About Me

My photo
Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Censored Eleven


I had never heard of The Censored Eleven until I came across a listing of it in a TIME article online ("Top 100 Controversial Cartoons: The Censored Eleven"). There's a clip in the article that allows you to view one of the censored cartoons, which were banned by United Artist in 1968 and will probably stay that way. Apparently, they are still accessible on YouTube (what isn't accessible on YouTube these days?).


The above character is named "Egghead" for obvious reasons, and he was eventually replaced by Elmer Fudd. The strangest, rickety-ist voice comes out of his absurdly large mouth. And what's with the big feet? Another racial stereotype I wasn't aware of? I wonder about the feet only because, as I understand it, another racist depiction of Black characters in one of The Censored Eleven cartoons shows the characters having overly large feet.


I want to say that viewing the cartoon was shocking, but it wasn't. Is this because contemporary racist stereotypes are still so prevalent or because I anticipated seeing such things in an older cartoon? Hopefully the latter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cinderella's Castle -- does it really exist?


Hello! Magazine does a tidy bit of promotion for German tourism with its article about a Fairy Tale Tour "from Hanau to Bremen." ("Take a fairytale trip to Germany") Now I will be the first to admit that that tour looks pretty snappy. Any fairytale aficionado would jump at the opportunity to tour both Germany's lovely castles as well as the towns and universities where Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm lived and worked.


But what are we to think of an article that promises tourists the opportunity to view Sleeping Beauty's actual chambers or the woods where Little Red Riding Hood once strolled? I doubt there are many casual readers who genuinely believe a little girl wearing a red riding cape was once tricked by a wolf dressed up as her granny, but would such a tour not lead them to believe that the tale was based on factual events, and that those events took place in a quaint little German forest?


It's brilliant marketing, and it's German nationalism at its best. The Grimm's appropriated tales from all over Europe and gave them a distinctly German flare. Many people read the tale of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty for the first time and really thought they must be German peasant stories. The lie was twofold; not only were the tales not necessarily German in origin, but they were also not likely to have been collected from actual peasants. Many of the tales were outright lifted from fairytale collector predecessors like Giambattista Basile of Italy and Charles Perrault of France. Others were collected from friends and fellow scholars. Some few were generally taken from oral recitation via nursemaids and farmers.


This is not to denigrate the amazing work that the Grimm's did, work that still lives on to this day. They popularized the tales we now love. And they were avid scholars and academics who worked hard at presenting the tales on a variety of levels, academic, populist, and as children's literature.


I just find it so intriguing that the myth of their methods and the origins of the tales they "collected" still exists to this day. And that it is once again being exploited for the benefit of their beloved Germany.


Now, where do I sign up for my tour of Rapunzel's tower!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm with Gaiman


I feel the burning need to rally to amazing British author Neil Gaiman's side, I'm with Coco-style, after he was called out by a Native* scholar (Debbie Reese) for remarks he made (presumably at a signing):


"What Neil Gaiman Said..."


No matter what Reese says, it is indeed making a mountain out of a molehill. The entire situation has blown way out of proportion. Gaiman was quick to comment and explain his comments, and things probably should have been left at that. Reese's eyes caught those remarks and said "LOOK AT THIS," perhaps rightly so. But Gaiman's response acknowledges the blunder and places it in the sort of context only an author can offer.


1. As he explained, he has a microphone in front of his face. Most authors aren't born public speakers. And even great speakers say silly things sometimes. I do believe we currently have a perfectly capable (and even beloved) VP who called his future Black running mate "clean and articulate." Oops.


2. His explanation regarding European cemeteries actually makes sense. Furthermore, Reese admits to not having actually read The Graveyard Book. If he places the remarks within the context of his book's setting, she can't really offer a rebuttal (as yet).


My voice is small, but I'm offering it in support of an author I admire and respect. I hope my writing is someday as crisp and clear and clever as Neil Gaiman's. I hope my characters are as memorable. And while I'm at it, I hope one day my words inspire as quick a response as Debbie Reese's blog post did!


Conclusion: Kudos to Reese for spotting the faux pas, but let Gaiman go. And Reese may be cast as the Jay Leno in all this, considering how righteously devoted Gaiman's fans are.


Note: To put this all into perspective, I am part Native myself. I'm primarily Cajun though. I recently saw The Princess and the Frog with my sister, and our reactions to the comically Cajun firefly (I forget his name) were so incredibly different. Where she was annoyed, I was amused. Of course, part of being Cajun is being able to laugh at ourselves.


Then again, Cajuns were never wholesale slaughtered and/or wiped out via deadly unknown disease the way Native peoples were.


But still -- it was just a silly little comment.


And that's all I have to say about that!


Well, for now, anyway.

*EDIT: By "Native scholar" I mean to refer to Debbie Reese as a scholar of Native studies and issues.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pogo remixes Disney's Alice


Sadly, I have to admit that I had never heard of Pogo before. A friend and colleague sent me a link to a story about his "slicing and dicing" (as the article puts it) of scenes from Alice in Wonderland. Now, I am not an Alice purist and am actually a fan of the film. (Well, one can be a purist and still enjoy the film, but many do quibble with it, and for understandable reasons. For one thing, you can't really imagine this proper young lady getting into half the trouble that Carroll's Alice stumbles into. Don't you just love American depictions of British characters?) So I have to say that this really and truly charmed me.


Anywho, here's the article, with the video embedded towards the end: LINK


I'm going to check out some of Pogo's other work with kids' films and see if I like those just as much. Supposedly, he "spliced and diced" one of the Harry Potter films, too. (And here comes the kiddie film critic in me...) Please don't let it be Prisoner of Azkaban!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From abusive to absent: parents in YA literature


So I'm once again struck by a blog post penned (typed?) by the wonderful Maria Tatar: "Absent Parents and the Orphan's Triumphant Rise." Tatar is actually responding to a fun article in the NYTimes: "The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit."


Okay, let's be clear. Getting rid of the parent, whether emotionally or physically, is a plot device. How can you make a child a hero when he is hardly a free agent in his own little world? If Harry Potter had had a loving uncle and aunt, he probably would have been fairly reluctant to leave them and begin his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.


Okay, I am not that stupid. I know that it's not about the simple fact that the parents in YA lit are largely and purposefully absent; it's about why and how they're absent. For instance, the nineteenth century saw the rise of the English boarding school tale. Why? Because English children, by and large, went to boarding school. No, not all of them. Not the very poor ones, and not the rich little girls who had private tutors a la Adele Varens. But, by and large. So this was a concern (being sent away from one's family and forced to live among strange boys and/or girls and to work under the tutelage of unfriendly tutors) for young readers at the time. Now, Tatar and Julie Just (author of the NYTimes article) wonder if the absent, preoccupied parents in today's YA literature are "symptomatic" of what children deal with today.


I don't know. Tatar mentions "helicopter parents" -- you know, the ones who come up to schools and demand to know why their child did not pass eighth grade math when she turned in at least 50% of her homework. These are the parents who make teachers' and coaches' lives difficult. But these are also the parents who give their children cell phones, don't monitor their online activities, and are frequently more concerned about a child's social standing than her personal safety.


Parents must disappear because that is what parents do in children's literature. Stepmothers must be evil witches, right? Uncles and aunts must be cruel, Coraline's parents must be more concerned with their work than with cooking dinner, and Huck's father must be an abusive drunk. There would be no story otherwise. Even fairy tales were based on cultural fears. Be careful, or you just might discover you've married a monster, my fair young pupils. Actually, chances are pretty good that you will marry a monster. Just be thankful he doesn't have a cellar full of past wives hanging from his ceiling, dripping blood all over the new flooring.


I think today absent parents in YA lit do reflect the times. But I think if Coraline had been written 100 years ago, she would have been just as frustrated, just as lonely. Perhaps she and her parents would still live in a big old house, and her education and entertainment would be largely neglected, while Mom and Dad busied themselves with balls and dinners and other vastly important social functions. And perhaps her name would have been Mary Lennox instead of Coraline Jones.


Maybe the times do change, but children don't. Children have been pretty much the same as they've always been. And so have their parents.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mean Girls


To all those who think cyber bullying is not a serious issue, or that bullying in general does little more than "help kids grow a back bone" (someone actually said this!), there's this article:


The Real Mean Girls: 15-year-old girl commits suicide after bullying


I'm torn on this. To exhibit a complete lack of compassion toward other human beings is sociopathic behavior, so I wonder at the sanity of those bullying students. On the other hand, I also know that adolescents' brains are not fully developed, and so young people tend to be more selfish and do not consider others' feelings as much. I also suspect a lot of the postmortem bullying is the result of peer pressure, or "well all my friends are doing it, so I want to look cool and do it, too (even though I privately feel this is probably wrong and shouldn't do it)."


Regardless, the faculty at the high school who knew about this -- FOR SHAME. The principle had better seek drastic action now. Professionals should be called in, and they need to figure out how to nip this bullying in the bud. Didn't two children just get beat up and burned in Florida because of texting/virtual bullying? And that reminds me; parents need to monitor kids' online behavior. And quit giving children cell phones! I didn't have a cell phone until I was in college! What's a high school student doing with a cell phone? Oh yes, I know; times have changed now. The thing is, if one parent refused to give her child a cell phone, all the OTHER kids with cell phones would likely bully that child. It's ridiculous.


Well, the school should perhaps ban cell phone usage in school (no cell phones brought to school or they're confiscated) ... scratch that to include any electronic equipment. They are children in school, not professionals. They are not mature enough to handle these things. All reports of bullying should be punished severely. Parents should be called in, etc.


Of course, there are countless adults who hop online every day to leave nasty, threatening messages in political forums and comment pages, so is it any wonder that our children are doing the same to one another? Has the internet bred this kind of behavior, this form of faceless bullying?


Repeated bullying and being bullied can cause a child to grow into a mean, distrustful adult. Fostering an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding can result in future young adults who see all sides to a problem, think outside the box, and are generally more accepting of others. Think of the high school children who organized an anti-hate gathering in protest against a Westboro Baptist Church visit: LINK


An environment of fear is not a learning environment. If people lack compassion for those who are tormented, it may be because they have been tormented themselves, and no one ever helped them. Thus they continue the vicious cycle.


That's all I'll say on the matter of "bullying just gives kids back bones."


Two of my favorite films deal with this same issue (and no, not Mean Girls): Speak and Odd Girl Out. Speak (starring Kristen Stewart) is probably the better known title, but Odd Girl Out approaches the issue more directly (and so some might say, less artistically). But I enjoy both immensely.