UnSong update… and a few thoughts about Seuss… with an illustration

First off, the good news. I am almost finished with UnSong. Which means I’m looking for a few good…people…to read and review it. It’s in the Beta reading stage, then my art director gets to look over my illustrations and offer constructive criticism (or just fix my mistakes herself) and meanwhile I’m working on Scrivener to format it properly (page numbers and what not)…but it won’t be long before I am ready to send it out for advance reviews. Anybody interested?

Second, I’m finally ready to weigh in on the Dr. Seuss debacle (you know where the estate of Dr. Seuss took six of his books off the shelf because they contained racist imagery?). It took me a while to digest this and figure out how I felt about it because Seuss was a source of great entertainment when I was a child (though I admit I had a preference for the darker imagery of Mother Goose). Still, the Cat in the Hat was pretty creepy and fun.

Anyway, six Dr. Seuss books being yanked from stores and shelves and online dealers all at once caused a great deal of consternation among parents and teachers. How dare they? These are classics. True enough, though I couldn’t remember reading any of them except Mulberry Street and McElligott’s Pool. And though I didn’t recall any racist imagery in them, when I went back and looked, it didn’t take long to spot.

Still, surely it’s a bit of an overreaction to pull six books because of a few racist illustrations and words. Doesn’t the work itself outweigh those tiny infractions?

Not necessarily. As a librarian and a writer, I know books go out of print for a number of reasons. One of those is certainly outdated information, and Dr. Seuss’s talent for iambic pentameter and rhyme notwithstanding, his books were definitely guilty of that. Another reason for removing books from print and/or shelves is if there are other books and authors that provide the same entertainment or information value without the offensive characteristics. I can list a number of authors who can do this: P.D. Eastman, Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Marcus Pfister, Eric Carle… If you want to broaden children’s minds rather than limit them, just Google “anti-racist alternatives to Dr. Seuss”. There are some amazing books out there for kids. And there’s always the rather dark, twisted and melancholy world of Mother Goose where children regularly break their crowns or eat blackbirds baked into a pie.

Dr. Seuss definitely played a role in my childhood. It’s possible he inspired some of what I write today. It’s also possible I’m still fighting some of what he taught me.

Worth considering, don’t you think?

By Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

Poem 20 (National Poetry Month): Soul Snakes

Soul Snakes

By Michelle Garren Flye

There’s a barrel of snakes in the corner.

I’ve given each one a different name.

Take a look but do not get much warmer!

They are poison, this is not a game.

This one for instance, he is black and white.

I call him Prejudice for he can’t believe

Anything a bit different or unlike

Could be okay—he just can’t conceive.

His best bud is Racism, you can guess why.

Look there at the green ones, that’s Envy and Greed.

Wrath is a slippery one, he’s really too sly!

Indifference is this one, he ignores when you plead.

They’re all mixed up in my big melting pot,

Writhing and twisting, living in your heart.

(They usually find they can pick their spot.)

Decaying the human soul is their only art.

But look I have an experiment to show!

If I add this big one to the pot here

The others will ever more poison grow—

And that’s what you can expect from Fear.

Not a poisonous soul snake. Just a pretty little racer I saw this morning. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Six Days to Becoming Magic and I feel bad for Laura Ingalls Wilder

In six days my new book Becoming Magic will be unleashed upon the world. I’m calling it “a new kind of romance” because I think it’s time my genre addresses the #metoo movement and accepts that, in the past, our books have been part of the problem—and can now be part of the solution.

Just yesterday, the Association of Library Services to Children played a key role in a cautionary tale for all authors who don’t pay attention to changing times. They removed the name of one of America’s great pioneer women authors from an award. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because Wilder’s famous Little House series contains a number of racist (by today’s standards) references to Native Americans and black people.

Understand, first and foremost, that I get it. I read these books as a child and never thought twice about “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” or the reference to blackface. I’m reading them again with my daughter and am extremely grateful that she has a good, analytical head on her eleven-year-old shoulders. She knows those statements are wrong. She didn’t understand the blackface and “darkie” reference until I explained them, and then she knew they were wrong, too. We talked about how times and people’s perceptions change and evolve, and while Wilder may not have thought twice about writing those passages, they are considered wrong now.

She got it.

With all that said, I feel for Wilder. Her writing accurately reflected the social attitudes of her time. And now it is a victim of today’s more evolved social sensibility. Wilder even apologized for some of her writing during her lifetime and lived to see one passage changed from saying “no people, only Indians” to “no settlers, only Indians”, which shows she actually at least partially got it, too. I’m glad to know that.

I hope the removal of Wilder’s name from the award does not mean her books will someday be removed from library shelves. Read with the correct context, these books are invaluable to understanding and remembering our history and the history of our literature. Along with Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, these books form a map to remind us of where we’ve been so we don’t go back there.

And, Laura Ingalls Wilder, rest assured I get it, too. Writing of any genre may reflect the current time and sensibility, but eventually those times and sensibilities—and sensitivities—will change.