Remembering the books that taught us more than we ever cared to learn.
THE SENSIBLE NONSENSE PROJECT’S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!
Sensible Nonsense creator Arielle Brousse has been named a Penn Social Impact Fellow for 2014.
Here’s the one-minute pitch video she made to bring Sensible Nonsense to the program. (She shot and edited it in an hour. Be kind.)
She’s hoping to use the Social Impact program to figure out how to leverage the enthusiasm and energy around Sensible Nonsense in order to increase access to early childhood reading programs.
Wanna help her do it?
Arielle has a Crowdtilt page here. Your gift (of any size!) helps her with travel, tuition, room and board, and supplies for this two-week intensive — plus, she’ll personally send you a postcard from the program, thanking you for being an early patron of this fabulous project.
Thanks for being a part of this, friends — and happy reading!
WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN!
One week from today — 3/25, at 6PM EST — we’ll host our second live Sensible Nonsense event.
Wait, what is this?
It’s a live reading where eight people will share their reflections on their favorite children’s books. If it is anything like last year’s, you will laugh and you will cry.
An eclectic group of professionals, graduate students, and undergraduates: Jay Kirk, Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Andrew Panebianco, Erin Peraza, Andie Davidson, Ana Schwartz, Meg Pendoley, and Juan Cabrera.
Only the coolest place in Philadelphia, the Kelly Writers House.
Oh, well, I’m not in Philadelphia.
Well, do you have an internet connection? (You must, if you’re asking these questions!) So all you have to do is click the link for KWH-TV and press play at the time of the program, and you can watch live on your computer.
I have low blood sugar.
That sounds rough. Luckily, we’ll be serving up a reception full of your favorite after-school snacks following the program.
Gosh, that sounds cool. I wish I could have been a part of the project!
Oh, but you can! The Sensible Nonsense Project ALWAYS takes submissions. Send us your essay here!
Any particular reason I should come to this?
There’ll be an exciting announcement about the future of the project.
Last time it was cancelled because of snow. Will this time be cancelled because of snow?
We really hope not.
Will it ever be spring again?
We really hope so.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Children, as far as I can tell, are little pagans, full of unaccountable beliefs and peasant superstitions. From triple-knotting their shoelaces to elaborately naming their toys, they have rituals for everything, and perform them as though doing otherwise would invite a curse into their lives.
Of course, I’m speaking from experience. In my childhood bedtime in particular was a matter of high ceremony. I had to be tucked in with diagrammatic precision, like a present being wrapped; I had to be armed with my favorite long-suffering pony toy, nestled in the loving choke-hold of my right arm; and I had to be read to, from books that I had committed to my personal canon with evangelical zeal.
This obsession with the rites of bedtime seems to be an integral part of childhood, as well as a recurrent theme in both children’s and grown-ups’ literature. Swann’s Way, by very reductive logic, is about a French mama’s boy’s gargantuan freak out when his doting mother forgets to wish him good night. And Goodnight Moon, the gorgeous children’s book I’d like to talk about today, is a special liturgy for sleepy children everywhere.
The book, as you likely recall, is very simple: a pajama-clad bunny sits in bed in a palatial green room with high ceilings and orange floors, surrounded by an array of objects both familiar and strange (a chair, a comb; a “bowl of mush”). As we turn the pages, we take inventory of each of these things, acquainting ourselves with the charming, garishly painted room and its contents. And then, along with our young bunny-protagonist, we wish them goodnight. “Goodnight comb, and goodnight brush,” we say, turning a page. “Goodnight stars, goodnight air,” we say. “Goodnight noises everywhere.”
It’s not hard to understand why the book is so captivating to read as an adult. Maturity, for some reason, seems to be defined in part by being completely surrounded by objects, many of them useful, few of them necessary, and almost all of them completely assimilated into the unremarkable texture of daily life. The idea that we should notice a comb, really, fully attend to it, seems like a useless mental exercise, something we would only do in a goofy drama class or if there was a chance we could make the comb spontaneously combust. The notion that we should just idly think about a comb, and maybe wish it good night now and then, just to be nice, feels worrisomely naïve.
But children, of course, relate to objects differently than we do, their world as yet uncontaminated by symbolic meanings. A cigar really is just a cigar when you’re a kid, thank god, because what else could it possibly be? Our understanding of objects has to become more complex as we grow up, for a number of practical and developmental reasons. But I wonder sometimes if that earlier understanding of the world, that willingness to see objects on their own terms, is where generosity comes from.
Children may not love more fairly or intelligently than adults—if they did, adulthood would be pretty doomed—but they do seem to love more abundantly. The way kids love dogs, toys, teachers, older children, playgounds, candy, and exercise is astonishing, a realm of emotional possibility to which we can have only vicarious access. We’re lucky if life gives us a handful of people to love; and, knowing that, it’s hard not to envy children, to admire their world which is so capaciously loving, and so full of lovable objects.
I’m not a child, at least not technically. My idea of a good time typically involves long periods of sitting down, and I don’t believe that toys have souls. But Goodnight Moon is still one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, and a book which, I hope, still informs the way I engage with the world. I’m probably not capable of wishing a comb goodnight, at least not without embarrassment. But I hope I’m still able to love the world with real attachment and a sense of wonder—an ability which might not be the hallmark of adulthood, but which will certainly keep me from getting bored.
—Emily Harnett has been lucky enough to stay in Philadelphia, and at the Writers House, in some professional capacity. She enjoys twentieth century fiction, which she hopes to study next year as a PhD student. Emily’s other research interests include, but are not limited to, Russian history and politics, napping, and Kanye West.
The Sensible Nonsense Project live event is in TWO DAYS!
Many of you are gearing up for Valentine’s Day — possibly even filling out lots of little heartfelt cards for friends and colleagues, as your humble blog manager is. To get you in an affectionate frame of mind, here are a few sweet Valentine’s illustrations from children’s book author Tomie DePaola.
We hope you’ll take your Valentine to our event this Thursday!
The Sensible Nonsense Project live event is in THREE DAYS!
We hope you’re working up your appetites for after-school snacks. In the meantime, you can step up your nail game with these works of nail art inspired by favorite children’s books.
The Sensible Nonsense Project LIVE — in ONE WEEK!
Help us honor the humor, pathos, and enduring wisdom of children’s books! Six speakers will share stories about their own favorite childhood books, what those books taught them, and how those lessons continue to influence their adult lives. Stay on afterward for a delicious reception inspired by after-school snacks, and to get more information about how you, too, can participate in the project.
Hosted by Arielle Brousse
Sponsored by Creative Ventures
EMILY HARNETT (C’13)
ANDIE DAVIDSON (C’15)
DYLAN LEAHY (C’16)
Thursday, Feb. 13th | 6:00pm | Arts Café
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk
JAY KIRK is the author of Kingdom Under Glass (Henry Holt), which was named one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2010 by the Washington Post. His award-winning nonfiction has been published in Harper’s, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and anthologized in Best American Crime Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper’s Magazine. He was a National Magazine Award Finalist in 2013, and the recipient of a 2005 Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He currently teaches in Penn’s Creative Writing Program. His next book, Avoid the Day (HarperCollins), is due out in 2015.
CAITLIN GOODMAN is a librarian and archivist in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia and writes the monthly “Grumpy Librarian” readers’ advisory column for City Paper. She lives in Philadelphia and, like all librarians, loves cats and cardigans.
EMILY HARNETT (C’13) has been lucky enough to stay in Philadelphia, and at the Writers House, in some professional capacity. She enjoys twentieth century fiction, which she hopes to study next year as a PhD student. Emily’s other research interests include, but are not limited to, Russian history and politics, napping, and Kanye West.
ANDREW PANEBIANCO is a writer at the Philly ad firm, Brownstein Group. Prior to that he inflicted piles of Romantic poetry and Shakespeare on a decade’s worth of college kids. He is also the author of nearly 200 definitions to words that aren’t, but should be. Read more at wordsthatarent.com, and follow him @fancywhitebread.
If ANDIE DAVIDSON (C’15) had her own personal Room of Requirement, it would likely be filled with coffee, chocolate, and books. An English major and French minor, she is a grammar freak and nearly-certifiable shopaholic. In between exploring (or wandering, as her friends would call it) and searching for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, she can usually be found reading, making up stories in her head, or overusing parentheses.
DYLAN LEAHY (C’16) plans on majoring in English and minoring in Cinema Studies because he enjoys the idea of a future without job security. He filters most of his experiences through pop culture and idolizes various TV lesbians (cheerleader or otherwise). He’s been obsessed with stories and the way they are told ever since his dad read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to him when he was seven.
Neil Gaiman reads Green Eggs and Ham!
This has been making the rounds, but here is such an appropriate place for it to stop on those rounds.
(Reminder: nine days until The Sensible Nonsense Project’s live event! Come on by or tune in live online.)
Mom’s Library List
My mom started taking me to our town’s public library when I was three years old. Some of my first memories are from the weekly Story Time at the library, which took place in a small room that was squirreled away on the second floor. The room’s linoleum floor was speckled with sample squares of carpet—the kind you get from Home Depot when you’re looking to put down new wall-to-wall—and my friend Carolyn and I would always pick plush, colorful squares to sit pretzel style on while the librarian read aloud to us. I remember holding Carolyn’s hand during a session with Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, which frightened us both (something about the eggs being green gave me the icks).
Mom would appear in the doorway after Story Time and take me downstairs to the Children’s Room, which was partitioned from the main area of the library with what must have been sound-proof glass, because noise was allowed in the Children’s Room. I remember walking quietly through the adult reference stacks and past the card catalogues, only to break out into a sprint once inside the Children’s Room, so I could check on my furry buddies—the library’s two hamsters (or were they gerbils?)—who must have had fairytale-inspired names like Hansel and Gretel, though I no longer recall.
What I do recall is that Mom would peel me away from the cage and browse the children’s stacks with me, so we could pick out a book or two to check out for the week. I would stand on a step stool beside her as she scanned the titles, looking for a Madeline adventure we hadn’t yet delved into, or for a copy of Eloise to read again (I loved opening up the pages that showed Eloise’s escapades through the Plaza Hotel’s elevators). At first, Mom would read these books to me, but by the time I was four years old, I read them to her.
Mom curated my book borrowing long after my afternoons of carpet squares at Story Time had ended, long after she signed me up for my very own library card. When I was in second or third grade, Mom turned me on to Judy Blume’s “Fudge” series, fueling a summer-long borrowing session that started with Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and ended with Fudge-a-Mania. They were my first real chapter books.
By fourth grade, Mom steered me out of the Children’s Room and over to the Young Adult stacks for Blume’s big-girl books—Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Blubber, and my favorite, Just As Long As We’re Together, which I borrowed and read again and again, the return date stamps on the card in the back all mine. Mom was even in cahoots with my elementary school’s librarian, Mrs. Nutter, who made me borrow books that I told Mom I didn’t want to read, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (I thought it was about hunting; I ate my words when I fell in love with Scout and was enthralled by Boo Radley).
I don’t know exactly what considerations Mom put into creating a book-borrowing list for me. She must have read some of the books she chose for me when she was a girl herself—To Kill a Mockingbird for sure, because she told me as much. But Mom was already 18 when Judy Blume published Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, and wouldn’t need to read it to learn about bras and periods, like I did.
I can’t ask Mom why she wanted me to read those books, because she passed away when I was 12, leaving me to make my own choices at the library. I can imagine, though, that she chose books that she knew would both enthrall me and teach me—books that would make me grow to love reading as an escape into a world different than my own.
—Kristen Martin is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia University, where she writes essays and memoir about her parents, Long Island, Brooklyn, and being Italian-American. She spent last year studying the food culture of her ancestors at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, an experience she chronicled on her blog, La Mangiatrice. Her writing has appeared in SAVEUR Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, VICE, Obit-mag.com, and elsewhere.