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 One of those is certainly outdated information, and Dr.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

New Project Preview: UnSong

Do you remember the first book you ever read without pictures in it? It probably happened about fifth grade, at least that’s when I remember it.

It felt like a mistake, right? You were told to use your imagination to picture the characters and scenes, and I know I learned how to do that. It was so much work, though, I only really wanted to read the same books—my favorites—over and over. When I was assigned a book to read in school, it was almost always a chore, though some of those classics did make it into my favorites stack.

I’ve read plenty of books now, using my imagination to fill in the blanks left by the lack of art, but I started wondering. Why omit the art? Why not provide a few illustrations? Maybe that’s why graphic novels are surging in the marketplace. I know I still love a good comic book.

With poetry, in particular, there’s a definite need for art. Poetry is not just words. Poetry grows from feelings, is inspired by sights, might be as amorphous as a scent.

Other poets, of course, have already discovered what I’m just now concluding. I mean, look at Shel Silverstein. Also, I recently picked up Gabbie Hanna’s beautiful book of illustrated poetry dandelion in a bookstore (ahem, not mine), read the very first poem in it and got tears in my eyes.

So, like I always do, I’m throwing all my thoughts and feelings about something (in this case poetry), into a big kettle and seeing what boils out. So far, I’ve got most of the poems I’m planning to use and a few of the illustrations…and a title.

Possible cover, but probably not. 🙂 Stay tuned!