Monday, April 5, 2021

Beverly

 My husband and son and I were having dinner in California. We were uptight and anxious, because several thousand miles away my daughter's horse had developed a full-blown medical emergency that could well prove fatal; my daughter, and especially our friends Caroline and Bruce--especially you, Bruce, we won't forget it--were loading him into the trailer for a midnight haul to the veterinary school two hours away. (My daughter drives our truck and trailer well--after her horse recovered she picked him up by herself--but that late drive with the horse's life in danger was emotionally beyond her. Our friends stepped up large and got her through it when the rest of us were 3000 miles away.)

Anyhow, we were sitting outdoors, under a heat lamp, trying to have a lovely time at a real restaurant while our stomachs tied themselves in knots. I checked my phone, hoping for news from my daughter. "Oh, no!" I said. "Beverly Cleary died!"

"Oh, no," my husband said, softly. "I'm so sorry."

"What did she die of?" my son asked. 

I scanned the news item. "It doesn't say."

"How old was she?"

"A hundred and four."

Husband and son looked at me. Son began to grin. And okay, it wasn't a tragedy. One hundred and four--very nearly one hundred and five. And yet. For the next few days my internet feeds were filled with universal mourning. From Judy Blume to Victoria Jamieson to me, at least two generations of children's book authors were influenced by her work, and who knows how many children. Millions. My mom read Ramona The Pest to me when I was myself in kindergarten--I identified with every aspect of Ramona's perilous walk to school. Her pulling up that flowering beet--I loved her. 

The next day (the horse was better, survived the night without surgery, happier spirits all around. We love this horse, he's young and vibrant and quirky and smart, we can't bear the thought of losing him) I went with my husband and son while they played an old, beautiful, California golf course. One of the houses on the course had a Little Free Library near one of the teeboxes, so of course I went to have a look--and there, among the other books, was a copy of The Mouse and the Motorcycle, my favorite of all Beverly Cleary's books. 

I just looked it up. It was originally published in 1965. The edition in the LFL had been published in 2016. I read the first few pages--they're still good--and replaced the book for a child to find.

We all knew she wouldn't live forever, but there were many of us who loved knowing that Beverly Cleary was still in our world. We loved her for her quiet groundbreaking subversive ordinary characters. We loved her for her truth.

For awhile now my husband and I have been thinking of getting a second dog. Our young cavoodle, Cava, loves the company of other dogs. She sometimes finds my husband and I dull, well-loved but slightly insufficient as playmates. When she's around other dogs she lights up with joy.

And so this Saturday we acquired a schnoodle pup. Just as we hoped, Cava reacted with joy, and patience, and deep satisfaction. The puppy is all things puppy, affectionate and sweet.

My husband named her. He names most of our animals. He's very good at names.

I present to you: Beverly Cleary Bradley.



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Only Racists See Race? Discussing Dr. Seuss

 Boy-howdee. 

I am trying to figure out what has so many white people so upset. There's all this talk of "cancel culture," but, as far as I can tell, everyone seems up in arms about the demise of  things already dead. Yesterday my internet feeds were blowing up because Dr. Seuss was being labelled racist. His books were being called racist! And some people were very upset.

I can't quite figure out why, except that of course many of them didn't know the facts of the matter, they'd simply seen clickbait titles like, "Dr. Seuss Banned!"

So let's start with the facts. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the organization which owns the copyrights to the author's material, decided to cease publication of six books due to their racially insensitive words or illustrations.  Those books are: McElligot's Pool (published 1947), If I Ran The Zoo (1950), Scrambled Eggs Super (1953), On Beyond Zebra (1955), And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (1964), and The Cat's Quizzer (1976.) 

I'm 53 years old, and only one of those books was first published in my lifetime. Also, I'm really well-versed in the field of children's literature, and I've never even heard of four of the titles. Also, do you all imagine books stay in print forever? Very few do. I have published 18 books, the first in 1998. Nine of them are still in print--two of those as electronic versions only. This is likely slightly better than average. Dr. Seuss's books have had phenomenal runs. 

No one is suggesting that these books be banned, removed from libraries, or burnt in the public square. They're just not printing new copies.

Are those six books racist? Yep. They are.

You don't have to like it. You can excuse Theodor Giesel as being a man of his time. You can say that you've not noticed racism in your favorite Dr. Seuss books--but you can't look at the specific books in question and say they don't propagate harmful racial stereotypes. They do.

And. This is important: you don't get to decide what offends someone else.

Take, for example, the swastika. You might see it as an ancient Sanskrit symbol of well-being. But if you wear it as a tattoo people will consider you a neo-Nazi. You can call the Confederate flag a symbol of states' rights all you want--but you need to recognize that many people see it as a badge of white supremacy. When the only pictures of Black people in a book show them barefoot wearing grass skirts--well, that's equating Blackness with ignorance and savagery.  Maybe you don't see it this way, but many people do. When they say they're offended, you don't get to tell them they aren't.

This is also important: there is no good reason to continue to offend people here. McElligot's Pool is not a hill to die on. 

I get that many people have happy childhood memories of Dr. Seuss books. I do. The Sleep Book was my favorite, in part because it was so long, and in part because of one particular illustration I loved so much I could probably draw it for you even now,. The kids I babysit used to made me read Fox In Socks every time because they thought it was hilarious how the tongue twisters tripped me up. No one is "cancelling" this. No one takes those memories away--nor is anyone ceasing publication of Fox In Socks or Green Eggs And Ham.

Dr. Seuss may or may not have been racist himself. I have no idea. Most likely, neither do you. It's irrelevant to the conversation. The man has been dead for thirty years. My grandmother, who's been dead more than twenty years, was absolutely racist for at least most of her life. I loved her dearly, and have many fond memories of her. I also remember how, in her very last years, some of her opinions about Black people changed--she became less racist, in part because she had more genuine interactions with Black people. None of that matters, any more than Dr. Seuss's real beliefs matter. All we're doing now is no longer producing new copies of some racist books Seuss wrote.

I'd like everyone who's got their knickers in a twist to answer these questions honestly:

--when was the last time you read a Dr. Seuss book?

--when was the last time you read any of the six books going out of print?

--how many of those six books have you read?

--if you have read them, what's your honest opinion of them? How do they compare with other children's books you've recently read? If you were going to buy three books for any child of your acquaintance, out of all the books in the bookstore, would any of these make the cut?

Look, it's not much of a stretch to say that today's children are better served by books written less than sixty years ago. We're in a glorious golden age of children's literature right now. There are amazing books being written, and our kids deserve to enjoy them. Take a look next time you go to a bookstore. Browse through the children's section. Open up some of those picture books. You'll see.

As for the title of this blog post: it's something someone wrote yesterday on a thread about the Seuss news. Only racists see race. Which is, honestly, one of the stupidest things I've ever read. If you don't see my identity, including my race, you don't see me. It's nothing to do with prejudice. It's simple truth.