Doris Sanford wrote illustrated children’s books for every conceivable trauma a child might go through. She wrote a book on being a loser, one about making friends with the Japanese soldiers guarding you in a prison camp ,and one on the struggles of getting rubbed with chicken in a Satanic pre-school. Ha ha, what funny joke concepts, right? Those are real. Those are faithful summaries of actual books she wrote. So get the fuck ready because it’s UPSETTING DAY at 1-900-HOTDOG and Doris Sanford is an abusive clown riding a molested elephant through a shit-your-pants-in-class circus.
Let’s look at two of her books from the HURTS OF CHILDHOOD SERIES, because a week of reviewing products from the wrong dimension has already left me unable to feel the pain from just one devastatingly illustrated tale of childhood anguish. We’ll start with Something Must Be Wrong With Me: A Boy’s Book About Sexual Abuse, and it’s worse than it sounds. If a Costco factory chicken had anything like a beak left on its featherless, shit-covered head, it would describe Something Must Be Wrong With Me as “a bit too sad for me.”
Normally, Doris Sanford likes to write a lot of details about her main characters before she traumatizes them. We get to know the children, and maybe learn about their hobbies a bit before they get abducted by a human centipede scientist or pulled apart by robots. Something Must Be Wrong With Me moves a little faster than her other books. It’s about a boy named Dino who loved bask– Dino’s basketball coach takes nude pictures of them together in the showers. Sorry, that’s how fast this anguish unfolds. We know Dino for exactly six sentences before Coach Tom is rubbing him in the shower. This is the second page of the book:
Doris usually works with an illustrator named Graci Evans who has a gift, or maybe a curse, for drawing intense, longing stares. Whenever two of her subjects are looking at each other, there is a palpable sexual magnetism and it is never appropriate. This woman is obviously a romance cover specialist, but her career ended up taking this path and now she draws wet molesters staring into the eyes of little boys. Dino should look afraid or confused, but Graci’s colored pencils can only render one thing– unrestrained desire. I am not comfortable explaining any of this, and any number of people in the publishing process could have stepped in and said, “Proofs look great, Graci. One note, though: Can you make it so every single character doesn’t look like they’re quivering in anticipation of true love’s kiss?”
Another strange thing Doris likes to write into her books are talking animals. The main character, even if they have parents, therapists, or any other kind of loving support system, will run off to be alone with their trauma and get visited by a wise animal. The artistic intent of this isn’t is clear as Graci’s illustrations insisting every character is about to fuck. Is it magical realism? Hallucinations? Each of these books seem so delicately designed to be used as bibliotherapy for one very, very specific trauma, so it seems irresponsible to throw in something as batshit crazy as, for instance, a sexual abuse advice pigeon.
The “amazing” sexual abuse advice bird who visits Dino at night to tell him which touches are good or bad is named LOVE-DOVE (capital letters theirs). He’s not named Your Body Your Choice Dove or It’s Not Your Fault Bird. He’s named LOVE-DOVE. It’s weird, right? It’s like telling a kid his parents died in a drunk driving accident and leaving him in a room with the amazing BEER-DEER. I just think a bird speaking in the tongue of man is the last thing this kid needs to help wrap his head around the concept of love. And speaking of love, here’s how Graci drew LOVE-DOVE and Dino’s last goodbye.
People search their whole lives for someone who will look at them like a little boy and bird look at each other in a Graci Evans illustration. How did she make the bird look so horny? You can’t train this. There are no aviary anatomy books on how to draw yearning in the red eyes of a dove. It’s something Graci has in her soul. She couldn’t draw a sexually uninterested bird if you held a gun to her head and said, “If the pigeon wants to fuck I pull the trigger.” That’s not a LOVE-DOVE, that is a THIS HOTEL ROOM WILL NEVER BE CLEAN AGAIN-DOVE.
It’s nice to think all this incoherent narrative illustrated by longing gazes between a boy and his sex bird helped some kids. I can’t speak for the others, but my copy was previously owned by a community center library in Whitehall, Michigan where it was only checked out one time. So I hope the woman named Narngry Illegible didn’t find it as uselessly ridiculous as I did.
For Your Own Good, A Child’s Book About Living in a Foster Home is upsetting for a few reasons. One, the main characters, Jerome and Jamin live a terrible life of neglect and abuse before being taken by the state and placed in foster care. Two, it’s a sad tale of mostly nothing. And three, Doris is not exactly equipped to write black characters. I’m sure she would be quite surprised to discover this, and have a few objections, but it’s pretty racist.
At first the racism is subtle. The main character be narratin’ without ever endin’ any verbs with a “g.” This may not seem like much, and it isn’t, but I have the library of a madman, so I own all 20ish of Doris and Graci’s books. This is the only one with this type of narrative voice. Suspiciously, it’s also the only one with an African American lead. She was right not to pull the trigger and go full, what was called in 1993, “Ebonics” but what she certainly would have called “Jive,” but her decision to have Jerome narratin’ his struggles like ‘dis is a tough thing to look at.
Before they meet, of course, a talking dog, Jerome and Jamin have a tough time adjusting to life in the foster home. For instance, they don’t like to wear or seem to understand clothes, and Jamin instantly destroys the shirts he’s given for school. Look, I’m not saying that the only black people Doris had ever seen were on National Geographic and Def Comedy Jam, but it would explain why the other things her black characters couldn’t wrap their heads around were “how to use the silverware at dinner,” and “how to do things on time.”
The story is a nightmare. Jerome and Jamin are bumbling fish-out-of-water fuckups in every situation and their deadbeat mother doesn’t bother to show up to their scheduled visitations. And look, as a white with a country upbringing and at least 73 untreated concussions, I’m not immune to racism. For instance, when I meet an Asian stand-up comedian I say, “Based on the two things I know about you, 10 minutes of your act is screaming in your mother’s accent.” And every Asian stand-up comedian I have or will ever meet thinks I’m Sherlock Holmes. Also, I am barely kidding when I say if I was a black crime fighter my superhero name would be Karate Ivory Wayans. So yeah, I get not getting it, ethnics. I so wholeheartedly don’t get it that when Starbucks writes “Let’s talk about race” on my cup, I do. And I always ask why I’m not allowed to say it. Always. So if you’re writing a kid’s book about foster homes and I, the man who typed this paragraph, say, “Hold up, this shit is racist,” you fucked up.
Luckily, not many illustrations called for characters to look into each other’s eyes, so Graci Evans kept her colored pencils in her pants for most of the book. I say most of the book because it does end with this picture of Jerome and Jamin with their foster dad sniffing them like he wants their scent to be his everything. SNIFFFFF…
I started tellin’ Bob “I love you… ‘Dad,'” but all he said in return was “SNIFFFFFFFFFF.”
Jamin was gazin’ into his beard the whole time. Just fallin’ in love like a straight up sex pigeon. “SNNNNFFFFFF,” Bob continued.
I tried breakin’ the silence. “We should be gettin’ go–“
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH,” Bob interrupted with a 40 minute sigh before starting again. “SNIFFFFFFF...” The nearby animals were ordinary, non-talking ones. No one was comin’ to help us.
INSPIRED BY DORIS SANFORD AND GRACI EVANS with apologies to, I guess, everyone else