Book-Banners Hurt Young People

As I look at the American Library Association’s lists of Banned and Challenged Books, one recurring theme emerges: most (though not all) depict difficulties faced by children and teens. Though the motive for banning books is protection, restricting access to these books hurts the children and teens who are most in need of them.  Laurie…

Crockett Johnson Laughs

Crockett Johnson was not a teller of jokes.  His sense of humor was wry, subtle, sardonic.  He’d quietly offer a well-turned phrase or make an off-hand observation that perfectly addressed the moment.  However, in contrast to his gentle delivery, he “had this sort of earthy laugh,”1 a “marvelous laugh.”2 Courtesy of Nina Stagakis, here is…

Speaking Out

Wesley Scroggins, Associate Professor of Management at Missouri State University, thinks that Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak (1999) is “soft pornography.”  Having read and taught Speak many times, I suspect that Mr. Scroggins either lacks some basic literary skills (such as how to detect tone) or is in need of psychological counseling. As an English professor,…

Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices?

When I posted news of my “Censoring Children’s Literature” course last month, several people (well, OK, one person …maybe two) expressed an interest in hearing more about the course.  So, given that Banned Books Week is coming up next week, here’s an update. Having lately been examining two versions of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle (1920,…

Inventing Language: Speech Acts and Their Creators

How many people have lent their names to a speech act? I’m not thinking of proper nouns that denote a literary style (Dickensian, Kafkaesque, Proustian), but of a specific syntactical, grammatical, or other linguistic act named for a person.  This is what I’ve come up with. Bowdlerize: named for Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who in who…

The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part I: Comics & Cartoons

One side effect of writing The Purple Crayon and A Hole to Dig: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming, 2012) is that I could write pages on how Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) has influenced subsequent artists and writers — and, for that matter, on Harold’s antecedents.  (The list of works discussed in the…

Kadir Nelson Is the Best; or, When the Caldecott Committee Strikes Out

What makes an award-winner?  One of the best picture books of 2008, Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (2008) won neither the Caldecott Medal nor a Caldecott Honor.  The following year, Jerry Pinkney became the first African American to win the Caldecott Medal — “given to the artist of the…

Parry Gripp, Commercial Jingles, & Other Good Music

What ever happened to commercial jingles?  When I was growing up, it seemed to me that most products had their own theme songs: “My bologna has a first name — it’s O-s-c-a-r,” “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz,” “Hershey is the great American chocolate bar,” “What walks downstairs, alone or in pairs, and makes such a slinkety…

More Metafiction for Children

Since “Metafiction for Children: A User’s Guide” went up yesterday (as the final entry on In Media Res’ “Children’s Culture” week), I’ve been pleased by people’s kind response to my amateur video.  Thanks, everyone! There are far more books than I could include in the film, and there were several I had not thought of….

Crockett Johnson: Ford’s Out Front!

With a nod to the survival of the U.S. auto industry, here’s an ad campaign from when American automakers were thriving.  Created for Ford in 1947-1948, Crockett Johnson based these ads on his untitled cartoon, popularly known as The Little Man with the Eyes, which ran in Collier’s from 1940 to 1943.  In each cartoon,…