Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Thankful Thursday XXIX – Children’s Authors

Yesterday, while waiting for my stepson to get done with his medical appointment, I decided to spend a bit of time in a used book store nearby. Bookstores are always something I’m thankful for, by the way. Browsing through the many aisles of only semi-sorted novels, bios, texts and more, I noticed a little kids bird book on a clearance table for 50 cents. It was the same one I had when I was little – maybe eight or nine, the first one I had about birds. I put out the two quarters happily for nostalgia’s sake. Sure, the book is tiny and only about 100 pages, and has perhaps only one-fifth of the species of birds in the country listed and illustrated, and sure I have three full-detailed, upto date, proper field guides listing the 700 or more types of birds one might see, or hope to see, in North America already. But this brought back memories of when I was a kid and we put out a bird feeder in the garden and I’d see some colorful little bird at it. I’d stare lovingly, then go to the book to see if I could identify it. Often I could, sometimes it remained a mystery. But it piqued my interest. I’d look through thinking, “yeah, I’d like to see a Bobolink” or “where could I find one of these Pileated woodpeckers?” . It helped spur on a lifetime hobby and source of relaxation for me.

As well, of late, I’ve been reading the biography of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. A polarizing figure in today’s world to be sure, but the creator of so many of the books that I, and many others my age, learned to read with : Green Eggs and Ham. The Cat In The Hat. The Grinch. They were books that made me laugh, and made me think (about the Grinch’s selfishness and how he turned it around at the end, for instance, a lesson in good and bad that anyone can get). I loved having them read to me and were simple enough for me to begin to figure out the words as I followed along. Soon I could read them myself. Precisely what the Doctor had set out to do. He wanted kids to read, and he figured out that the “Dick & Jane” readers that were so prevalent in the pre-WWII era tended to bore kids and drive them away from books. He set out to make books that spoke to children as equals and made them want to turn pages and look forward to their next one. Whether you like his socio-political views or not, you’d have to agree he succeeded on that.

So this Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for children’s authors. As a writer myself, I know how difficult it is to write a story that’s compelling and interests adults. Doing the same for small children is that much harder. The vocabulary is more limited, some of the morals or storylines have to be much simplified, the characters more memorable and the work has to keep going without slowing down lest they throw the book away and wander off to stick a waffle in the DVD player or whatever little kids do. Yet with the world becoming so complex, and so very much media to consume, our whole future relies on today’s children learning to read…and wanting to do so.

So a tip of the hat, on the back a pat, a full salute, from the horn a toot… here’s to you, children’s writer – you are making today’s tomorrows so much brighter!

Thankful Thursday VI – Kudos Time

This Thursday, I’m thankful for “time”. In every way. I’m always grateful for time which I have to do the things I love, which never seem quite enough. It’s clear to me that you can make back money you lose or repurchase most items which break but there’s no getting back a minute of time once it’s gone. But for this day, I’m thinking of it in a different context – Time magazine.

It’s one of those pieces of Americana that seems to have always been around. (In fact, it’s been published for 98 years) It’s been a staple on newsstands for as long as I can remember … back to when there were newsstands, for instance! I remember seeing it and it’s distinctive red-bordered cover on the tables in the waiting room when I had to go to the doctor as a kid and coming through the mailslot week after week at home. Now that I’m an adult, our household still subscribe to it. I try to find the “time” to read Time somewhere along the line every week.

For the few who might not be familar with it, Time is the last of its breed. A weekly news magazine. Back in the pre-internet age, it was what you read to get the big picture and the in-depth look at the big stories of the past seven days. Sure, you’d read your newspaper too, but Time gave you more detail and covered stories your local daily probably overlooked. Ironically, that’s even more true today in the internet age with our 24-hour news channels and 20-page daily newspapers featuring mostly public service notices and wire stories about celebs.

Being an American publication, Time focuses largely on American stories, but it finds the room to look at global issues better than most of our other media. Australian elections, Italian landslides, African massacre, new disease in China – it probably is in the pages of Time, long before it catches the attention of your hometown news station. And it covers a variety of topics. Sure there’s the news – largely bad as is the nature of news – but there are also interviews with interesting newsmakers, entertainment updates, movie, book reviews and context. Why does that Aussie election matter? What causes the Italian landslide or new emerging diseases.?

Sure, I have my criticisms of the magazine. To me, it bends over too far to be politically correct and avoid any charges of racism, or sexism or ageism. You won’t lose a bet if you say that any issue of theirs with the “100 Most Influential People in the World” (which weirdly seem to change in their opinion each year) at least ten of those 100 will be Women of Color under age 40 who write about the experience of being young Women of Color. And like most other hard-copy periodicals, it seems to have shrunken somewhat in physical size (as in number of pages) and roster of contributors. All that said, it’s still the best one-stop weekly review I know of. In the past year alone, it’s covered the Covid pandemic more often and in more depth, with stories from those on the fronts of battling it, as well as those effected by it more than almost all other news sources I’ve seen combined. In the months leading up to last November, it had in-depth interviews with pretty much every major political candidate running.

A throwback to a “time” when people wanted to be well-informed and when a magazine didn’t have to be micro-focused in content to succeed. Good “Time”s indeed. I’m thankful to still have Time.

Thankful Thursday IV – That Controversial “Doctor”

Well I’ll wander into the fray today, because this Thursday I’m thankful for Dr. Seuss. Or, the works of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, during this week in which his birthday fell.

The children’s author and illustrator has been much in the news of late, yet another example of how badly divided this country is. In case you hadn’t noticed, the publisher in charge of his body of work recently announced it was going to stop printing six of his titles, including the popular And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, because some of his illustrations seemed a little racist and out of step with today’s norms. Predictably, many Republicans are frothing at the mouth and yelling “censorship”, failing to note that it was a commercial decision made by a publisher rather than an act of government restriction. Likewise, some of the far-left faction of the Democrats say that doesn’t go nearly far enough and wouldn’t be happy until every reference to Seuss is obliterated from our culture. Which I suppose is a convenient way for both to distract from the fact that Iran seems to be taunting the U.S. in the Middle East at risk of provoking a war and that over 1000 people are still dying from Covid every day in our land.

Geisel fashioned a long and very successful career penning books written for kids through the middle part of the last century. Some, like Green Eggs and Ham and How the Grinch Stole Christmas became cultural cornerstones as well as rites of passage for new parents teaching their young ones. Something over half a billion copies of his works have been printed through the years.

It’s said that Geisel wasn’t that fond of having little children around in real life. But he exhibited a brilliance unsurpassed at knowing what would appeal to them and he delivered that time and time again with his stories. A cat in a hat? Green eggs and ham, Sam? There’s not a three year old in existence who doesn’t giggle at the thought – especially if its accompanied by the zany cartoon illustrations the “Doctor” was known for.

For me, Seuss was “the man” when I was that age. I was lucky to have parents who surrounded me and my brother with a lot of books as kids, but none delighted me quite like the rhyming, goofy stories about Sam-I-Am, the Cat in the Hat, The Grinch and little Cindy Lou Who, or Horton who heard a Who. I looked at the books time and time again, and soon with a little help could read them all by myself. From there, I never looked back…unless it was Christmas time and time to watch the TV version of The Grinch, a beloved holiday tradition I try to keep to this day even as my hair gets grayer. In later years, I went on to work briefly in the conservation field and was able to at times delight campers young and old alike by playing the film of The Lorax, another Seuss story telling of the little creature who tried to save the truffula trees from the industrialist Onceler. Like many of his best works it delivered a strong and worthwhile moral in the guise of a children’s cartoon.

So, yes, Dr. Seuss may not have been perfect and his books were products of his time (as any work of art is ultimately.) But few things made me happier as a kid and now, as I sit by a bookcase full of titles of all sorts, including a couple of ones I wrote myself, I thank him for getting me to know the magic of reading. I don’t know what I’d be doing if not for him… but I doubt I’d be here writing my thoughts for you, dear readers.