Thursday, August 20, 2020

Black Stories Matter

Thought it was time for an update seeing as we are in the midst of a civil rights revolution and a definite shift in thinking. The short of it is that
surpriseI am white. I grew up in a very progressive house in the south in the 1970s, with a mother born in the 1940s who was a civil rights activist from very early on. I grew up in South Carolina, and I don’t think I need to tell anyone what sort of racial climate that time and place was to spend a childhood in. My mother was very socially aware and active. She once made a cheerleader walk a mile beside the car at an away game for using a racial slur. She taught African American history in public schools. She worked with Black women who made baskets and quilts and taught them they were not just home goods but art and helped them begin to get their work displayed in museums. My mother constantly used her voice to uplift her Black friends, many who consider us family. My sisters and I might have been the only kids we knew who actively told kids at school not to use the N word when so many still used language like that, openly, in the day to day. 


Fast forward to today. I now live in Texas in a predominantly white neighborhood. I have exactly one Black person in my life who I can honestly call a best friend. I live inside a liberal white bubble in a neighborhood inside of another white bubble, and because I am surrounded by an amazing group of women who do speak out about human rights and gun laws and women’s rights, it often feels like that’s enough. But during this time I’ve become keenly aware that it isn’t. I started asking myself what this community can do to be better? What conversations do white people need to be having with our kids now to help them understand why it is important to support Black Lives Matter not just in words but in actions? All I knew was that it’s important to keep talking. 


As a white person from a progressive background living in a progressive white bubble, I was lulled into thinking I was not a racist, but as I’ve read more and more about microaggressions and the racial history of America and what it means to be not just racist but antiracist, I realized I have fallen drastically short. During the first few weeks after George Floyd was murdered, I was afraid to use my voice. I’m just a white lady, what do I know? If I stand up, what if I don’t know what I’m talking about? But it is important to stand up and speak up even if you sound stupid and don’t fully know what you’re talking about. It is important for white people to keep having these conversations with our friends and family even if they are uncomfortable. It is important for white people to take a hard look at themselves and see the parts of their own lives and histories that they want to pretend don’t exist. I know change only happens when we listen and educate, so I started reading and asking, what as a community can we do to actively do better? Barring forcing everyone to take Sociology 101 and watch every relevant movie on Netflix, what could we do collectively to help move the needle? This was a genuine ask on my part and I started asking everyone I knew. At this point you might be asking, what the hell does any of this has to do with vintage kid’s books? 


The answer is, a lot. 


Books might not be the strong hold they one were, but for all of us of a certain age, they were the window into the world. And when I look back at all these books I’ve loved, I see a lot of white faces. I see lots of stories rooted in colonial ideas. I see a childhood spent not seeing Black people or indigenous people in books, or if I did, they were gross stereotypes that even as an adult with a child and a blog about children’s books I did not fully recognize or understand. I remember a post on this blog a millions years ago that featured a stereotyped American Indian child and a weird outfit swap with a small cowboy, and getting blasted about featuring the book. At the time I didn’t fully understand the issue with it but respected the comment enough to take the post down, but in retrospect, I was naive not to fully get the offense.


Now, I am not here to write about the lack of diversity in children’s books as there are lots of people and scholars way more knowledgeable on the subject and whole organizations devoted to this cause. But in 2007, I created a blog that I know thousands and thousands of people looked to for inspiration without ever, specifically, seeking out the BIPOC POV. And sadly, in the world of books, that is what you have to do to help children form a realistic and unbiased view of the world. And even though I had the best intentions at heart and tried to be respectful, just by the nature that old + American often = racist, there are probably some vintage books that are better left forgetting. Honestly, I am loath to look back too deep for fear of what cringe worthy, offensive things I might have said and the subtly (or not-so-subtly) racist books I might have unknowingly loved or condoned. 


So last night, I took a little time and pulled together an Amazon list of childrens and young adult books from a BIPOC POV. Even though this blog is largely stagnant, I do still make a small amount being an Amazon affiliate (usually enough to pay to keep my domain name active), but I pledge to donate the full proceeds (and match them if I can) of what I make off the purchase of these books for the foreseeable future to We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit, grassroots organization of children's book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. If I am missing something on the list, let me know and I will add. If something on this list is inappropriate and I should delete, let me know that, too. If there are organizations or articles I should be researching and reading, drop those in the comments as well. And if you are looking for more resources to find more diverse books, try the Diverse Book Findermore than just avoiding stereotypical portrayals, they are focused on helping find great picture books featuring BIPOC. So order from my Amazon link to see donations kicked back to We Need Diverse Books or skip the middleman/conglomerate and order directly from one of these Black-owned bookshops here in the U.S. 


And if you ever come across an old post of mine that highlights a book that should be canceled, I am A-OK with blowing some shit up, even if it is a beloved children’s book classic. There might not be anything us Generation X kids and the millennials that followed can do to undo the mistakes our parents made, but maybe the children born from now until forever can grow up in a better world than ours being accustomed to seeing faces of all shades and sizes looking out at them from the pages of a book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

RIP Tomi

Still mourning the loss of Tomi Ungerer.

If you haven't checked it out, read my interview with Tomi from a few years back. :( And the fabulous New York Times obit.

Great, great talent. Wonderful life.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Land Where Ice Cream Grows



The Land Where the Ice Cream Grows
told by Anthony Burgess; illustrations and story by Fulvio Testa
Doubleday, 1979

Anthony Burgess is most famous for having written the novel A Clockwork Orange (that was then perhaps even more famously turned into a movie by Stanley Kubrick). However, it seems that twice he delved into the world of children's books, both to delightful effect. The first, A Long Trip to Teatime, was reprinted by Dover this year with Italian artist Fulvio Testa's original illustrations, but sadly The Land Where the Ice Cream Grows is still out of print. Burgess wrote the book based on a story by Testa, and as you can guess, it is about a world made of ice cream. The story begins like something out of a Wes Anderson movie.


(Note the mountain names. LOL.)

Jack and Tom and I were having dinner one day. There was a big, red-faced man sitting alone at the next table, and he'd just finished eating a steak as big as an elephant's ear. The waiter said to him, "Would you like some ice cream now, sir?" The man nearly exploded and said, "Ice cream? I don't want to see ice cream ever ever again!" Naturally, we pricked up our ears at this and we spoke to him. He told us about the land where the ice cream grows and how to find it.

Thus, a blimp is rented for 523 ping-pongs a month, and the two lead an expedition to find this land of the ice milk. The book is full of flavorful puns that match diary against dairy and desert against dessert and call out the days of the week in eatable (frozen appropriate) fashion. Munchday, Chewsday, Wethersday, Thawsday, Fryday, Shatterday, and (or course) Sundae.


You'll notice that we have to wear dark goggles, because of the glare.



Were we all going mad, or did we really see what we thought we saw? Because these great big lumps with cherries on top seemed to move, swaying in the ice cream breeze.



A terrible thing ice cream. The most terrible thing in the world.

There is a cute twist about Jack and Tom at the end that makes the story even more adorable (as if mountains that mist whipped cream, rivers full of chocolate sauce, giant popsicles and an even bigger, ice cream-eating monster--who can only say one word, Gelato!-- were not enough).


A true gem of a book, if you happen upon a copy in the stacks.

To get the full story on the collaborations between Burgess and Testa, check out this page of The International Burgess Foundation. It gives the entire 411 on this unforgettable match-up plus a lot on Burgess and Testa's short-print pamphlet (only 180 copies were made) from 1977 called The Christmas Recipe that is in heavy collector demand.

Special moment of linger to the bios in the back of the book where we find that Burgess loves his Dormobile and Testa (surprise) loves ice cream.



 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Etsy Store Winter Cleaning





Over the next few days I am going to be culling the herd to make way for new Christmas  books, so I am reviving my Etsy shop for a small window of time.
Available hits include these and more... 
The Story of Zachary Zween by Mabel Watts and Marylin Hafner; for sale here; reviewed here.
Mother Mother I Feel Sick Send For The Doctor Quick Quick
Quick by Remy Charlip and Burton Supree; for sale here; reviewed here.
Allumette by Tomi Ungerer; for sale here; reviewed here.
The Secret Three by Arnold Lobel and Mildred Myrick; for sale here; reviewed here.
Check out the full store here and keep your eyes peeled in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grandpa's Ghost Stories Back in Print!

Happy Halloween all!

Just poking my head in to say Jim Flora's Grandpa's Ghost Stories is back in print from Feral House Press. Happy happy day! Still THE spookiest of all the children's books ANYWHERE!


You're welcome. Original post here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Four Fir Feet (and other things)

Rising from the grave here because I am just past spring break and shelves were cleaned off, and I was reminded of just how many books there are still to share. Every time I turn around, a beloved author is passing away; their books like tiny secrets lost in time. There will be great authors who will live forever like Seuss or Margaret Wise Brown, but for every one of those there are a thousand others who fade from view. Their wonderful spirits vanished to the bins at Goodwill, or worse, withdrawn and thrown away.

This summer it will be ten years since I started this blog. So much has happened in that time. Publishers have taken more of an interest in out-of-print books that begged to be reprinted. Used booksellers have gotten more savvy about what people are willing to pay for old, beloved favorites. The internet has made it easy to price books accordingly, so that even the shelves of my favorite thrift stores are filled with overpriced gems. Gone are the days of 25 cent classics and incredible finds. Gone are the days when no one was shopping the book section at my local flea market. San Antonio, like many other American cities, is much too hipster for all that now. Sadly, that was what made this blog so easy to begin with. All I needed was a five dollar bill, a son who loved being read to, and an imagination open to looking beyond dingy library binding. It helped that I had a best friend who shared my passion for old children's books and had an even more amazing collection than my own.

I couldn't start this blog now without a much larger budget and more time to pick over and buy premium Etsy scores. All the fabulous out-of-reach design things moms like me pined for ten years ago are now being knocked off and sold at Target for a fraction of the cost, and all the vintage treasures that were so bountiful and inexpensive have been discovered and driven up in price. My son has moved on from picture books for the most part defaulting to his obsessive audio book collection, graphic novels, and middle school required reading like Shiloh (in Spanish) and Walk Two Moons. My BFF moved back to New York and now stretches past kids' books to troll library sales and handpick vintage design books for resale, and I went back to work in publishing. The end result being little to no time for this hobby right here.

But somehow, I always return. This spot reflects the hours I spent cross-legged on the floor with my son taking him to far off lands and introducing him to monsters who dance wild on islands and children who learn to switch on the night. This is the place where we met a fox who was indeed fantastic and spied on three robbers who befriended an orphan girl. This corner of the interwebs will always be the sacred space where I held my son in my arms squirming and squealing... "Again again, Mommy. Read it again." Every book on these pages is a memory of the best years of my life. I will cherish it always and mourn those moments when it was just me and him and all we wanted was the perfect 32 pages and all we had was all the time in the world.

Books are everything. With all that is wrong with the world, we were lucky enough to get lost in them for a while.

That said, Four Fur Feet popped into my view this last week and had me grieving again for the loss of Remy Charlip, lamenting the publishing urge to always re-illustrate, and falling in love again with the words of Ms. Brown. My son might be growing up, but I'll always come back if I find something worth remembering.



Four Fur Feet
by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Remy Charlip ~ William R. Scott, INC., 1950

What makes this book incomparable, ingenious, and absolute magic is that you never see the animal depicted in these pages. We only see his feet. His fabulous four fur feet!


See the four fur feet
at the top of the page?
They are the feet part
of a furry animal.

Follow the animal's feet
around the pages of the book.
When you come to a picture that looks wrong side up,
it's because the animal
has gotten part way around the world.

It is plays on the form like this that made Charlip such a delightful illustrator and a true artist. Simple. Playful. Elegant. And absolutely silly.

The feet appear throughout the book as if they are actually walking around the world until at last our creature sets down to rest and dream.




Also by:
What good luck! What bad luck!
Mother Mother I Feel Sick Send For the Doctor Quick Quick Quick
The Dead Dird
Arm in Arm
Thirteen
Wait Til the Moon is Full
Do You Know What I'll Do?
The Sky Was Blue
The Rabbit's Wedding
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
Christmas in the Barn
The Dead Bird
Little Chicken
The Little Island
Amigo
The Friendly Book
Little Fir Family
The Sailor Dog

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

More Tomi Ungerer!

Rising from the dead here to post this little tidbit from Tomi Ungerer's social media feed. Phaidon is releasing a single slipcased volume of eight of Tomi's newish and classic books, The Three Robbers, Moon Man, Otto, Fog Island, Zeralda's Ogre, Flix, The Hat, and Emile. Psyched! And in case you missed it a million years years ago, travel back in time to my interview with Tomi himself!

I miss you guys. I always have new stuff to share, but never enough time to share it. (And for those who are interested, check out my storytelling piece on Texas Public Radio.)

Happy Monday kids!
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