We Need Diverse Scholars

The most powerful panel at last year’s Children’s Literature Association conference was “Needs of Minority Scholars,” featuring Sarah Park Dahlen, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Laura M. Jiménez, and Marilisa Jiménez García.

  • If you are at the Children’s Literature Association conference right now, I encourage you to attend the follow-up session, “Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA.” It will be held tomorrow (Thursday, 22 June) at 3:30 pm in Palma Ceia 3.

Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA

  • Wherever you are, I encourage you to read last year’s panel, published in the latest issue of The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017).  The panel’s papers published there, instead of in the organization’s own Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, because — as Michelle Martin points out in her contribution to the issue — “because the editors [of ChLAQ] didn’t consider these pieces research.” That fact proves the necessity of that panel, of tomorrow’s panel, and of the ChLA’s need to walk the walk — and not just talk the talk. As Kate Slater (the panel’s chair and editor of the special section) asks, “What if every marginalized scholar felt welcomed within the field of children’s and young adult literature studies? What if our community listened—truly listened—to their experiences, words, and perspectives, even when that experience of listening requires us to look uncomfortably at ourselves? And, perhaps most importantly: what now? How will we act together to make these ‘what ifs’ a reality?”

The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017)

If you have any interest in children’s literature or in making your scholarly/professional organization (whatever its subject) a truly diverse one, I encourage you to read these essays.  (Note: Ebony Thomas’s piece is not included, but [as you will have guessed already] a new piece by Michelle Martin is included.  And the other three panelists are there.)

Need a brief summary of why?  I’ll offer succinct (and thus incomplete) highlights of each essay here.  ALSO: please access these via your institution because doing so helps underwrite the cost of the scholarly journal.  BUT if you cannot get behind the paywall, email me and I will send you pdfs.  My address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”


Sarah Park Dahlen, A Step from Heaven: On Being a Woman of Color in Children’s Literature Studies

  • on the need for mirrors: on the experience of reading An Na’s A Step from Heaven for the first time, Dahlen writes, “I wasn’t alone. I saw for the first time that these things happened to other people too, other people who looked like me. Whose parents looked like mine. Whose mother suffered as mine did. Whose father was absent as mine was.”
  • on being the visible embodiment of racial identity: “I do not leave my personal history or identity at the door when I enter a classroom. As Ebony Elizabeth Thomas said at the Children’s Literature Association 2016 conference’s Minority Scholars panel, students read our bodies before we even open our mouths. How they treat us is based, first and largely, on how they read our racial identities. My Korean body disrupts assumptions about who is an authority in teaching children’s literature.”
  • on point: “We who are racially Other are fatigued by repeated distortions and erasure, and by exposure to micro- and macroaggressions in our daily lives and in spaces that masquerade as safe but actually exist to uphold the status quo. Racial battle fatigue is real. White fragility is entirely different. White fragility maintains power.”

Michelle Martin, Brown Girl Dreaming of a New ChLA

  • on the insufficiency of good intentions. I (and many others) are fond of quoting the organizations unofficial mantra: “We don’t eat our young,” which past president Roberta Trites likes to say.  It’s true: ChLA is welcoming.  But it also isn’t equally welcoming to everyone, as Martin reminds us: “when scholars come through the doctoral pipeline whose educational experiences have been rife with racial and gender microaggressions from more seasoned scholars (even well-meaning ones) and peers and when they, like Marilisa Jiménez García, constantly struggle to have their work acknowledged as (1) scholarship and (2) relevant, ‘we don’t eat our young’ is little comfort. Some of us feel that we’ve been eaten our entire careers.”
  • on how structural power magnifies microagressions; or, how the powerful forget the harm they do, but the less powerful remember.  Martin recounts a story shared by Tiffany Martínez — a Suffolk University undergraduate, McNair Scholar, and aspiring academic — who used the word “Hence” in a paper. Her professor circled the word, opined “This is not your word,” and accused her of plagiarism.  As Martin notes, “Although this incident was seismic for her, Martínez suspects that the professor might have already forgotten it.”
  • on the need for scholars from outside of minoritized communities to do the research and write what she terms “crossover scholarship”: “writing crossover scholarship should not be undertaken casually but with a commitment to excellence, with humility, and with a teachable spirit.”

Laura M. Jiménez, My Gay Agenda: Embodying Intersectionality in Children’s Literature Scholarship

  • on the need for an intersectional agenda: “it is not uncommon for me to be accused of having a “gay agenda.” I’ve read the phrase on student evaluations, reviewers’ comments, and heard colleagues use it to dismiss my arguments, assertions, and even my life experiences. Let me be clear, I have an agenda, and it is an out and proud agenda, but it probably isn’t the one most people assume. My agenda isn’t simply gay. My agenda is a race-class-gender-and- all-kinds-of-identities-that-make-people-uncomfortable-and-unsure agenda. In short, my agenda is an intersectional agenda.”
  • on importance of teachers making their own intersectionality visible: “At the same time they read these texts I provide an authentic model of intersectionality. I say the words that my students fear. The words that need to be said out loud and often. The words Black, White, Asian, Japanese, African American, Arab, Persian, race, racism, Latinx, Chicano, women, men, Native American and First Nations, cis-gender, able, disabled, neurotypical, gay, queer . . . all the words need to be said out loud. The words that need to be talked about so these teachers get to know the feeling of these words on their tongues. I come out to my students as a complex person by addressing my intertwined identities. I am performing myself in ways that most of my students have never seen a teacher do, have never had to do themselves, and will come to recognize as one way to normalize diversity.”
    • If I may, I would like to add here that it is especially important that a cisgendered straight, White, male teacher — like myself — take categories that are typically invisible (and thus normalized via their invisibility) and make them visible.  We must also acknowledge how the invisibly privileged among us may fail to acknowledge or even see the ways in which we are implicated in systems of privilege and oppression (typically without our active consent).  As Jiménez says, “The disruption of admitting to differences, by naming those differences and directly addressing them in a classroom, can be transformative and in that transformation, change is possible.”
  • on the need to make majority communities uncomfortable: “teacher education provides opportunities for them to learn to recognize the stories they are not a part of, are not native to, are not privileged by and to hear the voices that are unfamiliar, and believe the narratives that run counter to their lived experiences. Piaget’s concept of learning has helped me understand how to challenge preservice and practicing teachers. For Piaget, learning takes place when a person experiences disequilibrium, attempts to assimilate the new information into their existing schema, and finally must change that schema to accommodate the new knowledge. But for this to happen, the learner must first recognize what is unknown, must be aware of the disequilibrium and want to change it. Disequilibrium is by definition uncomfortable; this discomfort is often caused by the mere fact that the new knowledge is in direct opposition to the learner’s existing schema”

Marilisa Jiménez García, Side-by-Side: At the Intersections of Latinx Studies and ChYALit

  • on the need to dwell on intersections and contradictions. Citing Monica Brown’s Side by Side / Lado a Lado (2010) as a metaphor for this need, García writes, “The picture celebrates the coming together of Chavez and Huerta, yet we see that English and Spanish are also placed side-by-side: two languages with a violent history facing each other, but separated by a division on the page. Chavez and Huerta’s hands bridge the divide, yet that division between cultures and languages running side-by-side remains. U.S. children’s literature evidences these splits, switches, breaks, and unlikely pairings—these parallel stories and traditions greet us with a history of delight, violence, and contradiction. My research has demanded that I negotiate divisions both in the field of Latinx studies and children’s literature in order to exist in academia, and to dwell on the parallels, the intersections and the contradictions.”
  • on the need to displace English’s centrality to the field (citing Emer O’Sullivan): “Emer O’Sullivan writes in the ‘Preface’ to her study, Comparative Children’s Literature (2005), that ‘[c]hildren’s literature studies in English is mainly a monolingual phenomenon, mostly dealing with the wealth of children’s literature in English-speaking countries and referring to critical material written in English. Researchers who do not write in that language generally remain internationally unnoticed’ (x). She suggests that limiting inquiry to predominately Anglo children’s materials ‘neglect[s] to adequately describe and explain the crossing of linguistic and cultural borders’ (1)”
  • on the need to address diversity from more than one field: “scholars in Latinx studies rarely consider the position of literature for youth and writers for young audiences in the study of historically oppressed peoples. That is, in ethnic and postcolonial studies, literature for youth remains, for the most part, marginalized.” As she notes, “As a field, are we engaging in scholarship that values diverse communities and stories? What story does our scholarship tell about the communities and knowledges we value? Or is our scholarship centralizing only certain kinds of knowledge? I have argued in my research that you cannot know the story of American children’s and youth literature and culture without knowing the story of the Puerto Rican community in the United States; the same applies in reverse.”

 

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Laughter and Resistance: Humor as a Weapon in the Age of Trump (Horn Book)

The Horn Book, May-June 2017In its new issueThe Horn Book joins the resistance. If the previous statement is a slight overstatement (and it is, because the magazine’s values have opposed those of Trumpism since before it acquired that name), it is only a slight overstatement.  The May-June 2017 issue includes at least four pieces critical of the current regime: Raúl the Third’s “The Adventures of Baby D” (which imagines the tiny-fingered tyrant as a tiny-fingered tyke), Eugene Yelchin’s “Mocking Moscow” (Russian jokes, including some on Trumpy), an amusing anecdote by Molly Idle, and my contribution (named in the title of this blog post).

My article isn’t on-line, but UPDATE, MAY 2: My article went on-line today, and here’s the “thesis” paragraph:

Having a race-baiting, Muslim-banning, pussy-grabbing, narcissistic sociopath as president of the United States is not funny. But we can use humor as a weapon against him. As Mel Brooks famously said of a different real-life fascist clown who bullied his way into power, comedy can cut men like this down to size, robbing them of their “power and myths.”

In the piece, I discuss books by Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, Lewis Carroll, Norton Juster, Florence Parry Heide, Julius Lester, Rowboat Watkins, Toby Speed, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  So, yes, the essay is in no way comprehensive.  It is instead suggestive, offering ways of thinking about humor and resistance.

Horn Book May-June 2017: photo

Back in the fall, Roger Sutton asked if I’d contribute to The Horn Book‘s upcoming special issue on humor.  I thought: sure, that might be fun.  After all, by the time my essay was due, the election would be over, Hillary Clinton would be president, and we’d all be in a better mood.  So, I agreed to write the piece.

Well, to paraphrase Mose Allison, it didn’t turn out that way. No matter what those pollsters said, it just didn’t turn out that way.

So, I wrote this instead.

If you pick up this issue of The Horn Book, you also get…

  • three Niblings in one issue!  Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson have a piece on their late friend and collaborator, Peter D. Sieruta.
  • Lisa Yee on the expectation of being funny, which you can also read on the Horn Book‘s website.
  • Lisa Brown, rewriting the classics to make them funny.
  • many articles by people not named Lisa.
  • jokes, sprinkled throughout the issue.
  • cover art by Jon Agee.

You can see a full table of contents here.

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Refugee Stories for Young Readers: Francesca Sanna’s The Journey (Public Books)

Public Books (logo)Over on Public Books today, I have a new, short piece on Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, a.k.a. one of the best picture books published last year.  If you have yet to read it, check out “Refugee Stories for Young Readers” (my essay), which includes some images from the book.  In the piece, I observe that

As Francesca Sanna’s The Journey (2016) demonstrates, the children’s picture book is the ideal medium for voicing that unsettling feeling when something unbelievable suddenly becomes true. Its visual metaphors render difficult emotions clearly, and illustrate children’s literature’s ability to express dark realities in the language of the fantastic.

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)The book follows a refugee family’s journey away from their home country, towards an uncertain future. It’s beautiful, wise, moving and, yes, appropriate for children.  (In the essay, I also look at some other recent children’s picture books on refugees.)

As I also note in the piece, more than half of the world’s refugees today are children under the age of 18. That’s nearly 50 million young people, making this the worst child refugee crisis since World War II.

If you can, please donate to the International Rescue Committee.  You might also consult the organization’s website — lots of useful information there.

At the beginning and explicitly at the end of my brief essay, I call out the U.S. government’s inhumane response to refugees. Though I’ve written other pieces critical of Trumpy’s amoral regime, they’ve mostly been on my blog.*  This is my first such piece to appear in a “real” publication.  There will be others.

Am I indulging in the delusion that my writing is changing hearts and minds? If I am honest with myself, I hope my words might do that — even if they reach only one person. I think it more likely that what I write may aid someone already resisting our tiny-fingered overlord and his wrecking crew, perhaps by reflecting back her thoughts in a slightly different light, or by offering another way of approaching a question, or by providing information.  At the same time, I know that phoning and writing my representatives, marching, protesting are all more important. So, I’ll keep doing those things, too. Though any result of my scholarly/writerly efforts will be hard to quantify (and may be purely imaginary), I’ll keep on doing this simply because it’s what I do as a writer and scholar.  Not incidentally, it’s a theme I notice across the culture. 99% Invisible recently did a two-part episode on sanctuary (part 1, part 2). The Allusionist devoted an episode to the history of sanctuary.  Podcasters create podcasts, composers make music, and writers write.  In addition to whatever direct actions we also take, we can all contribute via our chosen medium.  (And, on that subject….)

Migration, Refugees, & Diaspora in Children’s Literature

Call for Papers

There’s still time to submit an essay for this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly!
DUE: 1 Nov. 2017

My job is thinking about how literature for young people can help children — and all of us — make sense of the world.  As I’ve written elsewhere, children’s books have much to say to those of us who are no longer children.  The Journey certainly does.

————

* Mostly on my blog. I also wrote a piece for the Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote effort last September. Earlier this month, I was extensively quoted in Michael Cavna’s Washington Post column, and a little bit in this Key Reporter piece.

Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)Is cataloguing this information here simply aiding the Trumpocracy, should it wish to add me to its list of undesirables?  It might be. But it’s important to remind ourselves: Do not obey in advance.  If you haven’t already read it, check out Timothy Snyder‘s brief, useful, and conveniently pocket-sized book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books/Random House, 2017).  Its very first lesson is:

Do not obey in advance.

Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. (17)

So. Do not obey. Resist! Contact your representatives and senators — at both the federal level and the state level. VOTE in all elections! And keep paying attention. As The Washington Post‘s Trump-era slogan (introduced Feb 22nd) reminds us, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Washington Post: "Democracy Dies in Darkness"

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Seuss’s Matilda: Horton’s Ancestor

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!  To celebrate the 113th anniversary of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birth, here are two things Seussian.

1. The True Story of Horton Hatches the Egg

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)When asked how he came up with the idea of Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), Seuss would often give an answer like this (from a September 1972 interview):

Horton Hatches the Egg was a lucky accident. I was in my New York studio one day, sketching on transparent tracing paper, and I had the window open. The wind simply took a picture of an elephant that I’d drawn and put it on top of another sheet of paper that had a tree on it. All I had to do was to figure out what the elephant was doing in that tree. I’ve left my window open for 30 years since that, but nothing’s happened.

That’s a delightful story, but it’s not true.  Not only do earlier accounts contradict it, but in a 1938 issue of Judge magazine, Seuss published “Matilda, the Elephant with a Mother Complex.” In that story, an elephant also hatches an egg — but it does not turn out happily. Matilda’s egg hatches, the bird sees her, and it flies off in terror. In contrast, Horton’s baby elephant-bird chooses him over its biological mother, Mayzie.

This past December, Southebys attempted to auction some original art of Matilda — though not precisely the art used in that Judge story. It seems to be an earlier version of the art, but it’s not clear how much earlier. Its provenance suggests it could be over a decade older.

Dr. Seuss, Matilda the Compassionate Elephant (1938)

The auction described the piece like this:

ESTIMATE: $30,000 – $40,000
DESCRIPTION: signed Dr.Seuss pen-and-ink drawing on paper 10 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches; 11 x 8 1/2 inches (267 x 165 mm; 279 x 216 mm) Executed circa 1938.
CATALOG NOTE: A delightful original drawing comprising the earliest known version of Dr Seuss’s beloved character Horton (here a femaile [sic] elephant, Matilda), looking very pleased with herself, seated on a small egg, with captions written on banners above and below the image.

The catalogue offers other information, some of it accurate and some of it less so.  But let’s skip ahead to the provenance:

PROVENANCE: Given by Geisel to Harvey Poe, Jr (born in 1916) while the artist was vacationing in Brookline, Maine (Harvey Poe, Sr managed the Mountain Ash Inn & Cottages, where the artist stayed). Mr Poe believes it was given to him when he was about 9 (i.e. 1925) and while this is of course possible, it seems more likely the drawing was given to him well after Geisel’s return from Europe, probably soon after the similar design appeared in Judge magazine (April 1938).

Is the piece really from 1925? It could be. On June 23rd, Geisel graduated from Dartmouth, and two months later left for Oxford, England.  He was in the U.S. for most of 1925, and not far from Brookline, Maine.  In addition to New Hampshire (where Dartmouth is), Geisel was also in Springfield, Massachusetts (his hometown). Prior to then, he had been drawing cartoons for Dartmouth’s Jack-o-Lantern.  Stylistically, however, this piece looks closer to his art from a decade later.

Priced at $30,000-$40,000, the original “Matilda” drawing failed to sell.  To the best of my knowledge, it is still being held at Southebys. So, if you have that sort of cash lying around (I don’t!), try bidding on next time it goes up for auction.

2. Me, talking about Seuss, yesterday on The Joy Cardin Show.

I was on for the entire 8 o’clock hour of yesterday’s show.  Did I have anything interesting to say?  You be the judge.  Listen here.


To continue your celebration of Seuss’s birthday, you may enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss. Here’s a selection:

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

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

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


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

Read Across America: An NEA Project

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MLA 2018 Call for Papers! Calling Dumbledore’s Army: Activist Children’s Literature

MLA NYC 2018 logoBooks can encourage children to question rather than accept the world as it is. Literature for young people can invite them to imagine a world where black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, poverty does not limit one’s life choices, LGBTQ youth know they are loved, indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, the disabled have equal rights and opportunities, refugees find refuge, and climate change does not imperil life on this planet.

Jenny Sowry's Woke BabyThis guaranteed session (sponsored by the Children’s Literature Forum) examines children’s literature as a vehicle for social change. Subjects panelists might consider include (but are not limited to): Children as activists, books aligned with social movements, satire or humor as catalyst for change, the repurposing of children’s culture as means of expressing or inspiring adults’ activism. Papers may cover any country or historical period.

The panel will convene at the Modern Language Association Convention in New York, which will be held from January 4 to 7, 2018.

Send 1-page abstract and 2-page CV by March 15, 2017 to Philip Nel <philnel@ksu.edu>.

scholarship on activist children's literature

Image credit: Photo is of Jenny Sowry’s “Woke Baby,” at the Women’s March, Jan. 2017. The image became a meme, and you can read more about it in this BuzzFeed article.

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Was the Cat in the Hat Black? — cover reveal

Here is the cover for my next book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, forthcoming from Oxford University Press in July 2017.  Since it (the cover) is now on some websites (notably Oxford UP & Amazon.com), I thought I’d share it here.

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

THANKS to Oxford UP’s Lucas Heinrich for his design and editor Sarah Pirovitz for her tolerance of my perfectionism.* And thanks to aesthetically adept friends who shared their thoughts on the cover: Megan Montague Cash, Mark Newgarden, Mervi Pakaste, and Dan Warner.  Thanks also to all of my colleagues who I polled on a rather minor distinction between two versions of the cover.

While I’m offering a preview of the cover, here’s a preview of the…

Table of Contents

Introduction: Race, Racism, and the Cultures of Childhood

1. The Strange Career of the Cat in the Hat; or, Dr. Seuss’s Racial Imagination

2. How to Read Uncomfortably: Racism, Affect, and Classic Children’s Books

3. Whiteness, Nostalgia, and Fantastic Flying Books: William Joyce’s Racial Erasures vs. Hurricane Katrina

4. Don’t Judge a Book by Its Color: The Destructive Fantasy of Whitewashing (and Vice-Versa)

5. Childhoods “Outside the Boundaries of Imagination”: Genre is the New Jim Crow

Conclusion: A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children’s Literature

_________________

*Just to be clear: we made only minor tweaks to Mr. Heinrich’s design. This is a testament to his talents.  I’m very particular about covers!  (A few proposed book covers — none of which were seen publicly in that form — have yielded a fair bit of email debate between me and the publisher of the work.  This one yielded hardly any such debate… because it’s great!)

Related posts on this blog; or, glimpses of the work in progress:

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Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2017

MLA 2017 in Philadelphia (logo)In January, before the kleptocracy,

In Philly, mourning an ailing democracy,

Find comfort, anxiety, knowledge, and despair!

(When academics gather, these tend to be there.)

January fifth through eighth, at the MLA,

We’ll meet and think. We’ll eat and drink. What do you say?

Ahem. Here are all the sessions on children’s literature and/or comics/graphic novels at the 2017 MLA in Philadelphia. What do I mean by “all”?  Well, I did not count sessions with a single paper on comics/graphic novels. To be included here, at least 50% of the session must be devoted to children’s/YA literature, comics/graphic novels, or cultures of childhood more generally.  If I wasn’t sure, I erred on the side of inclusion.

Note: Clicking on the session number will take you directly to the MLA’s on-line program, which is my source for all of this information.


9. Reimagining Adolescence: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 102B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Nancy C. Backes, Cardinal Stritch Univ.

  1. “Austen and Adolescence,” Shawn Lisa Maurer, Coll. of the Holy Cross
  2. “Adultescents, Kidults, and Rejuveniles: Children’s Literature for Adults and Remapping the Boundaries of Age and Audience,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “The Inertia of Male Adolescence,” David Bleich, Univ. of Rochester

Subject:

Keywords:


27. Getting Religion: Children’s Literature as Sacred Text

Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 111B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the forums GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature and TC Religion and Literature

Presiding: Lisa M. Gordis, Barnard Coll.; Karin E. Westman, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “Intertwining Histories: Catechisms and the Emergence of Eighteenth-Century Children’s Literature,”Gabrielle Owen, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
  2. “Christian Science Children’s Fiction, 1900–10,” Anne Stiles, St. Louis Univ.
  3. “Nazi Children’s Literature and the Formation of the Holy Reich,” Michael Lackey, Univ. of Minnesota, Morris
  4. “Characterizing Religion: The Lives and Afterlives of Stock Religious Characters in Japanese Picturebooks from the 1950s to the Present,” Heather Blair, Indiana Univ., Bloomington

Subject:

Keywords:


189. Reading and Seeing Modernism and Graphic Narrative: Form, Medium, Aesthetics

Friday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 111B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Andrew Hoberek, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia

Speakers: Olivia Badoi, Fordham Univ.; Sheila Liming, Univ. of North Dakota; Ben Novotny Owen, Ohio State Univ., Columbus; John Paul Riquelme, Boston Univ.; Janine M. Utell, Widener Univ.

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

Participants examine graphic narrative and modernism from a critical stance shaped by emphasis on comics as formal container for responses to modernity. We pay attention to narrative and its devices; print technology, artistic medium, and their relation to aesthetics; and memory and the conceptual.

Subjects:


210. Graphic Narratives

Friday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 410, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

Presiding: Cesar Braga-Pinto, Northwestern Univ.

  1. “Superbacana: Songs, Graphic Narratives, and Social Tension in the Late 1960s in Brazil,” Carlos Pires, Universidade de São Paulo
  2. “Comics Poetry and Poema/Processo,” Jonathan R. Bass, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
  3. “Brazilian Quadrinistas and the Franco-Belgian Market of Science Fiction and Fantasy Graphic Novels: A Marriage of Convenience,” Henri-Simon Blanc-Hoang, Defense Language Inst.
  4. “Graphic Spaces of Rights,” Leila Maria Lehnen, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Subject:

Keywords:


244. Remediating Boundaries between Children’s Print and Digital Media

Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 305-306, Philadelphia Marriott

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

Presiding: Peter Kunze, Univ. of Texas, Austin

  1. “Pat, Press, and Spot: Translating Tactility between Traditional and Technological Books,” Emily Brooks, Univ. of Florida
  2. “Young Adult Literature and the Queer Politics of Artistic Fan Production,” Angel Matos, Bowdoin Coll.
  3. “The Hero of Time: Shigeru Miyamoto’s The Legend of Zelda as Children’s Literature,” Chamutal Noimann, Borough of Manhattan Community Coll., City Univ. of New York

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281. “Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound”: Psychoanalysis, Comics, and Architecture

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 112A, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the American Psychoanalytic Association

Presiding: Vera J. Camden, Kent State Univ., Kent

Speakers: Frederik Byrn Køhlert, Univ. of Calgary; Jimenez Lai, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Nick Sousanis, San Francisco State Univ.; Jon Yoder, Kent State Univ., Kent

Session Description:

Once considered pure pulp, comics now prevail in architecture studios, psychoanalytic institutes, and university classrooms, as well as in myriad public spaces. This session represents architecture, psychoanalysis, educational psychology, and literature to consider the ways that comics “bound” over disciplinary silos to capture buildings, bodies, and minds in lived environments.

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282. “I Die Daily”: Police Brutality, Black Bodies, and the Force of Children’s Literature

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 106B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Michelle Hite, Spelman Coll.

  1. “Postracial, but Not Postracism: The Romanticization of the Plantation South and the Whitewashing of History in Raina Telgemeier’s Drama,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “The Promise and Challenge of History: Reckoning with Racism in Out of Darkness,” Ashley Pérez, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “Runoff: Young African Americans with Disabilities in Landscapes of Sacrifice,” Elizabeth Anne Wheeler, Univ. of Oregon
  4. “Brown Girls Dreaming: Violence, Narrative, and the Politics of the Interior,” Samira Abdur-Rahman, Univ. of Rochester

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298. Race, Science, Speculation

Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 203B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: David Kazanjian, Univ. of Pennsylvania

  1. “The Scientific Roots/Routes of Black Speculative Fiction,” Britt Rusert, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
  2. “The Little Bushman, New York City’s Colored Orphan Asylum, and the Logic of the Specimen,” Anna Mae Duane, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  3. “Apes, Children, Race, and Kinship in Du Chaillu’s Gorilla Country,” Brigitte Fielder, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
  4. “Flights toward Social Life: Afro-Speculation as Genre and Modality in post-1965 Black American Literature,” Michelle Commander, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville

For abstracts, write to amduane1@gmail.com after 30 Nov.

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353. What Next? Adventures in Episodic and Serial Form

Friday, 6 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Franklin 11, Philadelphia Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Katherine Fusco, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

Speakers:Jacquelyn Ardam, Colby Coll.; Katherine Fusco; Donal Harris, Univ. of Memphis; Andrew Hoberek, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia; Heather A. Love, Univ. of South Dakota; Carter Neal, Indiana Univ., Bloomington

Responding: David M. Ball, Dickinson Coll.

Session Description:

The presentations query how historical moments give rise to the episodic or serial forms they need (or deserve?). With topics including modernist drama, Dada art exhibitions, children’s films, comic books, and the realist novel, the panelists use a PechaKucha format of automatically advancing slides—an innovative style fitting for a session on series and episodes.

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475. Graphic Style and Big Data

Saturday, 7 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 104A, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the forum LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American

Presiding: Amy Hungerford, Yale Univ.

  1. “Illusions of Progress: Visualization and the Politics of Stylized Time,” Ed Finn, Arizona State Univ.
  2. “Excavating the Present: Richard McGuire’s Here and the Wayback Machine,” Alexander Manshel, Stanford Univ.
  3. “Chris Ware and R. Crumb: From Data to Disgust,” Rebecca Clark, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  4. “The Visual Universalism of Bing Xu’s Book from the Ground,” Lee Konstantinou, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

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524. The Life of the Child’s Mind: Rethinking Education and Intellect in Literature for Young People

Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 106B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: David Aitchison, North Central Coll.

  1. “Adolescent Fiction as a Boundary Condition: Exploring the Meaning of Reading in a Transitional Genre,”Elisabeth Rose Gruner, Univ. of Richmond
  2. “Smart Equals Queer: The Intellectual Child in Sex Is a Funny Word,” Gabrielle Owen, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
  3. “Unbounded Time, Unbounded Intellect: A Teenage ‘Song of Myself’ in John Green’s Paper Towns,” Susan Leary, Univ. of Miami

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539. Adoption in Contemporary Drama and Performance

Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 110B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Program arranged by the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture

Presiding: Marina Fedosik, Princeton Univ.

  1. “Adoption Drama in Drama; or, Why Theater Is Adoption’s Most Congenial Genre,” Peggy Phelan, Stanford Univ.
  2. “Psyches Going Solo: Transnational Adoption in Recent Plays from the Twin Cities,” Josephine Lee, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  3. “Seeing into Being: Dis-affiliated Children in Naomi Wallace’s English Plays,” Beth Cleary, Macalester Coll.
  4. “A Cyborg That Explodes Adoption Dualities: Rolin Jones’s Most Intelligent Design,” Martha G. Satz, Southern Methodist Univ.

For abstracts, write to mfedosik@princeton.edu.

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564. Border Conflicts: Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature

Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Franklin 13, Philadelphia Marriott

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

Presiding: Nina Christensen, Aarhus Univ.; Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “Child Migrants of Another Sort: The Dark Side of British World War II Evacuation Literature,” Lee A. Talley, Rowan Univ.
  2. “Andrij Chaikivsij’s Za Sestroyu, The Ukrainian Weekly, and the Role of Children’s Literature in Negotiations of Diasporic Identity,” Anastasia Ulanowicz, Univ. of Florida
  3. “Hawai‘i’s Unbecoming Children,” Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Univ. of Hawai’i, West O’ahu

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581. Alien Lines: Science Fiction Comics

Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 401-403, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forums GS Comics and Graphic Narratives and GS Speculative Fiction

Presiding: Aaron Kashtan, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte

  1. “Don’t Let Them Touch and Despair You: World Construction in the World of The Wrenchies and It Will All Hurt,” Phoebe Salzman-Cohen, Penn State Univ., University Park
  2. “‘This Is How an Idea Becomes Real’: Bodies in Saga,” Daniel John Pinti, Niagara Univ.
  3. “‘I’m Getting Too Good to Ignore’: The Feminist Politics of Sharon Ruhdal’s Dystopian Comics,” Margaret Galvan, New York Univ.
  4. “Feeling The Puma Blues: The Dilution of Science Fiction and the Decline of the Creator within Independent Comics’ Golden Age,” Keith McCleary, Univ. of California, San Diego

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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594. Narratives of Childhood

Saturday, 7 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Franklin 12, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum LLC Luso-Brazilian

Presiding: Leila Maria Lehnen, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

  1. “Imagining Another Subjectivity: Childhood and Disability in Cristóvão Tezza’s O filho eterno,” Emanuelle K. F. Oliveira-Monte, Vanderbilt Univ.
  2. “We Are the Children: Youth and Social Criticism in Contemporary Brazilian Cinema,” Antonio Luciano Tosta, Univ. of Kansas
  3. “A infância fragmentada em Dois Irmãos de Milton Hatoum: Searching for an Answer to the Question ‘Se Deus é brasileiro, todos somos brasileiros?,'” Mónica Ayala-Martinez, Denison Univ.

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646. Placing Gender in the Graphic Novel

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Independence Ballroom Salon III, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum TC Women’s and Gender Studies

Presiding: Pamela Brown, Univ. of Connecticut, Stamford

  1. Cuba My Revolution: Una novela gráfica e histórica para mejor cumplir las políticas del mercado,” Mabel Cuesta, Univ. of Houston, University Park
  2. “The Latent Image: Biopolitics and Diegetic Levels in Lila Quintero-Weaver’s Graphic Novel Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, in an Aesthetics and Human Rights Course,” Karina Elizabeth Vázquez, Univ. of Richmond
  3. “Transnational Bodies and Gendered Representations in Operación Bolívar, by Edgar Clément, and La perdida, by Jessica Abel,” Tania Pérez-Cano, Univ. of Pittsburgh

For abstracts, write to pambrown12@gmail.com.

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650. Invisible Made Visible: Comics and Mental Illness

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Grand Ballroom Salon I, Philadelphia Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Jessica Gross, St. Louis Coll. of Pharmacy; Leah Misemer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

Speakers: Jeanine Ashforth, Univ. of South Florida; Elizabeth J. Donaldson, New York Inst. of Tech., Old Westbury; Keegan Lannon, Dominican Univ.; Claire Latxague, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier 3

Session Description:

Panelists explore how the visual medium of comics paradoxically explores invisible mental illnesses by depicting internal emotional and mental states. They also consider the historical relation between comics and mental illness and discuss how comics can create communities of people who feel—or are—invisible within society at large.

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663. Barely Legal: Erotic Innocence at Nineteen

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 203B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

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

Presiding: Marah Gubar, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.

Speakers: Ellis Hanson, Cornell Univ.; Natasha Hurley, Univ. of Alberta; Kenneth Byron Kidd, Univ. of Florida; Derritt Mason, Univ. of Calgary; Carol Mavor, Univ. of Manchester

Responding: James R. Kincaid, Univ. of Southern California

Session Description:

Scholars working in Victorian studies, art history, queer theory, film studies, and children’s literature and childhood studies discuss how the controversial work of James R. Kincaid has transformed their fields.

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

Saturday, 7 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Franklin 4, Philadelphia Marriott


783. The Nonhuman Turn in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century British Children’s Literature

Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 102B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

A special session

Presiding: Shun Kiang, Stetson Univ.

  1. “Soulless Innocents: Dolls and Their Girls,” Amy Murray Twyning, Univ. of Pittsburgh
  2. “Good Neighbours, Beasties, and Bogles: Celebrating Nonhumans in Scottish Children’s Literature,”Maureen Farrell, Univ. of Glasgow
  3. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Medieval Bestiary and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,”Kathryn Walton, York Univ., Keele

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787. Graphic Narrative, Comics, and Temporality

Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Franklin 13, Philadelphia Marriott

Program arranged by the forum GS Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

  1. “Past and Present Colors: Drawing Style as Temporal Framework in Comics,” Rikke Platz Cortsen, Univ. of Texas, Austin
  2. “‘Paradise Now’: Messianic Time in the Iranian Graphic Protest Novel,” Charlotta Salmi, Univ. of Birmingham
  3. “Drawing the Anthropocene? Intimacy and Antihuman ‘Deep Time,'” Aarnoud Rommens, Univ. of Liege
  4. “Reading in the Deep: Time and the Z-Axis in Richard McGuire’s Here and Dan Clowes’s Patience,” Joshua Kopin, Univ. of Texas, Austin

For abstracts, visit graphicnarratives.org after 15 Dec.

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Emily’s Library, Part 10: In Which I Recommend 27 More Good Books for Young Readers

Just in time for the holidays, it’s another edition of Emily’s Library — in which I display the books I’ve given to my now 5-year-old niece, and answer the frequently asked question, “What children’s books would you recommend?”  A few of these will be Christmas presents for Emily, who does not (yet?) read my blog. So, if you do see her, don’t spoil the surprise, OK?  Thanks.

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the Pony (2015)

Kate Beaton, The Princess and the PonyThe first picture book from the Hark! A Vagrant cartoonist does not disappoint. (I haven’t yet read her second, but Beaton’s King Baby was published this fall.) Princess Pinecone, “the smallest warrior,” would like warrior-suitable gifts for her birthday. Instead, she gets “lots of cozy sweaters.” So, this year, she makes it clear to her parents that she wants a “real warrior’s horse.” But they buy her a little pony, who turns out to be a prolific farter but poor substitute for a warrior horse. Yet, on the day of the contest, Princess Pincone learns that there is more than one way to be strong. My previous sentence makes sounds like a soppy moralistic book. But it isn’t. It’s funny. Warriors getting in touch with their cuddly sides and wearing cuddly sweaters is funny. So is the farting pony.  Bonus: though it makes no bones about it, the book subtly integrates a diverse cast of characters: the princess’s mother is a dark-haired brown woman, and her father a yellow-haired white (well, greyish pink) man. The warriors themselves represent a range of body types, races, and genders. In addition to being a fun book, it’s fine example of incidental diversity as well.

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)

Lisa Brown, The Airport Book (2016)Is it just me, or is incidental diversity (where a character is matter-of-factly non-White) becoming more mainstream? The bi-racial kids (along with their White mother and brown father) are among the many strengths of Lisa Brown‘s The Airport Book, a Richard Scarry-esque journey through airport travel. While we follow the main family of four through the airport, other stories are happening everywhere. Even better: Brown’s attention to detail conveys the sense that they are all real people, and not just there to fill the space.  That’s why I compare her pages to Richard Scarry: they’re full of meaningful details, featuring a range of foci for one’s attention. They’re pages to linger over.  They capture the simultaneous ongoing activity of these busy spaces.  While The Airport Book replicates the divided attention of airports and airplanes, it also offers a singular path forward, via a second-person narration aligned with the older child.  All those “yous” invite the child reader to see herself in the book.  As a child who travels a lot, Emily will — I predict — recognize herself in these pages.

Benjamin Chaud, Poupoupidours (2014) [The Bear’s Surprise (2015) in its original French]

Benjamin Chaud, PoupoupidoursIf you’re new to my “Emily’s Library” series, I should add here that I’m giving Emily books in French and in German (as well as English) because she’s Swiss and thus growing up tri-lingual.  Whether you read Poupoupidors in French, English, or another language, this book concludes the adventures of the Little Bear and his Papa — which began in (if I may use the English-language titles) The Bear’s Song and continued in The Bear’s Sea Escape.

With die-cut pages offering partial glimpses of what’s to come, Chaud again offers many enticements for curious eyes. In addition to the Where’s Waldo game of finding Little Bear on the busier two-page spreads, there’s the question of what the pages’ windows will reveal when we turn the page. In a twist from the previous books in the series, Papa Bear is not chasing Little Bear: instead, Little Bear (adventuring on his own) finds Papa at the circus.

Tim Egan, Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997)

Tim Egan, cover to Burnt Toast on Davenport StreetAs I wrote back in the early days of this blog,

Most of his characters are anthropomorphic animals — cows, pigs, dogs, etc. who walk upright, wear clothes, speak in complete sentences. Egan likes to have a little fun blurring the categories between people and animals. The dog protagonists — Arthur and Stella Crandall — of Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (1997) dress well, and live in a beautifully furnished house. They behave like humans. Yet, beneath an illustration of Stella sitting on the couch and Arthur adjusting the TV set’s antenna, Egan writes, “Arthur and Stella were happy dogs. They lived at 623 Davenport Street and had lived there for many years. They spent their days doing what most dogs do. Eating, walking, and sleeping.” Near the end of the book, when the Crandalls are happy, “They both smiled and wagged their tails.” Egan slyly reminds us that, though they dress and act like people, they retain their doggy natures.

Egan is a master. Like James Marshall and Arnold Lobel, his sense of humor arises from mater-of-fact depictions of the mildly absurd. He has a genuine affection for his characters and their predicaments. But, well, you might take a look at my full post on his work. And look for it (Egan’s books, not my post) in your local libraries and bookstores.

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)With a color palette worthy of Herge, Kuo takes us through Tokyo with Yoshio (the book’s protagonist), searching for ma — the silence between sounds. Along the way, Goldsaito presents the noise of the city, which Kuo depicts, alongside moments of relative quiet — until we (via Yoshio) at last experience that moment of silence. A quest for quietude may seem an unlikely topic for a children’s book (and, yes, I do know Deborah Underwood’s The Quiet Book), but the color, layout, and design of The Sound of Silence immediately hold your attention. In any case, Yoshio’s search is as much about listening as it is about seeking actual silence. It’s about attentiveness to our environment. It’s about noticing.

Ben Hatke, Little Robot (2015)

Ben Hatke, Little RobotNarrated via the comics medium, Hatke’s gentle tale of a little girl and a robot explores the pair’s developing friendship, as she introduces him to her world, fixing him as needed. But Unit 00012’s creators (an anonymous government agency) want him back, and send a powerful one-eyed robot to capture him. Can our unnamed heroine keep him safe?  Its relatively low word-count make this ideal for beginning readers, and its technically savvy brown protagonist brings incidental diversity, as well.

After giving this book to Emily, I heard a fascinating discussion (at a conference) about how and whether Hatke’s portrayal of the little girl participates in stereotypes of strong black women (a criticism that has also been made of the Hushpuppy character in Beasts of the Southern Wild). I continue to find the heroine a compelling one, but mention this criticism to welcome your disagreement — I always read the books I give to Emily before buying them.  You should do the same for whomever you’re buying books.

Keven Henkes, Waiting (2015)

Kevin Henkes, WaitingOn an indoor windowsill, witness five sentient toys: the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy, and the rabbit. Henkes’ pastel color palette, generous use of negative space, and subtle changes in each toy’s posture or expression swathes the pictures in the aura of a dream, leaving open the question of whether their sentience is real or imagined.  This ontological blurriness perfectly captures the reality of childhood imagination — the sense that make-believe is simultaneously real and not real. It also invites engagement with the book’s key question of what the animals await. An early two-page spread seems to answer the question for four of the five, but subsequent pages reveal arrivals for which they were not waiting. Even those events they did await depart from their imagined versions. For instance, “The pig with the umbrella was waiting for the rain.”  When it does rain, the observation that “the pig was happy. The umbrella kept her dry” bumps up against a different reality in the artwork. It is raining outside, but the pig is inside and so at no risk of getting wet.  They witness the changing seasons, and new arrivals to their windowsill — the last of which affirms their little family. This is a quiet, gentle book, ideal for reflection and dreaming.

Jory John and Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)

Jory John & Lane Smith, Penguin Problems (2016)As we arrive at the end of a dark year, I invite you to embrace the gloom of John and Smith’s pessimistic penguin. Penguin Problems is a comic take on a bad mood. And, you know, some people (and penguins) are just not optimistic. Which is fine. In the hands of John and Smith, it’s also funny. Their penguin is cold. He doesn’t like the snow, being hunted by predators, or his flightlessness. Smith gives the penguin an expressive face — big eyes, with eyelids when he’s tired or annoyed. Though the penguin does look like all the other penguins (another complaint of his), readers can also distinguish him from the others. While reading this to Emily, she — unprompted — pointed to him in each crowd scene. Late in the book, a walrus delivers a pep talk, offering a fresh perspective on life. That changes the penguin’s mood for a few pages. But, like I say, some penguins (and people) are pessimists. Frankly, it’s a good time to be a pessimist — as long as you keep your sense of humor about you. Smith and John’s penguin does.

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late? (1959)

Crockett Johnson, Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late?This book — which, happily, has recently been reprinted by Harper — reads as a gentle parody of Johnson’s wife Ruth Krauss’s The Happy Day (art by Marc Simont, 1949). In the earlier book, animals emerge from their wintertime hibernation/austerity, jubilant to see a flower growing in the snow. In Johnson’s Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring by Late?, an artificial flower seems to confirm the Groundhog’s prediction of an early spring — indeed, to confirm that spring is already here! The other animals greet the Groundhog’s news with excitement, delighted that winter is over. Skeptical, the Pig refuses to join the celebrations. Seeing them dancing around the flower, he strolls in, chomps on it, and declares (accurately), “The leaves are paper. The stem is wire. The petals are plastic. And the lot of you will freeze out here.” As the Bear demands an explanation and the Groundhog begins “to creep quietly away,” Johnson leads us to believe that the animals will turn on him. Instead, “They blamed the Pig, of course.” Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late wryly transforms a story about welcoming spring (The Happy Day) into a fable satirizing the human tendency to blame the messenger.

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)

Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat (2016)The third book in Klassen’s “hat” trilogy (Emily already has the first two, I Want My Hat Back [2011] and This Is Not My Hat [2012]), We Found a Hat finds a gentle solution to hat-begotten disagreements. If its peaceful resolution departs from its predecessors, Klassen’s deadpan humor and headwear obsession will please fans of the first two. Dividing the tale into three acts, We Found a Hat tracks two turtles’ discovery (Part One: Finding the Hat), unspoken disagreement on the fairness of single ownership (Part Two: Watching the Sunset), and dream of a shared hat-plentiful future (Part Three: Going to Sleep). It’s a satisfying and unexpectedly sweet conclusion to the series.

Brothers Grimm & Clementine Sourdais, Rotkäppchen (2014) [Sourdais’ version of Little Red Riding Hood (2015) in German]

Applying a spare color palette (red, black, white) to die-cut pages, Sourdais’ rendering of Little Red Riding Hood can be read two ways. You can unfold the entire book, from first to last page, and see the entire story at once, allowing whatever is behind the page to serve as your artwork’s background. Or you can turn each pair of glossy cardboard pages like a single page in an ordinary book. I confess: I bought this because the cleverness of the art enticed me.

Sourdais, Rotkäeppchen

Leo Lionni, Petit-Bleu et Petit-Jaune (1970) [Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959) in French]

Lionni, Petit-bleu at Petit-jauneLeo Lionni’s first book — invented, initially, to entertain his two grandchildren during a train ride —  tells of two colors who become friends. When they hug each other, they become green, and neither set of parents recognizes them. After crying themselves back to their original colors, they revisit the parents who (upon hugging both children) realize that blue hugging yellow creates green. Both families hug each other, and the story ends happily.  Given the date of its publication, it’s tempting to read this as advocating friendship between people of different races, and offering a visual metaphor of how such friendships change us for the better. However, the subtlety (and brilliance) of the book is that it doesn’t confine itself to that interpretation. The difference in color could represent any sort of difference, though — to me — the jubilant response to the color transformation suggests how friendships with people of different backgrounds enrich our lives.

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)

Leo Lionni, Fish Is Fish (1970)In another tale of friendship, a fish and a tadpole reckon with the latter’s transformation into a frog. When the now-grown frog describes all he has seen above the surface of the water, the fish’s imagination conjures up very piscine versions of birds, cows, and people. Lionni’s depictions of these fish-centric creatures are clever and amusing, and introduce a problem: the fish wants to see these sights, too!  His attempt to do so leaves him “gasping for air” on the bank. The frog, who happened to be nearby, pushes him back into the pond and saves his life. Are the book’s final words “fish is fish” an argument against curiosity, or a reminder to temper curiosity with caution?  Lionni never spells out a moral in so many words, leaving that up to us.

David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano (2015)

David Litchfield, The Bear and the PianoIf a piano falls in the woods, does it make a sound? As this book’s title character discovers, yes it does. He learns to play, attracting, first, ursine fans, and second, a boy and a girl. The two children invite him to the city (New York), where the bear “played sold-out concerts in giant theatres.”  But… he misses his home and his friends in the forest. Did they also miss him? He returns to find out. Though Litchfield (like many artists) draws upon digital tools as well as traditional artistic material, the art looks hand-made — echoes of Mary Blair, and classic Little Golden Books.

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970)Inaugurating Lobel’s best-known series, Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces the key elements that make a Frog and Toad tale work. First, our two main characters are complimentary opposites: Frog is more “adult,” patient, knowledgeable, grounded. Toad tends to be more childlike, impulsive, naïve, anxious. Frog is the optimist, while Toad is more pessimistic. Frog is the go-getter, and Toad is less energetic.  Second, the action revolves around a single event. In this book’s first story, Frog wants to celebrate spring, but Toad wants to keep hibernating. In the fourth story, Frog is happy to jump in the river and swim, but Toad is self-conscious about how he looks in his bathing suit. Third, they’re fables — animal characters satirize human foibles, offering a moral at the end. Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d'amis (2008)Fourth, they only imply that moral and, indeed, often subtly undercut it because, fifth, the books are funny. Lobel sees the humor in his characters and, gently, sympathetically reveals why their (especially Toad’s) choices are funny.  Sixth, and most important, the two are friends.  At a very basic level, all four collections of Frog and Toad stories are about friendship.

Arnold Lobel, Ranelot et Bufolet, une paire d’amis (2008) [Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970) in French]

I bought her the French edition because she’s being raised in an English-and-French-speaking household.

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and Shine (1976)

James Marshall, George and Martha Rise and ShineI have already given Emily three other George and Martha books: George and Martha (1972), George and Martha Encore (1973), George and Martha Tons of Fun (1980).  But there are seven books in all.  And so,… I’ve added two more to her library — the third and the seventh!  In this (the third), George fibs until Martha calls his bluff, Martha’s scientific inquiry into fleas make her itch, Martha’s desire for a picnic collides with George’s wish to sleep late, George thinks the scary movie will frighten Martha but she loves (in contrast, he’s more susceptible to fear than he thought), and Martha discovers the focus of George’s secret club. In each story, either George or Martha learns something, but the comedy softens the moral impulse. At their heart, these stories are about the friendship of two slightly absurd and very endearing hippos.

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and Round (1988)

James Marshall, George and Martha Round and RoundMarshall’s comic timing is as masterful as it is understated. My favorite story in this, his final George and Martha volume, is “The Last Story: The Surprise.”  You think it’s over. But it ain’t over until it’s over, and Marshall gets in one final joke.  These books are required in any children’s library. As Maurice Sendak says in his introduction to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, “The George and Martha books teach us nothing and everything. That is Marshall’s way. Just when you are lulled by the ease of it all, he pokes you sharply.” And, Marshall’s “simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page.”

Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, The Paper Bag Princess (1980)

Robert Munsch, The Paper Bag PrincessLet me be frank (OK, now you say: “Hi, Frank!”).  I chose this and Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony — in part — because Emily likes princesses.  I want her to read books in which the princesses can save themselves.  Children’s books should introduce her to smart, active princesses, not dull-witted, passive ones.  And so,… this classic feminist fairy tale joins the group. When a dragon kidnaps (or prince-naps?) Prince Ronald, Princess Elizabeth sets off to find him — wearing only a paper bag because the dragon has “burned off all her clothes with his fiery breath.”  She outsmarts the dragon and rescues the prince! But Ronald turns out to be snooty and ungrateful. So — spoiler alert! — she does not marry him after all. The end.

Mark Pett, The Lizard from the Park (2015)

Mark Pett, Lizard from the ParkA charming example of incidental diversity (Leonard’s brown complexion plays no larger role in the story), Pett‘s The Lizard from the Park seems to be about a solitary boy (Leonard) who finds a lizard egg, which hatches, and soon grows into a dinosaur. However, as this narrative unfolds, some contrary clues emerge. When they are out in public, no one notices Leonard’s increasingly large lizard. Indeed, the only person who seems to notice either Leonard or Buster (his lizard) is a bespectacled boy who — though never mentioned in the text — keeps crossing paths with Leonard in the illustrations. But it’s not clear whether this boy is noticing Leonard or his lizard or both… until the book’s conclusion, which I won’t give away here.

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)Ruzzier has created a clever, engaging book about learning to read — which, as you might expect, 5-year-old Emily will soon be doing. The narrative starts on the partially decipherable initial endpapers, which garbles most words but leaves some legible. Though we may not at first realize it, the pages subtly convey the partial comprehension of a beginning reader. Then, against a completely white background, a duckling finds a book, picks it up, opens it, notes that it has no pictures, and speaks the title (as the title, on the title page). As soon as the friendly bug prompts duckling to start reading, the blank landscape acquires color and sprouts visual metaphors for the duckling’s recognition of certain words. For the page indicating “funny” words, smiling bubbles drift by, a long-nosed large-footed fellow naps near a flowerpot, and many whimsical creatures look on. For “sad,” duckling and bug walk past smoldering houses and the craters of a recently bombed landscape.  By the book’s conclusion, the duckling can read — and the final endpapers have transformed into a legible typographic rendition of This Is Not a Picture Book!’s plot. Without any whiff of didacticism, the visual intelligence of Ruzzier’s book makes a subtle case for the pleasures of literacy.

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)

Julia Sacrone-Roach, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (2015)“By now I think you may know what happened to your sandwich,” the unseen narrator advises us. “But you may not know how it happened. So let me tell you. It all started with the bear.” So begins Sarcone-Roach’s very funny story of how a bear just happened to arrive in the city, and the park, and eat your sandwich. Though the tale is framed as an excuse, by concealing both the narrator and any evidence of sandwich-thievery, Sarcone-Roach invites us to be swept up into the improbable narrative. Her bright paint-and-pencil illustrations bring us along on the bear’s journey to, and then new experiences in the city. Only at the very end does she reveal that the whole story has been an elaborate set-up for the punchline — which, no, I won’t reveal here.

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)This is one of my favorite picture books of 2016. It’s timely, yes, but its strength lies in Sanna’s deft visual storytelling — her sense of pacing, design, story. It’s very well done. As war arrives, a family loses its father, and must seek a safe harbor.  On the page where “The war began,” the darkness that (on the previous two-page spread) had represented the sea suddenly becomes menacing, overtaking the entire right-hand page, with giant shadowy hands reaching left, destroying buildings. Over a few subsequent two-page spreads, the gradual loss of the family’s baggage accrues the weight of a much deeper loss — of home, father, security. With relatively spare text and powerful, vivid art, the book takes us on their journey toward what they hope will be their new home. Wisely, The Journey ends before the journey is complete. Narrated from the perspective of one of the two children in the family, the book delivers a complex, emotionally layered story with economy and subtlety. It neither sugarcoats its serious subject, nor presents in a too emotionally charged manner. It’s a book you’ll return to.

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The Dark (2013)

Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen, The DarkI bought this one because I noticed that Emily — at age 4, at least — needed a night-light. So, I thought: perhaps it would be helpful for her to read a story about making friends with the dark. That is precisely what The Dark is about. At the book’s beginning, Laszlo is afraid of the dark. Snicket and Klassen set up the dark as a character: “The dark lived in the same house as Laszlo,” they tell us on an early two-page spread. When Laszlo greets the dark, it (the dark) is silent. Then, one day, it addresses him directly, luring him down to the basement, where it lives. The story invokes this horror-story trope so that it can bring us into darkness while it demystifies darkness. I won’t give away the ending, but — as you may have guessed — by book’s conclusion, Laszlo no longer fears the dark.

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a Lion (2012)

Helen Stephens, How to Hide a LionA book that feels like it could have been published decades ago — in the 1960s, or maybe 1930s. With a line that recalls Edward Ardizozne and watercolors that recall Marcia Brown, Helen Stephens tells of a lion who strolled into a market square to buy a hat, but frightened townspeople chase him out of town… and so he meets Iris, a brave small girl who befriends him and helps him hide. I haven’t seen this in the U.S., but it’s been popular enough in the U.K. (where I found it) to inspire a sequel, How to Hide a Lion from Grandma. (I haven’t read the sequel.)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015; orig. published as Buurman leest een boek, 2012)

Koen Van Biesen, Roger Is Reading a Book (2015)Roger is reading a book. Or he is trying to. Next door, Emily is playing with a ball (BOING BOING). Roger asks her to please Shhhh! This pattern of different noises followed by Shhhh! repeats — until Roger puts down his book, and leaves. Then, a package arrives for Emily. It’s a book! Roger returns, and both read in silence . . . until WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF.  They both put down their books and take the dog — whom Roger has been ignoring for several two-page spreads — for a walk. In addition to the book’s spare illustration (not finishing the top of Roger’s head, for instance), I like how it takes both Roger and Emily seriously. Neither intends to be obnoxious to the other. Their interests differ. The character’s names also assert their independence. Never does Koen Van Biesen indicate their relationship to one another. Roger is not identified as Emily’s father or uncle or caregiver. He is just Roger. She might live in the apartment next to his, or might live in the same apartment. Her bedroom is adjacent to the room where he’s trying to read, and he always knocks before he enters. But that’s all we know. Also, yes, one of the main characters is Emily — which I thought would please the real Emily.

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Free (2010)

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny FreeThe conclusion to Willems’ trilogy featuring Trixie, her bunny, and Trixie’s parents.  (Emily already has the first two: Knuffle Bunny [2004] and Knufffle Bunny [2007].) Using the now familiar combination of black-and-white photos (for the setting) with hand-inked drawings (for the people and select objects), Willems brings Trixie and her parents to the Netherlands to see Oma and Opa (Grandma and Grandpa). Guess what she leaves on the plane? Now older, Trixie learns to live without her knuffle bunny and even to consider that, perhaps, other, younger children may need him more than she does. If a bit more sentimental than the previous two books, Willems’ tale and its morals nonetheless arrive via the sharply observed humor that makes a Mo Willems book a Mo Willems book.


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Mock Caldecott 2016: Manhattan, Kansas edition

This afternoon, a group of about 30 of us — undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, community members — voted on our choices for this year’s “Mock Caldecott.” Since we were guessing at the award results (announce in January), we read picture books by U.S. authors, published in the U.S. in 2016. Or, that’s what we intended to do — as you’ll see in a moment, we inadvertently admitted a beautiful Swiss-Italian book.  Another disclaimer: We did not get our hands on all notable works, and may have missed some important ones.  BUT!  Here are the books we chose.

The Winner*:

Francesca Sanna’s The Journey

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)Though a timely story, its stunning realization is what persuaded us.  As war arrives, a family loses its father, and must seek a safe harbor.  On the page where “The war began,” the darkness that (on the previous two-page spread) had represented the sea suddenly overtakes the entire right-hand page, with giant shadowy hands reaching left, destroying buildings. Over a few subsequent two-page spreads, the gradual loss of the family’s baggage accrues the weight of a much deeper loss — of home, father, security.  With relatively spare text and powerful, vivid art, the book takes us on their journey toward what they hope will be their new home.  (Wisely, The Journey ends before the journey is complete.) Narrated from the perspective of one of the two children in the family, the book conveys a complex, emotionally layered story with such economy and subtlety.  It’s one you’ll return to.

And… remember how, above, I said we inadvertently admitted a book not eligible for the Caldecott?  According to her website, Sanna grew up in Italy and is based in Zurich, Switzerland.  However, including it proved to be a very happy mistake because it’s a beautiful, powerful book, and I’m glad to be able to recommend it here.

The Revised Winner:

Sergio Ruzzier’s This Is Not a Picture Book!

Sergio Ruzzier, This Is Not a Picture Book (2016)This came in exactly one point behind The Journey, and was originally our first Honor Book.  Ruzzier was also born in Italy, but is based in Brooklyn, and thus his book is eligible for the Caldecott.  So, This Is Not a Picture Book should be today’s winner!  It’s a clever, engaging book about learning to read.  The narrative starts on the only partially decipherable initial endpapers, which garbles most words but leaves a few legible. Against a completely white background, a duckling finds a book, picks it up, opens it, notes that it has no pictures, and speaks the title (for the title page). As soon as the friendly bug prompts duckling to start reading, the blank landscape gains color and sprouts visual metaphors for the duckling’s recognition of certain words. For the page indicating “funny” words, smiling bubbles drift by, a long-nosed large-footed fellow naps near a flowerpot, and many whimsical creatures look on. For “sad,” duckling and bug walk past smoldering houses and the craters of a recently bombed landscape.  By the book’s conclusion, the duckling can read — and the final endpapers have transformed into a legible typographic rendition of This Is Not a Picture Book!‘s plot.

The Honor Books:

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo’s The Sound of Silence

Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence (2016)The color! The layout! The design! A journey through Tokyo, as Yoshio seeks silence. With a color palette worthy of Herge, Kuo takes us through the city with the book’s protagonist, searching for ma — the silence between sounds. Along the way, Goldsaito presents the noise of the city, which Kuo depicts, along with moments of relative quiet (not noted in the text), until we (via Yoshio) at last experiences that moment of silence.

Carole B. Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie’s Freedom in Congo Square

Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie, Freedom in Congo SquareThis one wasn’t originally one of our Honor books (because we inadvertently gave the prize to a Swiss-Italian book), but it could have been, because it received the next-highest number of votes after The Sound of Silence.  Congo Square offers the enslaved respite on a Sunday, but the rest of their lives are devoid of any such comfort. Prior to the Congo Square pages, Weatherford and Christie present the brutality that slaves suffered, rejecting any whiff of the “happy slave” narrative that still appears in children’s books.


There were many other great books published this year.  Here are three more that I think are Caldecott worthy (note: just my opinion, not the opinion of our little informal committee).

A few other great books from 2016:

  • Matt Phelan’s Snow White: A Graphic Novel
  • Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat
  • Jory John & Lane Smith’s Penguin Problems
  • Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book

And, yes, I’m sure I’m missing a lot of other good books here….

____________

* Actually not eligible to be the winner because the creator is based in Switzerland.

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Election 2016 in Picture Books; or, What Will We Tell the Children?

Children's picture books about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

This election. You’re tired of it. I’m tired of it. And… it’s finally over. Today. Or, at least we hope it will be resolved today. Given that Mr. Trump has vowed only to accept a Trump victory, it may not be resolved today. Either way, the 2016 U.S. Election is one for the history books — and for children’s books. We have yet to read the children’s book about this presidential contest, but four picture books on the candidates offer a first draft of history for younger readers.

A few months ago, I was talking to a German reporter about picture books on presidential candidates — he was genuinely surprised that there were already children’s books about Clinton and Trump. After all, neither had yet attained the office! But it didn’t surprise me. During the 2008 presidential election, there were twelve juvenile titles about then Senator Barack Obama — two of them picture books. During that same election, there were five books for young readers about Senator John McCain — one of those, a picture book (My Dad, John McCain, by his daughter Meghan).

Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015)This year, we already have three picture books about Hillary Clinton  — one of which, Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates’ Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015) has been updated since its initial appearance in 2008. The other two are new for this election: Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead (2016) and Jonah Winter and Raul Colon’s Hillary (2016).  On the Republican side, there’s just one: Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal’s A Child’s First Book of Trump (2016), which might also be called an adult satire masquerading as a children’s book.

Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, A Child's First Book of Trump (2016)Or it might not. Representing the American Trump (as Black calls him) requires a journey into areas where most children’s books fear to tread.  Lucky for Black and Rosenthal, they created the book before the emergence of the tape in which Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, before he was openly flirting with using nuclear weapons (and encouraging their proliferation), before he challenged the patriotism of a Gold Star family, before he went on a late-night Twitter rant against a former Miss Universe, before he (twice) suggested that his supporters assassinate Hillary Clinton, and before he said he would only accept the election results if he won.  Writing a Trump picture book now — even a picture book for adults — would be much more challenging.

Even though it misses some of Mr. Trump’s more recent offenses, A Child’s First Book of Trump does not shy away from his tiny hands, his anxiety about “the size of [his] manhood,” his need to attach his name to products of dubious merit, his fixation on always “winning,” or his obsession with TV coverage. “Now, where does it live?” Black asks of the Trump. “On flat-screen TVs! / It rushes toward every camera it sees. / It thrives in the most contentious conditions / And excretes the most appalling emissions.”

Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, A Child's First Book of Trump (2016)

The ersatz Seussian verse is no accident. Black represents Trump as a con-artist straight out of Seuss. In A Child’s First Book of Trump, Trump’s personality is part unreformed Grinch and part Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the salesman who profits from the Sneetches’ prejudice (in Seuss’s The Sneetches). Visually, Rosenthal depicts the Trump as an oversized yam with a comb-over.  He’s a compelling character for a children’s book: an ego that is both inflated and fragile; a volatile, impulsive personality; a pathological need for attention. He is the shining example of how not to behave. He is not even a “he.” He is an “it,” a non-gendered, primal, howling ball of need.

Jonah Winter & Raul Colon, Hillary (2016)Where Black and Rosenthal can draw upon the ready-made caricature of the man himself, the creators of the Hillary Clinton books face the challenge of both presenting a complex, multi-dimensional adult, and finding a clear narrative through-line. For the latter, all three underscore Clinton’s life and work as a feminist achievement, illustrating her Wellesley commencement speech, as well as her work as a lawyer, First Lady, U.S. senator, 2008 presidential candidate, and U.S. Secretary of State.

Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead (2016)The feminist narrative is compelling: it gives her struggle a sharp focus, and invites readers to root for her as she surmounts (or does not surmount) tough odds. When the story of the 2016 campaign gets added to revised editions of these books or told in new books, a feminist emphasis will contrast decisively with her opponent’s prolific misogyny. Indeed, in these children’s books of the future, Mr. Trump’s sexist thuggery will make him a convenient foil for Secretary Clinton.

In the current editions, the feminist emphasis sometimes risks oversimplifying. While I understand Krull’s desire to wrest a moral from each moment of Clinton’s life, the homily on every two-page spread feels condescending, as if the book doesn’t trust readers to make sense of the narrative. After a teen-age Hillary writes to NASA to volunteer to be an astronaut, the agency turns her down: “But it was 1961, and some paths were still closed to women, such as the job of astronaut.” On the same page and in a cursive script, the book adds “Take a deep breath, look ahead, and keep trying to fly.”  If these inspirational moments admirably address a lack of heroes for girls, they also insist upon the book’s authority, denying readers the pleasure of drawing their own lessons from its story.

Kathleen Krull and Amy June Bates, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight (2015)

Aided by the expressive faces and body language in Pham’s artwork, Markel’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead offers the sharpest focus on her subject’s battle against institutional sexism. Nearly every two-page spread confronts the double standard that Hillary has faced throughout her life. While campaigning with Bill, the narrative observes, “She wasn’t frightened of the cameras and reporters. But she couldn’t believe how people criticized her — in ways they’d never criticize a man.” By delivering this critique via free indirect discourse (third person closely aligned with first-person perspective, Hillary in this case), Markel softens the didacticism, while still highlighting the considerable gender bias — which, as Samantha Bee and others have pointed out, has been a dominant theme of the 2016 campaign.

Winter and Colón’s Hillary manages the feminist message subtly, via compelling anecdotes that speak for themselves. Visiting Egypt as Secretary of State, Clinton stands poised behind a podium, heedless of the men who point and shout at her. Winter’s narrative reports: “In Egypt, where women do not have as many rights as men, she gave a speech that called for equality between men and women. She was challenged by men in the audience: how dare she come to Egypt and tell them what to do? Hillary did not back down.” The sharpness of Winter’s text and warmth of Colon’s artwork (a mix of watercolors, colored pencils and lithograph crayons), taken together, conveys just the right mix of toughness and compassion.

Jonah Winter & Raul Colon, Hillary (2016)

The books about Hillary steer clear of Bill’s infidelities. On the one hand, this seems fair: his philandering is not her fault, and so need not be part of her story. On the other, it seems a lost opportunity: her ability to stick with a wayward spouse would offer some insight into their relationship. The sole book about Donald also omits his three marriages, many affairs, and avocational groping. Here, the omission is a flaw: Trump’s view that women are objects tells us much about his character, and should be included. It could serve as a cautionary tale for young readers, telling boys how not to behave, and all children about the type of boy they should avoid.

When picture-book creators of the future (or these authors, in revised editions) tell the story of this election, they’ll face the challenge of including language and behavior typically excluded from works for young readers, where pussy-grabbing typically refers to picking up a cat and not to sexual assault.  It’s quite possible that children’s books about the 2016 election will land on the American Library Association’s Banned Book List.

However, if that proves to be the case, then so be it. Lying to children does not help them understand the world in which they live. The truth is that, in 2016, the Republican Party nominated a thin-skinned, unhinged, narcissistic, sociopathic, misogynist, racist, conspiracy-theorist-spouting con artist. Most members of his party were the contemporary equivalent of good Nazis: they professed disagreement with some of his statements, but otherwise endorsed their candidate. Should Mr. Trump win, children’s books about this election will be shelved next to children’s books about the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Stalin, and other authoritarian rulers.  The books will be cautionary tales about how fascism can ransack democracies.

If Secretary Clinton wins, the U.S. will have at least won an electoral victory over an aspiring tyrant, even though he, his followers, and the party that nominated him will not have disappeared.  Discovering how to lead Trumpites and Trump-supporting Republicans back to democracy will be one of the major challenges of a Hillary Clinton administration.

As I write these words in the earliest hours of November 8th, we do not yet know the election’s outcome — though polling suggests that Secretary Clinton will prevail, thanks in large part to high voter turnout among Hispanics, African Americans, and other minoritized groups.  Indeed, in the grandest of ironies, all those whom the U.S. has historically treated badly — if they vote in sufficient numbers — will save America from itself.

And that’s a story worth telling.


Other posts about the 2016 U.S. Election:

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