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P O E T R Y
Emily Temple on the web site Literary Hub writes that Wanda Gág’s 1928 picture book Millions of Cats is the oldest American picture book still in print. It won the Newbery Award. Not the Caldecott, which seems more logical. The Caldecott Award hadn’t been created yet. The words of Millions of Cats are, of course, unforgettable.
I adored Millions of Cats. I first discovered the vast world of picture books when I was officially too old for them. I was ten, and my father took me, one evening each week, to the main children’s room of the Washington D.C. Central Library. He ordered me not to leave until he returned. The children’s room had long tables made especially for reading picture books, slanted downwards, with a ledge across the bottom to keep them from slipping off. I read my favorites from front to back, and from back to front, asking myself, “How did they ever make this book? What was the process exactly?” Millions of Cats was a favorite, partly because I could see the pen strokes, and the words were hand-lettered. I could aspire to make a book like this.
I don’t know how many weeks I pursued my study of picture books. I recall that no other child ever entered that vast room. It was all mine. From time to time a friendly librarian led me to the books for children my age, but I would just return to my spot at the slanted table. One librarian showed me how to use the card catalog so that I could find all the books by one illustrator.
I read Wanda Gág’s other picture books. I tried to like them but didn’t. Then I discovered her Grimm collections. I wondered why the Grimm stories in her books sounded better in my head than the ones in my Grimms’ Fairy Tales at home. The reason was that she had translated them herself, imbuing them with the same read-aloud magic she brought to Millions of Cats.
in The Conversation
March 18, 2019 6.47am EDT
Cora Lynn Deibler
The University of Connecticut Archives houses the Maurice Sendak Collection of original sketches, book dummies, artwork and final drafts —nearly 10,000 items in all. In this article, UConn professors Capshaw and Deibler trace the evolution of Where the Wild Things Are, beginning with a 1955 dummy (title: Where the Wild Horses Are) to early trial versions of the book’s jacket. In the 1955 dummy, a child pulls the tail of a horse, and the horse kicks him right out of his clothes, foreshadowing a later book, In the Night Kitchen).
The online article features reproductions of Sendak’s early artwork for the book.
I read Where the Wild Things Are aloud hundreds of times to all sorts of groups, and I wound up loving Sendak’s writing as much as his art. The text is so dramatic. And it’s a composition in verse, with a mesmerizing slow beat, repetition, alliteration. Like any good poem, the text of the book inscribes itself in memory. When you read a picture book aloud, it’s so nice to be able to “read” your audience rather than always focusing your eyes on the page.
For terrific rhyming Sendak, of course, you can’t beat Pierre, which is also easy to learn by heart.
This new study from University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and involving 37 parent/toddler pairs, found that adults and children interacted with one another less with e-books than with print books. The research was published in the journal Pediatrics, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and has gotten a lot of media attention, including Perri Klass' article in the New York Times.
I guess you could file this study under D for "Duh!" but it can't be said enough times. Picture books are the very best way for an adult to have an interesting conversation with a toddler.
A patas monkey and its preferred tree, the whistling thorn acacia, may have inspired Dr. Seuss's famous character and his Truffula trees.
The New York Times ran a piece about this, but it's definitely worth looking at the source, a paper in the journal Nature, Ecology and Evolution. The authors—three anthropologists (Nathaniel J. Dominy, Sandra Winters ,and James P. Higham) and a Dr. Seuss biographer (Donald E. Pease)--build their case on both scientific and literary detective work. The article is fun, it's convincing, and it will no doubt become a popular resource in middle school and high school classes. For example, the authors' applied facial recognition-type technology to certain monkeys, along with both the Lorax and a character from Dr. Seuss's The Foot Book. Graphics are included. The authors created a timeline of notes and sketches to argue that Dr. Seuss's encounter with African plants and animals played a pivotal role in the development of the book.
The Nature, Ecology and Evolution article could easily be the basis for lessons about artistic creativity, historical sleuthing, scientific method, and academic vocabulary. And we writers may wonder if and how Dr. Seuss missed making an important connection in the story.
The Great Dictionary Caper. Oops!
A mini-jumble of just two adjacent letters went unnoticed by me, by the editors, assistant editors, and proofreaders at Simon and Schuster, and by the folks who gave the book starred reviews at Kirkus, Publishers’ Weekly, and Booklist.
It wasn’t until librarians began reading the book that the error was found (it’s since been corrected in later printings). Did those of us who missed it simply get enough information from the other letters to ignore the misspelling, Ryhming? Perhaps. But the font was large, which should have made the mistake easier to spot, and on top of that, it came right after a double-page spread of anagrams, so we should have been on the lookout for switched letters. I'm guessing that these particular letters in this particular word created a trompe l'oeil, a trick of perception.
Next time, I will pay etxra attention to proofreading the words in a book's art.
I am an author and folklorist based in Portland, Oregon.
Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote 'The Cat in the Hat"
(Random House, 2017). Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
*Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Kirkus.
The Great Dictionary Caper, illustrated by Eric Comstock (Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster, 2018)
**Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist.
Wild About Books, illustrated by Marc Brown. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004). New York Times Bestseller, ALA Notable Book, and winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.