Review: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature by Philip Nel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things to love about this book:

Nel adores his subjects and the warmth and fun come shining through, making this an easy and delightful read.

Crockett Johnson grew up in the Queens my elementary school teachers told us existed, but we never saw: marshes, wild lands, bodies of water you could touch, open space. I had a school principal who swore there were pheasants in our neighborhood when he was a young man. (He was twelve-thousand years old when he was our principal.) We did not believe him.

It’s wonderful to be reading this just after the Pete Seeger audiobook — Krauss and Johnson traveled in related political circles in the same era. I also crazy love the concept that we might owe some of the richness of the art and writing in the picture book world to the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisting all those creative geniuses. Art will out!

More to love: Ruth Krauss studied anthropology with Margaret Mead. Knowing that “children quickly absorb the values of their culture; effecting change would require reaching children early in life” (p.66), she actively used her writing for children to advance the concept that we have one world and one human race, and that we should care for one another and protect everyone’s basic human rights. (Exclamation point!)

I am captivated by the richness of both their lives. They continually reinvented themselves professionally while remaining themselves in their personal lives. Krauss was an anthropologist on a mission, a writer for children, a mentor for young illustrators, a poet, an older woman still sure of her right to romance and sex. Johnson was a political cartoonist, worked in advertising, found his fame with Harold, and fell in love with mathematics in is last chapter, painting abstract concepts and even writing well-respected proofs for an academic audience! We should all be so driven, so creative, so lucky!

View all my reviews


Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The kid says I am not allowed to see the movie until I have read the book.

I know I’m a curmudgeon. It utterly bugs me that the factions have names that do not match. They should be
Not sure I can submerge myself in this sloppy world-building. (Tongue-in-cheek, folks.)

So, much like Starglass, there’s an interesting political backstory here that I wish was more developed. Tris’ mom is clearly a very interesting character, and we just don’t learn enough about her. Why in the world would a society fashion itself like this on purpose? The Hunger Games’ society is believable because it is a forced condition imposed on the losers of a war by the victors. In Divergent, we are expected to believe that everyone chose this, chose segregation, chose to sever entire portions of their lives and personalities and somehow believed it contributed to the greater good. I’m not buying it.

That said, it’s compelling. I’m eager for the work day to be over so I can get back to it.

I have reader’s guilt over not wanting to give this more stars. It’s rating is low because a) I really don’t want to see this movie — It’s a bloody, vicious action flick marketed to young teens and b) whenever my mind wanders back to this story, I am astonished to find that I am not at all curious about how the characters are doing; they are not alive in my imagination. (I still think of Hermione from time to time and wonder how things are going for her. Hermione is alive out there, somewhere, as is Neville.)

View all my reviews

Review: Pete Seeger: The Storm King: Stories, Narratives, Poems: Spoken Word Set to a World of Music

Pete Seeger: The Storm King: Stories, Narratives, Poems: Spoken Word Set to a World of Music
Pete Seeger: The Storm King: Stories, Narratives, Poems: Spoken Word Set to a World of Music by Pete Seeger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pete Seeger shares songs and stories of his youth, parenting years, and travels in his noticeably aging voice, backed by a variety of musicians and singers from around the world. A bittersweet treat for Seeger fans. He does include Abiyoyo on disc 2, making this listener quite happy!

View all my reviews

Review: If I Should Die Before I Wake

If I Should Die Before I Wake
If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time. I look at it in the library. I take it home. I leave it in the living room. I bring it back. Somehow, I’m just never in the mood for a story about a skinhead neo-nazi and all her hate and violence. Plus, Jane Yolen and the Twilight Zone already did moving ‘switch-bodies-with-a-Holocaust-victim’ stories.

So, here I am, surprised to tell you that the Hilary (nazi) sections of the story are better written and more moving than the Chana (Holocaust) parts. I’m not done yet; I didn’t feel like reading this today. I’ll let you know what I think when it’s all done.

This telling really picks up as you move into it. Hilary experiences Chana’s thoughts and deprivations as her family is forced into the ghetto, prison, and Auschwitz. It’s not as hard-hitting as other YA Holocaust books I have read. Nolan dials back the harshness and horror and pain. Though I hate reading that stuff, I think it’s a mistake. If we are to learn from history, and if Hilary is supposed to learn from her psychic connection to Chana, there has to be a big impact.

At the very end, there is strong emotion, but it all wraps up so quickly — Spoiler Here — Hilary is redeemed, her mom repents and becomes love, Simon is found, all in a page or two. I wish Nolan had chosen to write some of the aftermath: How does Hilary enact the lessons she’s learned? How does she make amends? Who does she turn to now that she can’t be friends with any of the gang kids with whom she used to spend all her time? How does Simon’s family continue to live next door to her? We all know prejudice and persecution are wrong; what we don’t always know is how to proceed from there.

View all my reviews

Review: The Butler: A Witness to History

The Butler: A Witness to History
The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Worth reading, despite not being the book I wanted it to be, nor the book it was presented as in the catalogs.

The Butler is, for a very short while, the story of Eugene Allen’s life and service in the White House. Mostly, it is the story of his meeting with Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood, the friendship they developed, and then half the book is about the history of black American filmmaking and the making of the movie The Butler. There’s a brief section at the end highlighting the presidents featured in the movie and their major contributions to civil rights.

Those second and third sections were interesting and valuable, to be sure. However, as I had heard the movie was enormously fictionalized, I really wanted to read Allen’s story. It’s not here. Here’s where some of it is.

I am so impressed by the people who served and saw so much, and stayed discrete. That takes incredible strength.

View all my reviews