F O L K L O R E
C H I L D R E N S' B O O K S
P O E T R Y
For the 30th anniversary of the publication of Roald Dahl's Matilda, Dahl's long-time illustrator Quentin Blake imagined what Matilda might be doing at the age of 30.
“Since, as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several ways," said Blake, "it wasn’t very difficult. I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements would have come to the fore and shown her a role in life."
Unions have been good to me. At the Los Angeles Public Library, SEIU negotiated to get us librarians’ paid at the same rate as other city employees with masters’ degrees. At the time, librarians' salaries were lower than, say, city planners and employees in other male-dominated professions. When I worked on children’s television, I joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. After the show ended and went into reruns, the residuals I earned qualified me for full family medical benefits, thanks to the union. This safety net helped me get started as a freelancer.
When I began getting paid for my writing, I couldn’t wait to join the Authors Guild. It was a matter of pride at first: I was officially part of the literary establishment. Later, the Guild’s legal services advised me on two contracts. With help from their fantastic tech support staff, I used the AG website service to build my first author site. And like any good union, the Authors Guild made it possible for me to be a part of something much bigger than myself, fighting for the rights of all writers to control and to be fairly compensated for their work. The Guild is a legal powerhouse.
To any authors who read this: Please, please, join. Dues are on a sliding scale based on income.
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.
Could a poet or songwriter search for rhymes without lifting a finger? There's always the old-fashioned method of racking one's brain, of course, but here's a newer, faster way. Shout at Alexa, using a new skill from the rhymezone.com blog.
"If you own an Amazon Echo or another Alexa device such as a Fire TV, try out the new Alexa Skill for Rhymezone!
This skill lets you find words from the comfort of your couch by shouting out a command. You can say things like "Find words related to dog" or "Give me a 6-letter word for penguin" or "Find rhymes for cheese" or "Find adjectives for strawberry" and get back a rapid-fire list of matches.”
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.
After hearing his teacher read Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ a fourth-grader thought up his own, very funny Dr. Seuss-themed writing project.
The book Imagine That! explains how the Dick and Jane readers inspired Dr. Seuss to create something much better. But exactly how awful were The Dick and Jane books? This fourth-grader had never seen one. He decided to write and illustrate his own extremely awful story about Dick, Jane, Sally, and a cat whose name I can't decipher. The story was so boring, he gave up before page two.
A third grader asked me this interesting question about The Great Dictionary Caper.
Yes and no. Yes, I did (more or less), but it was no ordinary dictionary. It was The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young, which is an essential tool for kids and for adults who write for them. Why? It only contains words that pretty much everyone knows or will eventually know, plus common short phrases. It's fun to read, and sometimes I browse through it just to get my brain in poetry mode. When I was writing Counting Crocodiles, this dictionary gave me the idea of having each group of crocodiles doing something silly that rhymed with either crocodile or croc. Also, The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary has funny illustrations.
The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary hasn’t been updated in many years, which is a shame because it includes some slang and brand names. It seemed to be out of print, but there are always used copies available for a couple dollars via the usual sources.
Celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday by reading Wild About Books at Barnes and Noble in Vancouver, Washington, with their fabulous event planner Bjorn Sorensen. His official job title, "Community Business Development Manager," gives no hint of the way he can bring in a crowd, ramp up enthusiasm, and make an author feel awesome.
There is a new Marc Brown/Judy Sierra book in the works—a prequel to Wild About Books. It tells how all the animals built their unique zoo community (hint: a lot of math and many construction vehicles are involved). The book is tentatively scheduled for fall 2019.
What was Dr. Seuss's favorite of all his books?
It may have been The Cat in the Hat. In a 1983 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Seuss called it the book he was most proud of--
“I think I had something to do with kicking Dick and Jane out of the school system. I think I proved to a number of million kids that reading is not a disagreeable task . . . . I think I have helped kids laugh in schools as well as at home. That's about enough, isn't it?”
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.