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Tag: children’s books

What trash should we cash?

seussWhen an author pens some words

Then decides to abort ‘em

Is it right to dig them up

And publish them post mortem?

When an artist abandons or otherwise trashes a work in progress — be that artist a musician, painter or writer — it’s usually for good reasons

When an heir, agent or publisher digs up the discarded work of a dead or incapacitated artist it, and seeks to package it for public consumption, it’s usually for one:

Profit.

That — more than paying homage, more than fleshing out the historical record — is what’ I’d guess is behind the publication of “new” books by two of America’s most beloved authors.

Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman — essentially the trashed first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird — was released this summer, even though some say, given Ms. Lee’s mental state, she isn’t likely to have endorsed the project.

What Pet Should I Get, by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), hit bookstores today — 24 years after his death.

Fifty years after Seuss and Lee became part of popular culture, their respective publishing houses are saying, in effect — and like an infomercial — “But wait … There’s more.”

The new Seuss book is based materials found in the author’s San Diego home in 2013 by Geisel’s widow, Audrey.

According to Random House, when Audrey Geisel was remodeling her home after his death, she found a box filled with pages of text and sketches and set it aside with some of her husband’s other materials. Twenty-two years later, she and Seuss’s secretary revisited the box.

They found the full text and sketches for What Pet Should I Get? – a project that, seemingly, Seuss didn’t feel good enough about to pursue.

As reincarnated books go, Go Set a Watchman has proven far more contentious.

On top of questions over whether Lee wanted the work published, it’s first-version portrayal of Atticus Finch as a bigot is hard for some readers to take, especially those who read Mockingbird.

What Pet Should I Get? hasn’t entirely escaped controversy.

The story line is simple:  A brother and sister (the same ones featured in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish) go to the pet store with permission from their parents to pick out a pet.

The can’t seem to agree. The brother wants a dog, the sister wants a cat, and some consideration is given to a “Yent that could live in a tent.”

Some reviews are saying the rhymes lack the pzazz and zaniness of Geisel’s better known works.

In addition, the book doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It was written in a day that buying a dog from a store was deemed acceptable — decades before the atrocities of puppy mills (where many such dogs came from) became known.

Among the book’s earliest critics — even before it came out — was PETA, whose president contacted Random House to point out it might send the wrong message to young readers. Apparently, Random House took the advice to heart. In an eight-page afterword, the publisher makes a point of explaining, among other things, that families should adopt rather than buying dogs and cats from stores.

What’s not addressed are the ethics of profiting off selling the unpublished works of the dead.

In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, let me conclude with a couple of modest thoughts. You can call them little point one and little point two.

Point one is a note to creative types. You might want to consider outlining in your will, in great detail, what may or may not happen to, and who should get any profits from, any unpublished works that you squirreled away in a drawer rather than burned or threw away.

Point two is that, in celebrating our beloved writers, particularly two who shaped the lives, hearts and brains of so many children and young adults, remembering their wishes should be paramount.

The publishing world is something of a zoo, and it’s not above shoveling out some stinky stuff wrapped in shiny new packages.

So be careful of that wily fox

He’s smarter than a lot of us

Watch out for tigers, snakes and bears

Beware the hippo-posthumous

 

Johnny finds his harmonica

Sometimes, what sounds like noise is really music. Sometimes, what looks like trouble can be a joy.

I’d pulled into a trailer court to turn around after my visit to the Howdy Manor  when a voice called out: “Hey, bro!”

It being a neighborhood that’s even sketchier than it was 35  years ago, when I briefly lived in it, I was going to pull out when I heard it again. “Hey, bro!”

So I rolled to a stop there in the driveway next to the Bucking Bronc motel and trailer court, a couple of motels down from the Howdy Manor.

Four people — three men and a woman — were sitting in front of a trailer enjoying beverages that included beer and vodka. One of them approached my car, with something in his hand.

“I want you to have this,” he said.

Thinking he might have mistaken me for a drug buyer, I was ready to beg off when he passed it through my open window.

It was a children’s book — “Touch and Feel Wild Animals.”

I hesitated to open it, fearing some illicit narcotics might be hidden between its pages — that maybe children’s books were the drug dealer’s delivery method of choice in this particular neighborhood.

Seeing my skepticism, he grabbed it back and opened it himself, showing how, through the holes in the cardboard, you could touch the fake fur and fake skin and get an idea what each animal — tiger, lion, alligator, polar bear, chimpanzee — feels like.

“Tiger, tiger, running through the grass, your black-and-orange stripes go quickly past,” read the first page. “Tiger, tiger, I can hear you growl, as you get ready to go on the prowl.”

I wasn’t sure why I deserved the book, and told him he really should give to a child. He explained that he saw the ohmidog! magnet on my car door, and figured I liked animals. I should have it, he said.

I was waiting for him to quote a price, but he never did. Instead he asked about my dog. I got out and popped open the back door to let Ace out. He greeted the man with the book, then went over to see the rest of the gang.

He snuggled with Sherry, and knocked over her bottle of beer. She didn’t mind at all.

Then he met Johnny, who said he was a former Marine and Vietnam vet who now sells newspapers to get by.

There used to be two daily newspapers in town. He sells copies of the remaining one, the Arizona Daily Star, where 35 years ago, I used to work as a reporter. The newspaper costs 75 cents now, but Johnny sells them for less. My suspicion — and perhaps it’s just my cynicism again — is he pays for one paper, then pulls them all out of the vending machine and sells them on the street. Call him an entrepreneur.

He said he also plays the harmonica, and he asked if I’d like to hear a song. At that point, he grabbed his knapsack and began rooting through it. Ace helped.

Ten minutes later, he was still looking. When you carry your life in a knapsack, things can be hard to find.

I asked them if they lived in the trailer court, and they said they didn’t — that they just lived “around.”

After another five minutes, Johnny’s search paid off, and he pulled a slightly rusty  harmonica out of his bag.

Johnny sat on a plastic chair, Sherry on a cinderblock. I took a seat on the guest rock — actually a rock atop a cinderblock, which functioned kind of like a rocking chair. Everyone’s jackets hung on a nearby tree.

Johnny brought the harmonica to his mouth and started playing a happy but unidentifiable song. Everyone tapped their feet and hummed along, and one member of the group started howling like a dog, leading Ace to look at him with tilted head.

I love the tilted head — a dog’s transparent, non-judgmental way of expressing puzzlement when he hears or sees something different. It seems to say – and here I am wrongly interpreting dog behavior by human standards – ”I don’t get this … I will turn my head slightly to the side and focus even harder to understand.”

If only humans could do that. Instead, when we see something different, we far too often judge, frown and walk away. As adults, our childish curiosity gets crusted over with cynicism — to the point we can get fearful of something as innocuous as a “touch and feel” children’s book.

Johnny played for about five minutes, and the song never really came to a distinct ending; it just kind of tailed off, once Johnny switched from harmonica to the vodka bottle.

I thanked them for allowing us to hang out, wished them all the best and headed for my car – feeling I’d made some new fleeting friends, but still, being human, expecting to be asked for money. They had, after all provided me with a book and musical entertainment.

As I started the car, the man who’d given me the “touch and feel” book appeared at my window. But all he did was shake my hand one last time.

“Vaya con Dios,” he said.