When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.” Next page: “Charred paper, frail as butterflies, fluttered in the wind. People caught the words and cupped them in their hands.” The only surviving book is one that Peter’s father had checked out of the library — his favorite book because it’s “about our people, about us.” He puts it in a box, and they take it with them as they flee the advancing armies. To say more risks spoiling the experience of those who’ve not read it. So, instead, I’ll simply note that it’s an eloquent defense of why, in the dangerous times in which we live, people need books.

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King's The Duck and the Darklings (2014)There are many other beautiful books I saw in Geelong and Melbourne,* including one that Erica Hateley showed me: Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s The Duck and the Darklings (2014). Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a copy of this book. But I did at least want to give it a mention here — both to remind myself to get it, and to call it to your attention.

UPDATE, 11 July, 10:20 am: Since several non-Australians have asked, you can buy Australian books via Fishpond.com.  I bought a copy of Shaun Tan’s The Rules of Summer from Fishpond in November 2013, months before its US release.

_______

* I was there last week for two conferences: ACLAR and Literature and Affect.

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Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

Children's Literature 42 (2014)Like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat owes a debt to blackface minstrelsy.

In my “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: Exploring Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination” (in the new issue of Children’s Literature), I explore the implications of this fact.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

In 1955, Dr. Seuss and William Spaulding—director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division—stepped into the publisher’s elevator at 2 Park Street in Boston. As Seuss’s biographers tell us, the elevator operator was an elegant, petite woman who wore white gloves and a secret smile (Morgan and Morgan 154). They don’t mention that she was Annie Williams, nor do they say that she was African American (Silvey). Seuss was on that elevator because Spaulding thought he could solve the Why Johnny Can’t Read crisis by writing a better reading primer. When Seuss sketched this book’s feline protagonist, he gave him Mrs. Williams’s white gloves, her sly smile, and her color. However, she is but one African American influence on Seuss’s most famous character. One source for that red bow tie is Krazy Kat, the black, ambiguously gendered creation of biracial cartoonist George Herriman (Cohen 325). Seuss, who admired what he called “the beautifully insane sanities” of Krazy Kat (qtd. in Nel, Dr. Seuss 70), also draws upon the traditions of minstrelsy—an influence that emerges first in a minstrel show he wrote for his high school. The Cat in the Hat is racially complicated, inspired by blackface performance, racist images in popular culture, and actual African Americans. The Cat’s influences help us to track the evolution of the African American cultural imaginary in Seuss’s work, but also, more importantly, to exemplify how children’s literature conceals its own racialized origins. Considering the Cat’s racial complexity both serves as an act of desegregation, acknowledging the “mixed bloodlines” (to borrow Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s phrase) of canonical children’s literature, and highlights how during the 1950s—a turning point for African Americans in children’s literature—picture books were a site where race, representation, and power were actively being contested.

If you want to read the full article, you can access it via ProjectMuse — unless, of course, you can’t.  So, if you work for (or have access to) a library or university that subscribes to ProjectMuse, then please do get the article that way.  Doing so generates revenue for the Children’s Literature Association.  If you can’t get the article that way, then please contact me, and I’ll send you a pdf. (You can find my email address at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)

Thanks to generous individuals (such as Charles Cohen, who provided the photo of the Cat in the Hat toys that you see on the issue’s cover), the article also includes some illustrations. Here are two, both of which are racialized interpretations of the Cat in the Hat — one from 1996 (in which the Cat represents O.J. Simpson) and one from 2012 (in which the Cat represents President Obama).

Alan Katz & Chris Wrinn, The Cat NOT in the Hat! (1996) Loren Spivack, The Cat and the Mitt (2012)

The Cat NOT in the Hat! can be found only in the Library of Congress. Dr. Seuss Enterprises successfully sued its publisher and prevented its distribution on the grounds that it was not a parody: It merely mimicked Seuss’s style to comment on the O.J. Simpson case (Dr. Seuss v. Penguin Books, 1996). Distribution of the book was suppressed. To the best of my knowledge, all copies — save for the one in the Library of Congress — were destroyed.  The Cat and the Mitt is a special election-year version of Loren Spivack’s The New Democrat, which can be purchased from Mr. Spivack’s website.

There would be more than eight pictures in my article, but Dr. Seuss Enterprises (the corporate entity which oversees the licensing and production of all things Seuss) would not grant permission to reprint any images to which it controls the rights. As I’ve always had good relations with the Seuss people in the past, I asked why. I received no response, but my guess is that the “no” has something to do with the fact that the article addresses Seuss and race. When I wrote the Seuss bio. for the Seussville.com website, my original version included commentary on Seuss’s racist wartime cartoons — I framed the issue in what I thought was a sympathetic way, noting that his earlier stereotypes ultimately yielded to greater understanding (as in the anti-racist Horton Hears a Who! and The Sneetches). Such an approach offered a redemptive reading of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s work on race. But I was asked to cut that. Since I was writing for a corporate website, I did as I was asked to do.

Published in an academic journal (instead of on a corporate website), this new article has the freedom to offer a more complicated, more nuanced reading of Seuss and race. I realize that it still needs work, and I will rewrite and revise further for the book-chapter version. But it’s the best work I’ve done on Seuss and race so far. So, I thought I’d share a snippet here — with, as I say, more available for any who wish to pursue the topic further.

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Wild Things, I Think I Love You: Maurice Sendak, Ruth Krauss, and Childhood

Like his mentor Ruth Krauss’s fictive children, Maurice Sendak’s are emotionally liberated people.

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

That’s one of the points I make in my brief (5-page!) essay “Wild Things, I Think I Love You: Maurice Sendak, Ruth Krauss, and Childhood,” which appeared in PMLA 129.1 (January 2014).  In a belated recognition of the second anniversary of Maurice Sendak’s passing (May 8, 2012), I’m posting a pdf of the essay here and on Academia.edu.

Because I didn’t pay attention to the word limit, I wrote around twice as much as PMLA had space to print.  So, I repurposed what I’d cut for “It’s a Wild World: Maurice Sendak, Wild Things, and Childhood,” which appeared on this blog in October 2013. Someday, I would like to publish the essay as it was originally intended — with the cut sections integrated into the published (PMLA) version. Maybe, one day, there’ll be a Sendak essay collection where this might appear in full?

Anyway, do check out the Sendak section of the January 2014 PMLA.  There are lots of other good pieces there — U.C. Knoepflmacher, Maria Tatar, Amy Sonheim, Jan Susina, many others! Bonus: In the process of writing this post, I discovered that the full contents of all issues of PMLA since 2002 are available for free (no paywall), at the MLA’s website! Unfortunately, the journal is behind a paywall: I belatedly realized that I was accessing it via my university’s institutional subscription. If anyone wants the Sendak section, then email me and I’ll send you the pdf.

Image above is from Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s A Hole Is to Dig (1952).

More on Sendak (mostly on this blog)

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Commonplace Book: Children’s Literature, Part III

Children’s literature distills experience into concise, often pithy nuggets of wisdom. When you happen upon one such pearl, it often feels as if — for just that moment — the author (and not the narrator or character) is talking directly to you. From time to time, I gather a few such quotations in my irregularly appearing “Commonplace Book” series:

After an inexplicably long delay, here are ten more quotations, all but one from children’s books (I fudged a little, and borrowed a Sendak quotation from an interview).

Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them.

— J.M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy (1911)

In reality, childhood is deep and rich. It’s vital, mysterious, and profound. I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things… but I mustn’t let adults know I knew…. It would scare them.

— Maurice Sendak, in Sendak and Art Spiegelman, “In the Dumps,” New Yorker (27 Sept. 1993), p. 81.

Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret (1965)Why was it, she thought, that the most interesting things in the world are always kept from children? Isn’t there some way to force parents to tell the truth? They’re always telling us to tell the truth and then they lie in their teeth.

— Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret (1965), p. 127

all stuff about happy endings is lies. The only ending in this world is death. Now that might or might not be happy, but either way, you ain’t ready to die, are you?

— Maime Trotter, in Katherine Paterson, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978; 2004 edition), p. 177

It’s hard to explain the terrible things that happened out there. In fact, the more I tell you, the less you will actually understand. Some things in life are like that. You have to find out for yourself. . . .

— Grandpa, in “Grandpa’s Story,” from Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008)

Guus Kuijer, The Book of EverythingAnd do you know how happiness begins? It begins with no longer being afraid.

— Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything, trans. John Nieuwenhuizen (2006), p. 20

There are things in this world you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what those things are.

— Papa, in Mildred Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), p. 176

The mouse and his child, who had learned so much and had prevailed against such overwhelming odds, never could be persuaded to teach a success course. Popular demand was intense, but they steadfastly refused. The whole secret of the thing, they insisted, was simply and at all costs to move steadily ahead, and that, they said, could not be taught.

— Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child (1967; 2001 ed. illus. by David Small), p. 238

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

the more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

the more places you’ll go.

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

Remember the voices from the past. As do the folktales, keep close all the past that was good, and that remains full of promise.

— Virginia Hamilton, Introduction, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985), p. xii.

 As in previous posts of this nature, there are of course many omissions!  Feel free to add your favorites below —

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“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 more 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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