According to Linda Salem in her essay on Edward Gorey’s personal library, “Nonsense evokes discomfort and tension in audiences. Ridiculous, paradoxical, and unpredictable, it is at the same time meaningful and meaningless. It disturbs and tricks readers’ expectations” (232). The genre, then, encourages a reconsideration of the familiar by causing the reader to feel uneasy about the subject of the literature at hand. Dr. Seuss’s cautionary tale, The Butter Battle Book (1984), teaches its readers about tolerance and respect. John Hursh quotes Thomas Fensch: “While [Seuss’s] book received significant criticism when first published, it also received considerable praise. Writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak remarked: “Surprisingly, wonderfully, the case for total disarmament has been brilliantly made by our acknowledged master of nonsense, Dr. Seuss. . . . Only a genius of the ridiculous could possibly deal with the cosmic and lethal madness of the nuclear arms race” (n.p.). By subverting reasoning, the text cautions its readers against immorality.
While Dr. Seuss may have received a balance of criticism for his tolerance and demilitarization message in The Butter Battle Book, Michael Ian Black was accused of being an immature American for his childish nonsense book, A Child’s First Book of Trump (2016), which was meant for adults. Black’s rhymes coupled with Marc Rosenthal’s illustrations are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s nonsensical, artistic style. The text, according to the July 5, 2016 New York Times article, was a “. . . perfectly timely parody picture book intended for adults that would be hysterical if it wasn’t so true.” In genuine nonsense form, the piece cautions its readers against sightings of the “Americus Trumpus” (n.p.):
So what shall you do with a Trump running wild?
The answer is all up to you, my dear child.
Run away screaming? Or maybe you fight?
Reason and logic will only incite it.
You can cover your ears or run up a tree,
But the best thing to do is . . . (n.p.)
Adults (the intended audience), however, found the piece immature and indicative of sore “losers.” Kayla Welch commented on the New York Times article on November 7, 2017:
This book is the perfect example of why our country – namely the left – is so immature. I’m a libertarian, I voted as such, and yet I cannot understand this immaturity from people who have the right to vote.
Your side lost, so did mine. Grow up and please do not instill such immaturity in your child. . .
Another commenter, Jason Powell, responded on November 6, 2017 by saying “Written by the haters for the losers. Don’t read this to your kid if you want the child to be an achiever.” The comments these adults make point to several issues, but the question of the child audience is probably easier to consider in such a short discussion. How does one determine the criteria for a child audience? What are the criteria for children’s literature as a genre? Certainly, this text could entertain a child as well as Little Red Riding Hood.
Children know the difference between right and wrong. They know the difference between moral and immoral. In a CNN video published to YouTube on March 4, 2016, some confident children respond to news clips of the “Americus Trumpus.” When Trump complains that a million-dollar loan from his father was not very much, one young person responds mockingly: “It hasn’t been easy for me, but I’m filthy rich.” Another young person responds to Trumps comment about Rosie O’Donnell by saying, “If he’s going to be rude to ladies, he shouldn’t be a president.” Is it not possible, then, that children can handle discussions about complex topics in the literature written for them?
Black, Michael Ian, and Marc Rosenthal. A Child's First Book of Trump. First ed., 2016.
"Children react to Donald Trump." https://youtu.be/3DcDdHdImM4. CNN. 4 March 2016.
Clark, Dorothy., and Linda C. Salem. Frontiers in American Children's Literature. 1st unabridged. ed., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.
Hursh, John. "Exploring Civil Society Through the Writings of Dr. Seuss: International Law, Armed Conflict, and the Construction of Otherness: A Critical Reading of Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book and a Renewed Call for Global Citizenship." New York Law School Law Review, 58, 617 2013 / 2014. https://advance-lexis-com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/api/document?collection=analytical-materials&id=urn:contentItem:5CFF-JJ30-00CV-20HP-00000-00&context=1516831. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Seuss. The Butter Battle Book. Random House, 1984.