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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature

You know the drill. In my day job as a Collection Development Manager I spend my time looking at, and subsequently purchasing, books for adults. As a result, I come across books that have distinct children’s literature connections, but in unexpected ways. Today we’ll consider three books with odd ties to the field I know and love. There are some surprises in the mix.

Live Oak, With Moss by Walt Whitman, illustrated by Brian Selznick

An intriguing story coupled with another intriguing story. Walt Whitman once wrote 12 poems about same sex love. These he essentially cut up and hid in his other works, like Leaves of Grass, until they were put back together 100 years later. Maurice Sendak was originally approached with the idea of illustrating the poem, but while he liked the idea, he couldn’t even begin to imagine how one would illustrate poetry. He told all this to Brian Selznick, and never attempted the project. Now Selznick has taken up the challenge, and the result is a book that feels like a fascinating mix of Selznick and Sendak’s later work for adults. Imagine a book like Hugo Cabret, but with lush full-color images. Imagine gold gilt on the page edges. Imagine long silent sequences. For the children’s book completist, you have to own this.

You can see more information and some of the interior shots in an Entertainment Weekly piece here.

Words and Worlds: From Autobiography to Zippers by Alison Lurie

When Jules, Peter, and I were writing Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, we were keenly aware that ours was not the first time someone had written about the wildly subversive nature of books for kids. Long before us, Alison Lurie had penned Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: Subversive Children’s Literature. The remarkable thing about her, though, is that she just keeps on producing. Her latest book is yet another collection of essays, this time not solely about books for kids. Fortunately there is a nice chunk on Edward Gorey, as well as various thoughts on Pinocchio, the Babar tales, Harry Potter, and Rapunzel. This one’s out in May and I look very forward to perusing it.

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

And speaking of Wild Things, we did make sure to dedicate some space to Rose Wilder Lane. How could we not? The woman swore like a sailor, was probably primarily responsible for a lot of her mother’s writings, and was a libertarian. That last fact appears to take up a lot of space in Bagge’s graphic memoir of the woman. Those of you wary of all things Wilder needn’t worry. While Bagge is himself a Reason contributor, even he has to concede that Lane was, at her core, a conspiracy theorist. There’s only so much you can do with someone who called FDR’s New Deal “a deal with the devil”. My husband, I should note, just peeked over my shoulder, saw this, and gave a baffled, “they’re writing books to introduce kids to libertarianism now?” I assured him it was for adults. And so it is.

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.


  1. Lurie has another collection about children’s books, which is equally interesting, “Boys and Girls Forever: Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter.”
    Brian Selznick and Walt Whitman together are an inevitably rewarding experience. Selznick has a beautiful picture book about the poet, written by Barbara Kerley:
    I would like to remind readers that Selznick’s new book is published by Abrams ComicArts. The same publisher stopped the release of Jack Gantos and Dave McKean’s controversial “A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library.” While the two books may seem to be diametrically opposed, it’s important to be aware that censorship can strike from different directions. I am certain there are people who are offended by Selznick’s Whitman book and would like it to disappear from libraries and stores. It’s not necessary to defend “A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library” to be deeply concerned about the precedent set when Abrams gave in to pressure and withdrew it.

    • Judy Weymouth says

      Thanks, Emily, for mentioning Boys and Girls Forever. I read a description and purchased it on kindle.

  2. You’re welcome, Judy. Many of the essays in this new collection were probably printed in journals earlier, but it’s nice to see them in one volume. The Babar article is from the New York Review of Books, December 2004. It’s not accessible unless you have a certain type of subscription to the archive. It’s time to reread that one. Things have changed a lot since 2004, and Babar is, more than ever, the elephant in the room

  3. Judy Weymouth says

    Betsy, the information regarding Whitman/Sendak/Selznick is quite interesting. Hiding the poetry as Whitman did was a genius idea and I’m glad these poems will now be available in Live Oak With Moss. I can’t imagine the sadness of living during a time of so much misunderstanding and hate. Thank God for our progress and yet there is still so much to overcome. If only we could all live with tolerance of differences and appreciation for the wonderful talents of all.
    As I said yesterday, you have done your part today to get your readers aware of an unusual pairing of author and illustrator. Well done.