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Philip Nel's Books

Barnaby, Volume One: 1942-1943 Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature Keywords for Children's Literature Tales for Little Rebels
The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats
Magic Beach
Dr. Seuss: American Icon
The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide

 

Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945

 

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945. Co-edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds. Introduction by Jules Feiffer. Essays by R.C. Harvey and Max Lerner. Biographical Essay and Notes by Philip Nel. Design by Daniel Clowes. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, June 2014. 375 pp.

 


Barnaby, Volume Two: 1942-1943

 

Eisner nomineeCrockett Johnson, Barnaby, Volume One: 1942-1943. Co-edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds. Introduction by Chris Ware. Essays by Jeet Heer and Dorothy Parker. Biographical Essay and Notes by Philip Nel. Design by Daniel Clowes. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2013. 319 pp.

  • Nominated for a 2014 Eisner Award, in the "Best Archival Collection/Project — Strips" category.
  • "I think, and I am trying to talk calmy, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in lord knows how many years. I know that they are the most important additions to my heart. . . . I think Mr. Johnson must love people. I know darned well I must love Mr. Johnson"

    -- Dorothy Parker

  • "I never thought I'd see this day, but the book you hold is, well... the last great comic strip. Yes, there are dozens of other strips worth rereading, but none are this Great; this is great like Beethoven, or Steinbeck, or Picasso. This is so great it lives in its own timeless bubble of oddness and truth."

    -- Chris Ware

  • "There's no way Jack Kerouac, along with every other self-consciously cool person in New York, wasn't reading this. O'Malley turns into Neal Cassady, the guy who's note quite human, who never shuts up, who drives you crazy, and who can make anything happen, just like that. There will be a Volume Two; in the meantime, there's also Nel's lively, inspiring Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature"

    -- Greil Marcus, The Believer, Nov.-Dec 2013

  • "Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby [is] one of the finest and most thought-provoking comic strips ever created.... As expected, this book meets Fantagraphics’s usual high standards for bringing the pen-and-ink classic comics back to life. A bright yellow cover with a World War II-inspired design, combined with informative essays and a glossary of the historic events covered in the strips, makes this book a real treasure for readers of all ages. ... [T]here has always been a subtle charm about Barnaby, Mr. O’Malley, and supporting characters such as Gus the Ghost and Gorgon the dog, that completely transcends political lines. Liberals may love Barnaby, but there is no reason why conservatives and libertarians can’t admire the beauty, simplicity, wittiness and intelligence of this groundbreaking strip, too."

    -- Michael Taube, The Washington Times, 26 July 2013

  • "One of the great, hard-to-find, classic comic strips"

    -- Rich Barrett, Mental Floss, 19 June 2013

  • "Though Harold is considered the classic, Barnaby received lots of critical acclaim in its day. One look at it and you’ll see why.... Though the stories revolve around five year old Barnaby and his fairy godfather (along with a ghost, lion, and more), the seemingly whimsical strip dealt with important issues in a way that didn’t talk down to children. Thus it’s one of those great strips that provided entertainment for young readers and their parents."

    -- Seth Peagler, The Heroes On-Line Blog, 19 June 2013

  • Listen to "Crockett Johnson and Barnaby talk with Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel," on InkStuds (May 2013). Note: The interview starts at 8 minutes in.
  • Read "Crockett Johnson's BARNABY: 1st Look," at Fantagraphics' blog. Eric Reynolds offers a preview, with original sketches from Daniel Clowes.
  • Read "Interview: Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds on Crockett Johnson's Barnaby from Fantagraphics," at Westfield comics blog!
  • Read my thoughts on publishing Barnaby Volume One, at Nine Kinds of Pie (my blog).
  • Learn more about Crockett Johnson:
  • Order the book from Fantagraphics.
  • Order the book from Barnes and Noble.
  • Order the book from Powell's City of Books.
  • Order the book from Rainy Day Books.
  • Order the book from St. Mark's Bookshop.

 


Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

 

Eisner nomineePhilip Nel, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature. University Press of Mississippi, 2012. 368 pages, 88 illustrations. Cover by Chris Ware.

  • Nominated for a 2013 Eisner Award, in the "Best Educational/Academic Work" category.
  • Named a Children's Literature Association Honor Book, 2014.
  • Winner of Southwest Popular/American Culture Association's Rollins Book Award, 2014.
  • "Krauss and Johnson have influenced as many contemporary children's book creators as Maurice Sendak or Chris Van Allsburg, yet biographical material on either or both was as rare as a giant carrot. Now author Phil Nel has remedied this with his insightful, thorough and thoroughly enjoyable book."

    -- Lane Smith

  • "Mr. Nel's engrossing, beautifully-researched dual-biography of these two mid-century masters and their enviable symbiosis will restore the cynic's faith in love and marriage and elicit gasps of shock from devotees of the genre at the sheer decency of their lives."

    -- Daniel Clowes

  • "a perceptive account of the couple's domestic, artistic, and political lives.  While foregrounding the creation of such classics as Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon and Krauss's (and Sendak's) A Hole Is to Dig, Nel places these within the brimming context of two artistic lives that included studio painting (for Johnson) and poetry and plays (for Krauss).  His accessible analysis of their work and its importance is partnered by an engaging portrait of their lives; readers will understand why the young Sendak found their company so inviting and inspirational."
  • -- Roger Sutton, The Horn Book, Sept.-Oct. 2012, p. 129

  • "wonderful new dual biography.... This book is a great read.... Highly recommended!"
  • -- James Sturm, Center for Cartoon Studies, 10 Sept. 2012

  • "Nel has a gift for stitching together his exhaustive research into a brisk, highly readable narrative."
  • -- Jack Feerick, Kirkus, 10 Sept. 2012

  • "an invaluable resource for those who love children's books."

    -- Anita Silvey, Children's Book-a-Day Almanac, 25 Sept. 2012

  • "Krauss and Johnson loomed larger in the last century than they do now, but Mr. Nel argues that it would be a mistake to miss the durability of their legacy. The petite and turbulent Krauss, who wrote more than 40 works for young readers, 'helped pave the way for books that respect children's tough, pragmatic thinking and unorthodox use of language,' he says. Of the wry and laconic Johnson, whose work is often cited by artistic sorts as a source of inspiration, the author declares: 'He showed us that a crayon can create a world.'"

    -- Meghan Cox Gurdon, "A Dramatic Duo in Purple and Pink," The Wall Street Journal, 5 Oct. 2012

  • "Philip Nel’s new book wins the award, hands down, for best title of the year.... But more than that it gives us a narrative that hisses and crackles with energy, even with two subjects whose lives lacked the kind of intrigue and mystery that ordinarily makes for exciting biographical research and writing."

    -- Maria Tatar, "Philip Nel's Radical New Book," Breezes from Wonderland, 4 Nov. 2012

  • "Philip Nel’s scrupulously researched and beautifully written literary biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature succeeds in rendering its two subjects in the detailed and unflinching manner that Forster demands of the novelist. … To cite Forster once again, Nel’s biography offers us not only round characters, but a pair of colorful and mutually devoted intellectuals whom we might wish to know just as well as our 'fellow creatures' – including our own colleagues."

    -- Anastasia Ulanowicz, Lion and the Unicorn 37.3 (Sept. 2013)

  • I've posted Chris Ware's full, wraparound cover on my blog. Click, and then zoom in to see all of the details.
  • Visit my Crockett Johnson Homepage
  • Read my biographical essay on Crockett Johnson (pdf), which appeared in the now defunct Comic Art. In addition to being the most thorough biography of Johnson (prior to the publication of this book), the essay is fully illustrated (thanks to generous individuals and special collections).
  • Read "Before Barnaby: Crockett Johnson Grows Up and Turns Left," adapted from the bio. and appearing in The Comics Journal in September 2012.
  • Learn more about the biography and other projects on Nine Kinds of Pie (my blog).
  • Order the book from Barnes and Noble.
  • Order the book from Powell's City of Books.
  • Order the book from Rainy Day Books.
  • Order the book from St. Mark's Bookshop.

 


Keywords for Children's Literature

 

Philip Nel and Lissa Paul, editors, Keywords for Children's Literature. New York University Press, 2011. 282 pages.

  • "Keywords for Children’s Literature demonstrates how sophisticated the critical approaches to the burgeoning field of children’s literature have become. Not only do the essays on keywords, written by some of the most capable professors in the field, elaborate important concepts in the history of children’s literature, but they cover significant cultural debates and discussions. This superb volume of scholarship demonstrates—definitively—that adult literature cannot be understood without grasping its roots in children’s literature."

    -- Jack Zipes

  • "By distilling the complex uses of its core terms, the contributors to Keywords for Children's Literature have produced an indispensable handbook for scholars in this dynamic field."

    -- Donald E. Pease

 


Tales for Little Rebels

Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel, editors, Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature. Foreword by Jack Zipes. New York University Press, 2008. 295 pages, 100 illustrations.

  • "As Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel document in Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature (New York University, $32.95), Marxist principles have been dripping steadily into the minds of American youth for more than a century. This isn’t altogether surprising. After all, most parents want their children to be far left in their early years -- to share toys, to eschew the torture of siblings, to leave a clean environment behind them, to refrain from causing the extinction of the dog, to rise above coveting and hoarding, and to view the blandishments of corporate America through a lens of harsh skepticism. But fewer parents wish for their children to carry all these virtues into adulthood. It is one thing to convince your child that no individual owns the sandbox [...]. It is another to hope that when he grows up he will donate the family home to a workers' collective. [...] And in the next few years, as America backs cautiously away from its laissez-faire disasters and reluctantly into an unfamiliar, communal style of politics, some of us may find ourselves wishing we had been scared with such rhymes in kindergarten instead of having to live through them as adults."

    -- Caleb Crain, "Children of the Left, Unite!", New York Times Book Review, 11 Jan. 2009, p. 23.

  • "By introducing kids (and their parents) to a wide range of forgotten and overlooked texts addressing progressive themes, and by provoking a closer look at what the books we already own imply, Mickenberg and Nel have done parents and kids alike a truly important service."

    -- Jenny Browne, "Progressive Primers," Texas Observer, 9 Jan. 2009.

  • "Tales for Little Rebels (NYU) anthologizes 75 years of radical children’s literature. It’s a rousing, relevant chronicle of teaching kids about social and environmental justice, civil rights, and their power to challenge the status quo."

    -- Julie Hanus, Utne Reader, Jan-Feb. 2009.

  • "the book reveals a unique, vibrant, imaginative, and energetic left-wing tradition of writing for young people. It is an invaluable resource for progressive educators and hopefully will inspire teachers to write and even publish their own children's books dealing with sensitive political and social issues."

    -- Herb Kohl, "Good Stuff: Little Rebels," Rethinking Schools Online, Winter 2008/2009.

  • "Tales for Little Rebels is a remarkable book in many ways [...]. According to liberal and conservative critics alike, radical, socialist, and communist teachings, indeed any kind of pedagogy condemning capitalism as a social system and envisioning something more cooperative, can only be dreadful stuff. This collection gives the lie to that. The prose excerpts are fascinating; the illustrations are perfectly fabulous and, very often, really funny. [...] The editors, Philip Nel (our best scholar of Geisel) and Julia Mickenberg (authoritative expert on progressive children's books of the 1950s-70s) offer outstanding annotations and introductions; fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes adds a fascinating Foreword."

    -- Paul Buhle, Monthly Review Webzine, 13 Dec. 2008.

  • "Some weave the messages deftly into their stories and others subordinate the entertainment to a lesson so blunt you could pound yams with it, but the mixture is consistently fascinating. It helps that the tales, illustrated by the likes of Walter Crane, Boris Artzybasheff and Lynd Ward and prefaced by the editors' thorough and helpful introductions, boast authors as skilled as Carl Sandburg, Munro (Ferdinand the Bull) Leaf, Dr. Seuss, Eve Merriam and Langston Hughes."

    -- Warren Clements, "Kids, capitalists, and commies," Globe and Mail, 22 Nov. 2008.

  • "Some of the selections are funny, such as Jerome Lawrence Schwartz's story about an ostrich named Oscar, who gets his warm sand dune (good for head-poking) usurped by a loud-voiced fascist ostrich; others are alarming in their didactic shrillness"

    -- Andrea Walker, "The Book Bench," New Yorker, 14 Nov. 2008.

  • "a collection, with commentary, that blends old left, new left, hard left, soft left, and -isms from communism and socialism to feminism, environmentalism, and antiracism. The mosaic is the message. There was 'never a unified voice of the Left,' they write, 'just as there was never a unified vision of the child.'"

    -- Nina C. Ayoub, "Nota Bene: Little Rebels; Watching the Watchers," Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 Nov. 2008.

  • "Mickenberg and Nel remind us how politically radical some of the most-beloved children's books are"

    -- Rachel Hartigan Shea, "Better Read Than Red," Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2008.

  • Book TV: Nel, Pomerantz, Mickenberg   C-SPAN2's Book TV: Julia Mickenberg, Philip Nel, and Charlotte Pomerantz (author of The Day They Parachuted Cats on Borneo) talk about and read from Tales for Little Rebels at Bluestockings Bookstore, New York, 20 Dec. 2008. First aired 31 Jan. and 1 Feb. 2009.
  • Read New York University Press' page.
  • Read "Getting a Taste for Some Tales for Little Rebels," Elizabeth Bird's account of the book party at NYU's Bobst Library, 18 Dec. 2008.
  • Order the book from Barnes and Noble.
  • Order the book from Powell's City of Books.
  • Order the book from Rainy Day Books.
  • Order the book from St. Mark's Bookshop.
  • English 680: Radical Children's Literature (Fall 2008). A course taught by Philip Nel.

Philip Nel, The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats. Random House, 2007.

  • "a super-dooper-doozidy-floozer of a doozy. [...] The Cat in the Hat [...] changed kid’s books forever and now Mr. Nel has edited The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats. For Seuss fanatics like myself it’s as sweet as pink cake (with little cross-hatch lines on the sides)."

-- Lane Smith

  • "In The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats, Philip Nel gives us a better grip on just why Dr. Seuss has so thoroughly captured the imaginations of several generations of readers—and the imaginations of their parents. [...] Nel’s line-by-line annotations illuminate precisely how Seuss created his masterwork [...]. Showing us how Seuss worked—showing him assemble the cat line by line in ink and print—is the coolest gift this Annotated Cat could give us."

-- Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

  • "Philip Nel has researched and assembled a scrapbook of fascinating historical tidbits."

-- The Poetry Foundation, which named The Annotated Cat a "Book Pick"

  • "A must-read for the Seuss lover or hopeful children's writer."

-- Jamie Driggers, Armchair Interviews

  • "Nel does a terrific job of supplying the backstory behind both the book and the man and explaining why and how Cat became a worldwide favorite."

-- Booklist

  • "Nel's crowning achievement is that he keeps everything fun, not fusty or snooty. [...] The best fun in the book is watching Dr. Seuss at work through first drafts and rough coloured-pencil sketches."

-- Bruce Ward, The Ottawa Citizen

  • "Nel proves that it is fun to take Seuss's work seriously. [...] The well-documented text includes original manuscripts, early sketches, and illustrations with detailed analysis and descriptions. This text is an excellent addition to any school or public library and is essential reading for all who work with youth, literacy, and literature."

-- Rebecca Sheridan, School Library Journal


Magic Beach

La Plage Magique

Spiaggia Magica

Crockett Johnson, Magic Beach. Appreciation by Maurice Sendak. Afterword by Philip Nel. Asheville, NC: Front Street, 2005. 64 pages. Also available in French translation by Quentin Le Goff: La Plage Magique. Tourbillon, 2006. And in Italian translation by Elena Fantasia: Spiaggia Magica. Orecchio Acerbo, 2013.

  • "The book, which was dear to Johnson's heart, was rejected by numerous publishers in the early 1960s.  [...] A foreword by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by Philip Nel offer fascinating glimpses both of Johnson and his attempts to get the book published.  [...]  Like the imaginative play of children, the book is mysterious and unexpected but always true to its own inner logic.  [...] The book itself is beautifully designed and produced, making it a pleasure to handle as well as read.  I think Crockett Johnson would approve."

-- Terri Schmitz, Horn Book

  • "Issued [...] in 1965 as Castles in the Sand, with [...] illustrations by Betty Fraser, this philosophical tale appears here in its original form, beneath Johnson's own rough, expressive sketches -- sandwiched between an eloquent appreciation of both author and art by Maurice Sendak, and a publishing history by renowned scholar Philip Nel. [...] [A] handsomely packaged artifact for adult readers of children's literature."

-- Kirkus Reviews

  • "The ingenious book design plays up the feel of an artist's sketchbook, and the spare pencil sketches (with even the artist's erasures in evidence) [...] give readers the feeling of peering over the artist's shoulder. The drawings introduce young Ann and Ben, outlined in the expressive line that Harold fans will recognize immediately. The children have only to write a word in the sand and the item appears before them, making an intriguing play on the notion of spelling and spells. [...] Like all great stories, this one stretches well beyond the pages. All ages."

-- Publishers Weekly

  • "Bracketed by two insightful, informative gems for Johnson fans, a two-page 'appreciation' by Maurice Sendak and a four-page afterword on the book's history by Philip Nel, this handsome book is clearly aimed at adults as much as children. But whoever the audience, there is magic to be found in the words and sketches of Crockett Johnson."

-- Carolyn Phelan, Booklist


Dr. Seuss: American Icon

Philip Nel, Dr. Seuss: American Icon. New York and London: Continuum Publishing, 2004. 320 pages, 33 illustrations.

  • A Choice Magazine "Outstanding Academic Book of 2004"

  • "even nonacademics will come away enlightened about the talented man who wanted to wake people up to events in the world and leave a moral legacy for children."

-- Booklist

  • "definitive [...] comprehensive [...] will tell grown-ups more than they ever wanted to know about Dr. Seuss."

-- The Economist

  • "Mr. Nel has done his homework [...] he draws on a wealth of esoteric knowledge"

-- The New York Sun


The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity

Philip Nel, The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks. Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. 249 pages, 41 illustrations.

  • "Nel is [...] equally at home in popular and university circles. [...] Happily, Nel exhibits these combined merits in user-friendly prose. The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity is a provocative and appealing book."

-- Arthur Saltzman, symploké

  • "a very good account of the avant-garde's shaping influence in American life and letters, one that raises many valuable questions."

-- Kenneth Kidd, Children's Literature

  • "By stressing the stylistic continuities between modernism and postmodernism, Nel [...] not only undermines any reified notions of periodicity but reminds us that modernism, in its specifically avant-garde formulations, is still very much with us. That the homogeneity of our postmodern simulacrum is challenged by The Cat in the Hat and Two Bad Ants as well as Snow White or Underworld is good news indeed."

-- Norman Finkelstein, American Literature

  • "Philip Nel's writing is a pleasure: lively clear, stylish, and free of unnecessary jargon. [...] The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks is a joy to read, raising, in true postmodernist fashion, as many questions as it answers."

-- Richard Flynn, The Children's Literature Association Quarterly


J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide (in Japanese)

Philip Nel, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide. New York and London: Continuum Publishing, 2001. 96 pages. Also available in Japanese translation by Ihei Taniguchi, published by Jiritsu-shobo Inc., 2002.

  • "the single best piece of literary criticism on the Potter series [...] Philip Nel is the best thing to happen so far to Harry Potter in the American classroom."

-- Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook.

  • "packs the most bang for your buck of all the about-Potter books."

-- Lana Whited, The Lion and the Unicorn


Work in Progress
No cover

available.

Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds, eds., The Complete Barnaby, Volumes Three, Four, and Five. Fantagraphics. Forthcoming in 2015, 2016 and 2017.


Special Issue
Children's Literature and the Left.  Co-edited with Julia Mickenberg.  Special issue.  Children's Literature Association Quarterly 30.4 (Winter 2005).


Selected Articles

Journal of Popular Culture: cover "Children's Literature Goes to War: Dr. Seuss, P.D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, and the Private SNAFU Films (1943-46)." The Journal of Popular Culture 40.3 (June 2007): 468-87.

"Is There a Text in This Advertising Campaign?: Literature, Marketing, and Harry Potter." The Lion and the Unicorn 29.2 (Apr. 2005): 236-267.

Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz

"Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art." Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004): 2-18.

Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz

"Don DeLillo's Return to Form: The Modernist Poetics of The Body Artist." Contemporary Literature 43.4 (Winter 2002): 736-59.

Modern Fiction Studies 45.3

"'A small incisive shock': Modern Forms, Postmodern Politics, and the Role of the Avant-Garde in Don DeLillo's Underworld." Modern Fiction Studies 45.3 (Fall 1999): 724-52.

For a complete list of articles, please click on this sentence.


Selected Reviews

Review of Tove Jansson's Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1ImageText 3.3 (Summer 2007).

"O Puppet, Where Art Thou?: The Transformations of Pinocchio." Review of Richard Wunderlich and Thomas J. Morrissey's Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: Perils of a Puppet in the United States. Children's Literature 32 (2004): 226-230.

Modern Fiction Studies 48.2

"Metaphors and Paranoia: Two Approaches to Contemporary American Fiction." Review of Timothy Melley's Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America and Arthur Saltzman's This Mad "Instead": Governing Metaphors in Contemporary Fiction. Modern Fiction Studies 48.2 (Summer 2002): 480-85.

 For a complete list of refereed reviews, please click on this sentence.

 
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