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Maira Kalman's Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything got starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. Horn Book noted its candor and substance, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books praised Kalman's candid discussion of Jefferson's contradictory views about slavery.
Me? The title alone brought me up short. As far as I've read, no one else has noted the title.
Apparently, the author, her editor and publisher, and obviously the reviewers, did not think how a Native person--especially one whose ancestor's were removed from their homelands--would read the phrase, "The Pursuit of Everything."
Like the presidents before him, Jefferson wanted land.
Like presidents before him, Jefferson chose to act as though Native people were primitive hunters. He wanted them to be farmers, not hunters! In fact, Native peoples of their respective nations all along the coast had been farming for hundreds of years, and Jefferson knew that. He wanted them to stop hunting, though, because if they did, they wouldn't need all that land. But it was their land. Treaties said so!
So, what to do?! Jefferson wanted that land!
In American Indians, American Presidents (published in 2009 by HarperCollins), Robert Venables quotes from a letter Jefferson wrote to William Henry Harrison:
To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want... we shall push our trading uses [familiar trading customs], and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.
See that? Jefferson's idea was to give them credit at trading posts, knowing that when they couldn't pay off that debt, their land would be used to pay it off. Today, don't we call that predatory lending?
You may wonder... are Native people in Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything? Kalman included Hemings and slavery... did her candor extend in any way to what Jefferson said or did with regard to Native people?
We're told he had an Indian artifact in his home.
And, there's a page about "brave men" named Lewis and Clark:
Nary a mention on that page of tribes as Nations with whom the US government had treaties with... Just the names of some of them, and the words "artifacts" and "danger" and "tribespeople" and of course, the name of one person in particular, Sacagawea.
Thomas Jefferson. The pursuit of everything.
The pursuit of land.
Fact: Moving Native peoples off their homelands made it possible for white people to pursue everything on that land. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything keeps that particular fact off the page.
Isn't that a problem? For all of us? Native and not?
If young readers can handle Jefferson's affair with Hemings, don't you think they'd be able to handle a candid page of information about Native Nations, treaties, and, about US policies on land acquisition?
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything, published in 2014 by Penguin Books, is not recommended.
I love the easy way Maira Kalman moves from goofy to profound. Her paintings are both childlike and realistic. And she never hedges her bets with color. Some of the landscapes in her picture book biography of Thomas Jefferson remind me of a Candy Land board game—in a good way. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything channels the curiosity and intelligence of Jefferson himself. Her newest books, Ah-ha to Zig Zag and My Favorite Thingsare timed to coincide with the December 12th opening of the renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the exhibitMaira Kalman Selects.
"Kalman was free to choose any random pieces from the museum’s rich and varied collection, and then paint, draw, and riff on each one from a personal perspective," writes Steven Heller about the upcoming exhibit. See Mr. Heller's article here: www.theatlantic.com/entertainment.
I think the nicest thing about the internet, for me anyway, is that if you wait around long enough things that you’ve seen live will appear online and then you can let lots of people know about them. For example, this video of Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman is not new. It does, however, contain the only known record (known to me) of them both talking about the photograph game they would play. The photo involving the catapult and the giant ice cream is a bit dangerous as it makes me giggle for long periods of time.
Next up, the only thing better than bad lip reading of Twilight? Bad lip reading of New Moon. True fact.
Read a really good independently published children’s book this week. Self-published and remarkably fun. It even has one top-notch book trailer to accompany it. Check it out, peoples.
If the author’s name sounds familiar, that would be Ms. Lynn Messina of Little Vampire Women fame. On an unrelated note, she also owns awesome boots.
Big time thanks to David Maybury for directing me to his link to this video of Laureate na nÓg Niamh Sharkey working with students from Griffeen Valley Educate Together on a Christmas Window for Hodges Figgis Bookstore in Dublin.
I’m now harboring fantasies of some store in New York doing something similar. Books of Wonder maybe, though Bank Street Bookstore would probably get more foot traffic watching. I mean, if Dublin can do it, we can too, can’t we?
And finally, for the off-topic video sometimes you just gotta give cred to the science/digital geeks. Serious cred.
Since the week has been so crazy for me preparing the Spring 2012 picture books at work, here are a few announcements/discoveries to keep y’all busy:
1. Seems that Coralie Bickford-Smith, senior cover designer over at the UK’s Penguin Books, has been on everyone’s brains lately . . . I received two links to her in the past few days! I have always been a huge fan of her Clothbound Classics series, but I hadn’t seen her full site.
And, my goodness, take a look at her newest work! I’m getting giddy looking at this Penguin Great Food series (link courtesy of Creative Review, via Ryan, extremely cool fellow designer/cubicle neighbor). Each plate is based on vintage ceramic patterns, and I seriously can’t get over how gorgeous they are.
2. Speaking of how the UK dominates beautiful patterned covers, let’s move along to White’s Books, a small London publisher directed by David Pearson (a former Penguin Books designer himself). In a different way, these patterns draw the reader into other imagery and bring visually potent symbolism to distinguished classics. Thanks to Kevin Stanton, amazing paper-cut illustrator from the Illustration Week extravaganza, for referring me to Jessica Vendsen’s blog!
3. On a local level, I have to give a shout-out to a new show opening up in town: Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World). I’ve mentioned before my infatuation with Maira’s work, and since she’s a Nancy Paulsen Books author/illustrator, I get to drool over her new children’s books on a regular basis. Can’t wait to check out this exhibit of many of her best-known works, as I know it’ll be as original and out-of-the-box as ever.
Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is on display at The Jewish Museum from
And we find ourselves back at the Yale Club, across the street from Grand Central Station, and a whopping 10 minutes away, on foot, from my library. There are advantages to living on a tiny island, I tell ya.
As per usual, Little Brown pulled out all the stops for the average children’s and YA librarian, in order to showcase their upcoming season. There were white tablecloths and sandwiches consisting of brie and ham and apples. The strange result of these previews is that I now seem to be under the mistaken understanding that Little Brown’s offices are located at the Yale Club. They aren’t. That would make no sense. But that’s how my mind looks at things. When I am 95 and senile I will insist that this was the case. Be warned.
A single day after my return from overseas I was able to feast my eyes on the feet of Victoria Stapleton (the Director of School and Library Marketing), bedecked in red sparkly shoes. I would have taken a picture but my camera got busted in Bologna. I was also slightly jet lagged, but was so grateful for the free water on the table (Europe, I love you, but you have to learn the wonders of ample FREE water) that it didn’t even matter. Megan Tingley, fearless leader/publisher, began the festivities with a memory that involved a child’s story called “The Day I Wanted to Punch Daddy In the Face”. Sounds like a companion piece to The Day Leo Said “I Hate You”, does it not?
But enough of that. You didn’t come here for the name dropping. You can for the books that are so ludicrously far away in terms of publication (some of these are January/February/March 2012 releases) that you just can’t resist giving them a peek. To that end, the following:
At these previews, each editor moves from table to table of librarians, hawking their wares. In the case of the fabulous Ms. Baker (I tried to come up with a “Baker Street Irregulars” pun but it just wasn’t coming to me) the list could start with no one else but Nancy Tafuri. Tafuri’s often a preschool storytime staple for me, all thanks to her Spots, Feathers and Curly Tails. There’s a consistency to her work that a librarian can appreciate. She’s also apparently the newest Little Brown “get”. With a Caldecott Honor to her name (Have You Seen My Duckling?) the newest addition is All Kinds of Kisses. It’s pretty cute. Each animals gets kisses from parent to child with the animal sound accompanying. You know what that means? We’re in readaloud territory here, people. There’s also a little bug or critter on each page that is identified on the copyright page for parents who have inquisitive children.
Next up, a treat for all you Grace Lin fans out there. If you loved Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat then you’ll probably be pleased as punch to hear that there’s a third
A package arrived in the mail for the small Bird the other day. Though she has no hand-eye coordination and questionable social skills, Baby Bird occasionally gets a toy worth noting. I’ve done one post before on the array of children’s literary toys that are out there that I have seen. Here is another for now I find that there’s a new toy on the market and it’s only available through the Jewish Museum Shops.
Those of you familiar with the artist Maira Kalman have probably stumbled upon her Max books at some point. Max is ostensibly a dog. He exists in a variety of picture books, including Max Makes a Million, Ooh-la-la (Max in Love), Max in Hollywood, Baby, and more. Had you asked me how to make an actual Max doll I’d have been hard pressed to say. I mean, here’s an average image of Max:
Making a doll from that would take some doing. It’s not like you’re making a Mo Willems Pigeon with its straight black lines. And yet, and yet, it could be done. In conjunction with the current Kalman exhibit Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) I present to you this limited edition Max doll:
I have to admit, I’m utterly charmed by him. His inner pockets reveal two pieces of writing. One is a shopping list that lists the following:
More jelly doughnuts
Map of Iceland
The opposite pocket contains a note with this to say:
I showed Max to Monica Edinger the other day and she wondered, rightly, about the state of his underwear. All good dressed toys make sure not to skimp on the knickers. So we pulled down his elastic waisted pants and voila! Red underwear with white polkadots. Add in the removable shoes, the pocket handkerchief (also removable), his hat, scarf, and shirt and you have a remarkable toy. Everything he wears can be taken off, yet none of it falls off of him of its own accord. This is one well made little guy!
Fans of the Max books may be able to clarify a mystery for me too. Why on earth does he have the mysterious initials “MS” sewn into the back of his coat?
My husband Matt pairs well with me for a number of reasons. Amongst them is our mutual inclination to collect things we love. As such, Matt has systematically been holding onto all his issues of The New Yorker ever since he got his subscription in college. Over the years these issues have piled up piled up piled up. I was a Serials Manager before I got my library degree and one of the perks of the job was getting lots of lovely magazine holders. For years these holders graced the tops of our bookshelves and even came along with us when we moved into our current apartment a year ago. Yet with the arrival of our puir wee bairn, we decided to do the unthinkable.
Yes. We ripped off all their covers.
Well, most anyway. We have the complete run of New Yorker text on CD-ROM anyway, and anything published after the CD-ROM’s release would be online anyway. Thus does the internet discourage hoarding.
In the meantime, we now are the proud owners of only three boxes worth of New Yorker covers. They’re very fun to look at. I once had the desire to wallpaper my bathroom in such covers, but that dream will have to wait (as much as I love New York apartments and all . . .). For now, it’s just fun to flip through the covers themselves and, in flipping, I discovered something. Sure, I knew that the overlap between illustrators of children’s books and illustrators of New Yorkers was frequent. I just didn’t know how frequent it was. Here then is a quickie encapsulation of some of the folks I discovered in the course of my cover removal.
Zoom and Re-Zoom continue to circulate heavily in my library, all thanks to Banyai. I had a patron the other day ask if we had anything else that was similar but aside from Barbara Lehman all I could think of was Wiesner’s Flotsam. Banyai is well known in a different way for New Yorker covers, including this controversial one. As I recall, a bit of a kerfuffle happened when it was published back in the day.
Author and illustrator of many many picture books, it’s little wonder that the Art Editor of The New Yorker, Ms. Francoise Mouly, managed to get the man to do a TOON Book (Luke on the Loose) as well. And when it comes to his covers, this is the one I always think of first.
“The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.” ~YALSA
In a sec you'll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses...I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened. And the truth is that I goddamn loved you so much...
The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I'm dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me.
And the box does have everything from their relationship-- bottle caps and flower petals, ticket stubs and a coat, a protractor and some sugar... and the world's longest letter, detailing every detail of Ed and Min's relationship and where, and how it went wrong.
Ed is the jock, co-captain of the basketball team, with a string of popular girl girlfriends. Min is... not arty. Don't say she's arty. But she's smart and I guess we can call her alterna-girl. Not the kind Ed usually goes for. But he goes for Min.
We know it won't work for a number of reasons-- the premise of the book and the first page tell us it already ended. As an adult reader, you just know they're doomed from the set-up of personalities, but as Min details their relationship, pointing out all the red flags, you still end up cheering for them and their love and you hope they won't break up.
I love the structure-- the telling through the objects that Maira Kalman so beautifully paints. I love this book as an object-- the paper is heavy and glossy, like a coffee table book.
I had a hard time getting into it at first, but I think that was more about my head space than the book itself. But, because of it, I read it over the course of a month and in that drawn-out time frame, I became really invested in this doomed love. The way Min writes about it, it sounds like a relationship that slowly unravels and then you get to the moment of the actual break up and... Min, sweetie. You don't need 354 pages to tell Ed why you broke up. It's one sentence. He isn't worth the ink.
And that was a very disappointing end.
But, I did like portions of it. I like that Min was an "arty" girl who wasn't arty. I like that she thought she was so much deeper than she was. It was a bit annoying, but very, very, very true. I was friends with Min in high school. I like that we never found out the exact deal with Ed's mom. I liked Ed's sister and I liked that we saw more to Ed than the stereotypical jock, but he was still a total popular boy jock.
My favorite was Min's friend Lauren, who would sing hymns at Min to torture her into spilling information. When Lauren was seven, she saw symbols in a speech balloon, and her super-Christian parents were too God-fearing to explain that the symbols meant fuck so freshman year she had this joke of saying "numbersign questionmark you" and "astrisk exclamtionpoint the world." If I were still in high school, hanging out with Min, this would be a speech p
Author Daniel Handler (who sometimes goes by Lemony Snicket) and illustrator Maira Kalman visited Amazon to chat about their new book Why We Broke Up, chosen by editors as one of January's Best Books of the Month. If we gave awards for most delightfully entertaining interviewees, these two would be shoo-ins.
A while ago, a colleague of my husband’s gave us this delightful book, Max Makes a Million (Viking, 1990), about a dog-poet named Max. And thus was I introduced to the marvelously oddball world and voice of New Yorker and children’s book writer and illustrator, Maira Kalman. The story of Max is not so much poetry per se in the conventional sense of verse on a page (although it is that in this book as well), but more the illustration of an extended metaphor at work. The poet-as-dog in his New York digs with his artistically inclined owners, and extravagant ambitions, his friendship with a painter, and his encounter with the critic, is quirky and evocative. And somehow, all very apt for a poet! And there’s lots of word music, to boot. Max’s poetry is catchy:
I want to dance
until I plotski
and sing like a boid
on toity-toid and toid
In this wonderful TED video, Kalman talks about her ‘creative process,’ so to speak, with much vigor, charm and humour. I was struck by how much she mentioned being a ‘bad poet’ and of writing ‘bad poetry’ and yet, in the end, I have to say her judgement of herself — however harsh — never stopped her from carrying on. As any artist knows — poet or otherwise — it’s often hard just to stay inspired. And seeing as it’s February, you might find watching this video and hearing her talk about this dreary month a bit of an inspiration yourself.
In the book, her portrait of Lincoln includes the words: “I looked deep into his eyes and found.” Kalman added: “I thought he would be the most incredible boyfriend. If I were married to him instead of Mary Todd Lincoln, the whole history would’ve been a whole different thing.”
The mark of a good parody is when you don’t need to have seen the original. A billion thanks to 100 Scope Notes for this one. Never would have found it myself.
Well, it’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in New York City. Daylight savings just granted me an extra hour to sleep and the New York Marathon appears to be ending, virtually, just outside my front door. You should hear the happy music. It’s kind of enchanting.
On that cheery note, let us watch a different kind of parody, only this time with cute kids.
Before I show this next one, I should explain that the Robin Hood Foundation here in New York City has created what they call the Library Initiative where public schools can get beautifully designed library spaces. Maira Kalman created a mural for one such school.
I heard about this video at a recent Simon & Schuster librarian preview, and then saw it on Bookmoot not long thereafter. It’s Scott Westerfeld interviewing Alan Cumming about doing the audio versions of his books. Pretty much any excuse to show Alan Cumming, I will take advantage of.
Author Kathi Appelt is very good about letting me know when she’s interviewed her fellow author friends. Ms. Appelt noticed that I recently reviewed Ms. Kimberly Willis Holt’s book The Water Seeker on the Katie Davis podcast Brain Burps About Books. With that in mind, she let me know that she’d spoken to Ms. Holt with her Flipcam. If you’ve ever been curious to see what Ms. Holt looks like, here ya go!
Bob Shea is leading the kids through some truly stellar dinosaur "roars" during a read-aloud of his new book "Dinosaur vs. Potty," a hilarious play-by-play of one little dinosaur's battle to resist going you-know-what, in the you-know-where. The story bounces along with Bob Shea using his best boxing ring announcer's voice to repeat the refrain, "Dinosaur wins!" at the end of each spread. Kids roar, and giggle, then roar some more - and the book concludes.
That's when Chris Raschka, Caldecott medalist and all around cool dude, leans over to me and whispers, "So, who wins? I couldn't see the pictures, is it the dinosaur or the potty?" "I think the Dinosaur went in the potty... so I guess they both win," I say. "I should save my questions till the end," says Chris with a wry grin. "Yeah, we should probably stop all this potty talk," I say.
Left to right: Chris Denise; Anika Denise; Chris Raschka
This is why I love doing group signings. Picture book authors tend to be down to earth, funny, frequently irreverent folks, content with the good fortune of being able to do what they love for a living. This past weekend Chris and I signed at Books of Wonder in NY, alongside Jane Dyer (A Train To Dreamland) Tad Hills (How Rocket Learned To Read), Maira Kalman (The Pursuit of Happiness), Laurie Keller (Birdy's Smile Book), Chris Raschka (Little Black Crow), and Bob Shea (Dinosaur vs. Potty).
What struck me (besides the fact that all these authors are amazing, talented folks and I was honored to be counted among them) was the palpable appreciation for one another's work. The authors were clearly having just as much fun as the audience during the read-alouds.
Equally cool was hearing all the behind-the-scenes chatter about everyone's book projects, how they developed, where they are doing signings, what other artists they admire, how they promote their titles, etc. For me, an author relatively new to the industry, it was a fascinating and fabulous experience.
Next signing stop: Tomorrow! Saturday Dec. 11th: Where The Sidewalks Ends in Chatham, MA (on Cape Cod) 10a - 12p. Big Stella will be joining us (and rumor has it the mouse from "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" will be in the house too); they'll be a holiday stroll going on, hot chocolate, a cozy fireplace, and of course: books, books, books. Come see us!
So often I expound on such serious matters for picture books: the Holocaust, scientific inquiry, and war. It's nice once in a while to pick up a picture book that's just fun to read, and Lemony Snicket's 13 Words is such a book. 13 Words couples simple words (Bird) with complex (Despondent), and common words (Dog) with uncommon (Panache).
Just last night my seven year-old daughter asked if we could read a book together. From stacks of dozens of picture books on our dining room table, Mackenzie selected this one to read (I think the striking school-bus-yellow cover had much to do with that).
As we began to turn pages, she decided that some were mine to read while others were hers. The page featuring the word Despondent was hers. Dad the teacher, never one to miss ruining the moment, stopped her to ask, "What does despondent mean?"
Mackenzie dutifully replied, "It means very unhappy," and explained why, using the pictures and context sentences to prove her hypothesis. (By the way, there is no difference between hypothesis and absolute-certain-truth in the mind of a seven year-old).
As we continued through the book, often stopping to discuss Maira Kalman's surreal illustrations, we came across the word Panache. Learning its meaning (from the book, mind you, not from Dad), my daughter called to my wife, "Hey, Mom! You have panache!"
Enter Mom. Good thing, too, because we needed some help with Word Number 13: Mezzo-Soprano. My wife offered, "I think that's a soprano that sings really high. Casey would know."
Enter the thirteen year-old, the musical theatre aficionado. Thirteen year-olds know everything, so it was extremely fortuitous that she was available to confirm my wife's conjecture. And with the whole family now gathered, we finished the book.
The book in one word? Crazy (Mackenzie). In two? Pretty Neat (Mom). In three? Kind of Weird (Casey). In four? Completely unique, absolutely original (me).
And that's that. As promised, I won't discuss the book's potential for creative story prompts, vocabulary development, or writing models. I could, and should, but I won't.
Instead, I'll offer you a copy of your very own, courtesy of the folks at Media Masters Publicity, who were kind enough to share the book with me. Simply email me with the words Thirteen Words in the subject line by midnight EST, Saturday, January 29th, 2011. Good luck!