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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Raping Dr. Seuss

This blog used to have a policy of publishing non-political material on weekends. The tradition continues.

As some of you know, my occasional forays into children's book illustration left me annoyed and infuriated. The entire genre has become a morass of soul-killing sludge. The reason comes down to a single word:

DIDACTICISM.

Kids don't buy books; parents do. Worse, parents write the things, even though all breeders should be legally forbidden from making the attempt. As noted in an earlier post:
Dr. Seuss never had kids. Beatrix Potter did not have kids. L. Frank Baum had not reproduced when he got into the trade of juvenile fiction. I believe that Stan Lee did not yet have kids when he co-created Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. Seigel and Schuster pretty much were still kids when they invented Superman, as was Bob Kane at the time of Batman's creation. Maurice Sendak was gay. E. Nesbit (Edith Bland) did not have kids. I may be wrong, but I believe that Norton Juster did not have kids when he wrote The Phantom Tollbooth.

Okay, so A.A. Milne and J.K. Rowling were proven breeders when they took up the trade. Every worthwhile general rule has exceptions.
Another exception was Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind and the Willows. Grahame was one of the odder ducks in Duckberg. As a prominent London banker, he became so beloved by colleagues that a hit man once took three shots at him -- and missed. Most of the time, work kept him separated from his son Alastair; the "Toad" stories began as a way of keeping up the lines of communication.

Unlike most parents, Grahame understood that children want fiction that celebrates transgression, which is why he made Toad the living personification of gleeful misbehavior. You won't find his like in any modern works for children.

Dr. Seuss also understood that kids don't want The Rules jackhammered into their noggins on every page. Unfortunately, his characters have been licensed out to Random House, which hired a crew of anti-creative cretins and gave them the task of transforming the Cat in the Hat into a hectoring hack.

These new books look like the old ones -- the artists do a good job of capturing Seuss' style -- yet the intent is very different. Philip Nel's book Dr. Seuss: American Icon thus describes the new Dr. PseudoSeuss books:
In contrast, the Cat of Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You! and Oh Say Can You Seed? takes himself quite seriously. He's still smiling, but now he works out. The former book's cover shows him clad in running shorts and a tank top, going jogging with Thing One and Thing Two, all carrying water bottles in their hands. He introduces the Tac-Toe-Tapping Tweets who "are strong and they're wise, / for they know to stay healthy / they need exercise!" Thing One and Thing Two, formerly pure id, are now all superego: they lift weights, stay clean and do their homework. The now well-behaved Cat shows us the Zanz who sings a "song/ about washing your hands": Wash your hands carefully./ It's up to you./ Use soap and warm water./ It's easy to do.? Rinse them and while/ we all sing this refrain,/ germs from your hands/ will slide right down the drain!"
I don't like this writing.
Don't like it one bit.
If I were a kid,
I'd say it was...unappealing.

Another PseudoSeuss title is "One Cent, Two Cents, Old Cent, New Cent: All About Money." Yeah. Random House knows all about that.

Young people won't know that these piles of perfect-bound dreck aren't real Seuss books. Thus, a new generation will learn to associate those characters -- and that art style -- with conformity, with preachiness, with the spirit of un-fun.

Researching the market, I can't find any children's book publishers willing to take on truly creative material. Lots of books are being printed and quite a few of them look good, but they exist to please parents. Only the least imaginative young person would have any tolerance for these sad exercises in corporate sermonizing.
Comments:
Wasn't Jk Rowling was dealing with depression issues when writing her book, even making them more about death after her mother passed away during the writing of her first book.

Rowling was inspired to write her first book about Harry Potter while on a delayed train ride.

So, one could argue that it is the taking of public transit that unleashes many great ideas, and when married, with kids, those tranist rides get replaced with backseat screaming.
 
Sesame Street went the same way. The wonderful humor in such video clips as "Wanda the Witch washes her wig on Wednesday" and "Martha's living room, Martha's chair, Martha's lamp . . . Martha's basemnt (as Martha falls through the floor clutching all her possessions)" have been banned. Cookie Monster eats healthy food now. My kids loved the old Sesame Street.

I got my son a dvd of early Sesame Street video clips. If I remember correctly, there was a warning on the dvd cover that the contents were not suitable for children.

One of my favorite books to read to my children was "Gordon the Goat" about a goat that always followed the lead goat -- until the lead goat led the herd into a tornado. After the tornado, Gordon thinks, why am I always following the lead goat? Why don't I think for myself?

I remember thinking, this book is subversive. I didn't stop reading the book to my kids.

Barbara
 
The next corporate pseudo-Seuss will doubtless be Horton Hatches a Hedge Fund :-(

Welcome back, Joe!
 
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