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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears

WhyMosquitoesBuzzShe’s no household name, though Verna Aardema has been behind some of the most memorable books in the field of children’s literature. And yet, we could easily have a lot of debate about authenticity and appropriation as it relates to her books. Her best known to this day, I would argue, would have to be Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, notable for a number of reasons. As Barbara Bader wrote in Horn Book back in 2006:

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, published in 1975, brought instant renown to author and illustrators, and handily won the Caldecott. The color is luscious; the filmy air-brushed surfaces are seductive; the composition, in the abstract, is striking. But to my mind the events of the story are obscured, rather than illuminated, by the complex, monumental pictures — a pile-up of motifs clamoring for attention. Except — KPAO! — for the last page.

If Aardema’s narrative nonetheless holds its own, that’s at least partly because she discovered African ideophones — in Richard Dorson’s African Folklore, proffered by a helpful librarian — just in time to insert a dozen strategically into the text, starting with wasu wusu for the python. And they registered: when I proposed writing about Aardema to Roger Sutton, children’s librarian emeritus, he e-mailed back: “right — krik, krik, krik — Aardema — swish, swish, swish.”

Of course one of the reasons the book is best known today is that it helped to make Leo Dillon the first African-American Caldecott Award winner. Now the era of the folktale has passed. I wrote a blog post in 2015 discussing the death of the African folktale in the American market. And yet for all that, this book endures. Why? Kate and I decide to get to the bottom of the matter.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

Voila. Sassy, grumpy iguana.

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I said this book had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but look! A mention of yams!!

– Technically the name of the song is “The Green Grass Grew All Around” and not “There Was a Hole”. Ah well.

The Scariest Picture:

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The Funniest Picture:

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This isn’t an aberration. Every single time that antelope appears he has that same crazed grin on his face. Kate can claim the iguana as her avatar all she wants. This antelope is my guy 100%.

One of the many instances of proverbial owl corpse:

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Next up, sad mama owl. Look at how they indicate the baby owl is dead. Just the slightest change to the eyelids.

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Best. Sound. Effect. Ever.

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– For the record I highly HIGHLY recommend the CDs of LuAnn Adams, who is a truly magnificent storyteller.

– In case you’re curious, here’s the link to NYPL’s 100 Great Books, 100 Years.

– If any of you can find a video of the Dillons doing their art together, please please send it to me.

– Out of curiosity I wondered what books this one beat for a Caldecott. The honors that year? The Desert is Theirs , illustrated by Peter Parnall; text: Byrd Baylor, and Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola.

– Here’s the creature on the cover that Kate fears is a koala:

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– And yeah. She wasn’t wrong. Koalas can give you chlamydia.  Ugh.

– For the record, here’s what CNN had to say about The Polar Express: “The mouth action is also less than overwhelming, since the characters’ tongues look like slabs of meat when they speak their lines.”

– Kate confirmed for me that yes, it was a ferret and not a marmot, in the bathtub in The Big Lebowski. I may not know much, but I know my weasels.

– And for those of you who are curious, here’s The Awkward Yeti.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Yams in Africa are not at all related to sweet potatoes in America. When Africans were kidnapped and brought to America, they used a familiar word (yam) to refer to a new vegetable. But they’re not the same, and you can hardly find yams over here.

  2. If you’re looking for scientific inaccuracies in the book to object to, there’s a really big one: iguanas are not an African species. They’re from the Americas.

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