Friday, October 19, 2018

The Grinch Bay Area Movie Ticket Give Away, and How I Keep Trying to Forgive Seuss

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(If you'd like skip my socio-political commentary on the career path of Dr. Seuss and just enter the raffle, skip to the end.)

I have a complicated history with Theodor Geisel. More specifically, I have a complicated history with his work. It's not complicated in any real world way, it's complicated like a relationship status on social media. Which is to say, it's entirely one sided and all in my head and heart.

Like a great many North American children, I grew up loving Dr. Seuss. From The Birthday Book, which was read to me on my birthday every single year, to the adventures of young Bartholomew Cubbins, I read everything Seuss had written at least 20 times over by the time I was 10. Or at least that's what I thought. What I didn't know about were Geisel's early advertising works or his WWII era propaganda cartoons. They were problematic to say the least. Geisel supported the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, an action on the part of the government that resulted in my family being sent to prison camp and losing their house to the military. It wasn't until I read, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street to my kids that I began to understand Seuss' transformation over the course of his career. If you don't remember Mulberry St. (the book, not the street) it's about a young boy who makes up a story about things he saw on his way home. He strives to come up with the most outlandish things he can possibly think of. The capper, the most outlandish, bizarre, inconceivable thing he can come up with is, "A Chinese boy Who eats with sticks."

What?

I was floored. I remembered everything else in his fanciful parade, but I had never registered the Chinese boy. It turns out that in the original 1937 printing it was a "Chinaman." Ouch.

I've had some long and involved debates about Mulberry St. (the book, not the street). The opposing view is that it's not racist because it's a product of its time. Well sure, but that was a time when it was OK to be racist. After all, it was just five years later that the government shipped 120,000 people off to prison based solely on their race. (Not to mention Jim Crow, segregated military units, and rampant anti-Semitism.) The fact is, through the 1940s, Dr. Seuss was kind of a racist.


Lucky for us, the story doesn't end there. Seuss' views changed over the years after WWII. He wrote, Horton Hears a Who as a commentary against the bombing of Hiroshima and dedicated it to a Japanese friend. In 1978, Seuss made a re-write to Mulberry St. changing "Chinaman" to "a Chinese man," and changing the color of the character from bright yellow, to something more neutral. This came after writing a 1966 book under his Theo LeSieg pen name called, Come Over to My House, which celebrated different cultures rather than mocking them. In the end, Seuss fully deserved the reputation he enjoys today, as a celebrated and beloved author whose books contain both humor and morality. Still, I don't read Mulberry St. to my kids because they are Asian and I'm not going to subject them to anti-Asian iconography. I refuse to normalize their ethnicity and culture as something peculiar. There's also at least one Dr. Seuss based movie I haven't shown them. (More on that below the picture)



Which brings us to, The Grinch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas has to be one of Dr. Seuss' most well known an beloved works. It was another one that we read every single year at my house. It's one I can quote up and down, often using the quotes outside of Christmas or anything remotely related to Christmas. It's also one that has been controversial for completely different reasons, adaptations.

The 1966 animated version of the book is so far, the best. It's essentially the book, with animation and a great song. Little is changed in terms of the wording and it's read by Boris Karloff, so that's going to be hard to beat. It's also just 26 minutes long, which means it's easy to digest and of a length that it could be shown on television in a standard half hour block. I used to beg my mom to be able to watch it the ONE time it would be shown each year, usually along with the Peanuts Christmas special, and a one-off Cone Heads cartoon. It was something I looked forward to every winter almost as much as Christmas itself.

Then there's the Jim Carrey version. Yikes. I was excited about a live action Grinch movie and I thought Carrey was a good choice for the role, but how would they stretch it to 104 minutes? The answer was with a lot of back story, including neglectful adoptive parents and a key party. Ew. Critics gave it mixed reviews, I don't know anyone who liked it. And like that, The Grinch was put away for the next 18 years.

18 years?! It must be time to try again right?

Right.

Just like I kept looking for reasons to forgive Dr. Seuss and his early career, I'm really hopeful about this latest film. First of all, it's a return to animation, which I think is a good choice for Seuss adaptations. It has an all-star cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Rashida Jones. It clocks in a tidy 86 minutes so it won't be too long for the kids. I'm 100% certain it will stray from and embellish the original book, (the preview articles pretty much promise that) but it has to do that and I know it can be done well. I thought Peter Rabbit was pretty good for what it was. I'm also the guy who cried both times I watched The Peanuts Movie, so I know there can be adaptations that provide an updated experience while holding true to what we all loved about the source material.

So I'm excited to bring my kids to an advanced showing of The Grinch coming up on Wednesday, November 7th at 7:30pm at the AMC Bay St. 16 in Emeryville, and I want you to join us. I'm running a raffle right now, through Friday, October 26th. Check out the info below on how to enter. I have at least 6 sets of 4 tickets to give out. I may have Grinch swag for the winners as well. So if you want to hang out, meet the fam, or argue with me on my Dr. Seuss takes, enter below and I'll see you there!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Get Involved: Toddler Storytime at Children's Fairyland



Last year I had the pleasure of attending Toddler Storytime at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. Moving back to the East bay has been great for so many reasons. One of the big ones has been being able to bring my kids to many of the places I loved as a child. Every school kid in Berkeley and Oakland makes trips to the Oakland Museum of California, and so does my family. We also became members of Children's Fairyland. Walking in, seeing that friendly dragon and the coffee stand shaped like a pumpkin brought back a flood of memories I didn't know I had. Like Tahiti, it's truly a magical place.
Robert Liu Trujillo

Fairyland however, is more than just story book themed attractions and rides for people under 5 feet tall. The park also puts on educational and community programming. I attended Toddler Storytime with my youngest child, where we saw a fantastic artist and author, Robert Liu Trujillo read his book Furqan's First Flat Top. The day also included local community and city sponsored literacy groups, who talked with parents, led fun activities and gave away books. It was very cool, Yo and I had a great time. 

"Great," your thinking, "why are you telling me this? Is this an #ad?" Well no, it's not. Sure, I think it would be great for you to bring your kid to Toddler Story Time, or to sign your older kid up for the Children's Fairyland summer theater camp. (Dude, I totally wish I had gone to summer theater camp here when I was  kid. It looks really cool.) But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this to encourage you to get involved as a reader at Toddler Storytime.

Children's Fairyland is holding their next round of trainings for readers coming up on November 2nd and 3rd, 2018. Dads, they are specifically looking for you. In fact, the event I attended with my kid was specifically geared towards dads. But I'm sure they'd be happy to have you come read any week.

They are looking for adult volunteers (18 and older) who want to be trained to lead toddler-specific Storytimes on the outdoor Emerald City Stage. Volunteers will commit to two days of training and lead approximately two Storytimes per month. Readers should be comfortable engaging with and leading a group of children, parents, and caregivers. In the training, you will develop skills in reading aloud, song leading, and other fun literacy-focused activities. We strongly encourage men to apply!

Toddler Storytime takes place on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. with 20 minutes of interactive early literacy activities: reading aloud, singing, and movement. It encourages language development in a joyful environment. The training is led by Fairyland’s librarian, Angela Moffett, who is also a teen services librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

Training dates:
Friday, November 2, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Saturday, November 3, 9:30–3 p.m.
The training is highly interactive and both days are required!
 
If you or someone you know would like to become a Storytime volunteer, please email Vicky Chen at outreach@fairyland.org. You'll be asked to complete a short questionnaire to find out more about your experience and interests.


Please give them a look if you're in the East Bay.