Not Straight Enough

Last September I was on my way to Nebraska for a series of school visits, part of the Plum Creek Literacy Festival at Concordia University (a Christian institution). While at the Minneapolis airport waiting for my connecting flight, I received a call from a friend I had dinner with the night before in NY. He had just tested positive to Covid. So, instead of taking my plane to Nebraska, I self isolated for four days and then got tested. Fortunately I was negative, but I really felt bad not meeting those hundreds of children who were waiting for me. The festival got cancelled anyway, due to the withdrawal of many of the presenters in response to the university’s blatantly but not surprisingly disgusting anti-gay policies. I understand and sympathize with the people who chose to withdraw, but I had decided to still go because I believe it is extremely important for children to be exposed to different ideas and points of view, especially in communities where part of the adult world is so close-minded and malevolent. (To be clear, the festival itself does not follow those discriminatory rules, and if you want to know more about this issue, you can easily find a lot of information online.)

My school presentations are, of course, about my picture books and how I make them, but they are also about my personal story: where I come from, how I was as a child, what I like and dislike, etc. Without directly addressing issues that I would not be able to explain to five- or six-year-olds, especially in a crowd, I still get to talk about being different, choosing ways that are not conventional, having a natural preference for things that others might find weird, off, or not straight enough. Below you can see some of the slides that I would have included in my presentations at Plum Creek and that I hope I will be able to show to those same children in another occasion.

Thank you for reading.

“La gesetta di lusert” (the little church of the lizards). This was my favorite place in the neighborhood where I grew up, in Milan. It is the only building that is not straight in an overwhelmingly orthogonal area. But the church has been there for at least 900 years, probably more, and the apparently straight city was built around it only through the 20th century.
This is me in the class picture in first grade. The collar was supposed to be straight (and the mouth shut).
One of my favorite characters, and only comics superhero I liked: Superciuk (Superdrunk). He got his super powers from cheap red wine.
Chick’s house, which, like Chick, is not the straightest thing you’ll ever know. (From my book Fox+Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories.)

The Fakenham Ghost

The Fakenham Ghost: A True Tale

Taken from [Robert] Bloomfield’s admired Rural Poems

Published by W. Darton, 58 Holborn Hill, [London], [1813]


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On one of the blank pages between the text I found the name and date of birth of a presumed previous owner:



And some of her scribbles:



Jane and Eliza

Many years ago, visiting the Rare Books Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I came upon this chapbook for children. I immediately fell in love with it and its crude, fascinating woodcuts. I knew I wanted to own my copy, but how can you find another copy of a flimsy little children’s book from 1840? Well, a bunch of years later, by chance, I did. And the book is as good as I remembered.



Jane and Eliza


Printed for the Publisher



Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

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The History of Giles Gingerbread: A Little Boy who lived upon learning.

By Tom Trip.

Decorated with Cuts.

York: Printed by J. Kendrew, Colliergate.