A Is for Art: Stephen T. Johnson’s Abstract Alphabet

Part children’s book and part lesson in twentieth-century artistic movements, Stephen T. Johnson’s A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet is at the avant-garde of alphabet expressionism. Cubism is here, but the work explores the influence of dada and its children—surrealism, pop art, and conceptual art—and other styles such as abstract expressionism and color field…

The Trauma Games

War is hell.  If General Sherman (and, I expect, many others) hadn’t said it first, I suspect Suzanne Collins might have chosen those three words as a subtitle for her Hunger Games trilogy.  As its predecessors did, Mockingjay dramatizes the physical and emotional consequences of war.  It’s especially adept at displaying the scars invisible to those of…

Johnson and Krauss, Together for the First Time!

Though they had lived together since 1940 and married in 1943, this 1944 photograph is the first one to include both Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  Taken by Frank Gerratana, it appeared in the Sunday Herald (Bridgeport, Conn.) of October 1, 1944.  In my biography of Johnson and Krauss, I’m using a print of the…

Censoring Children’s Literature, Fall 2010

Sometimes, a new course draws on my expertise.  Other times, a new course is a chance for me to develop that expertise.  This class — “Censoring Children’s Literature” — is definitely the latter.  I have an interest in the subject, and I’ve tried to structure the syllabus around major issues concerning the regulation of what…

Corporate Seuss; or, Oh, the Things You Can Sell!

Random House’s newly updated Seussville website — featuring my biography and timeline — recently went live.  This is the first time I’ve written a piece for a corporation, but Dr. Seuss did it all the time.  Though he published his first children’s book in 1937, he made his living through advertising … until the bestselling The…

Literature for Adolescents, Fall 2010

With the fall term imminent (starts Monday), I’m posting a link to the latest iteration of my English 545: Literature for Adolescents. My goal is always “diversity” in many senses of that word.  We read books by writers of different backgrounds (African-American, Iranian, Chinese-American, Latino, Caucasian), genders, sexualities, classes — which are probably the categories most…

It’s a Lane Smith Book

Comedy is hard.  Lane Smith makes it look easy.  I’m not going to reveal the punch line to his latest, It’s a Book, because I don’t have to: There are plenty of amusing moments along the way.  When the jackass asks, “Where’s your mouse?” Smith provides a wordless page in which a mouse emerges from…

Scott Pilgrim vs. Scott Pilgrim: Believe the Hype

Just back from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which (as you may have read by now) is a fantastic adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s si­x-volume series of graphic novels.  This is why.  Director Edgar Wright understands what O’Malley is trying to do.  As in the books, the film treats narrative as a playful, allusive, genre-bending…