What are the hidden messages in your favorite children’s books? What did CS Lewis really want to convey about Christianity in his Narnia books? How did Charlotte’s Web change the way kid talk about death? All that and more are explored in Bruce Handy’s Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult which is part literary criticism and part biography and will take you through the works of Beatrix Potter, CS Lewis, L Frank Baum, EB White, and more to explore how the golden age of children’s literature change and ebbed and was influenced by its creators and its detractors.
Here’s the Amazon blurb:
In 1690, the dour New England Primer, thought to be the first American children’s book, was published in Boston. Offering children gems of advice such as “Strive to learn” and “Be not a dunce,” it was no fun at all. So how did we get from there to “Let the wild rumpus start”? And now that we’re living in a golden age of children’s literature, what can adults get out of reading Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon, or Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie?
In Wild Things, Bruce Handy revisits the classics of American childhood, from fairy tales to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and explores the backstories of their creators, using context and biography to understand how some of the most insightful, creative, and witty authors and illustrators of their times created their often deeply personal masterpieces. Along the way, Handy learns what The Cat in the Hatsays about anarchy and absentee parenting, which themes link The Runaway Bunny and Portnoy’s Complaint, and why Ramona Quimby is as true an American icon as Tom Sawyer or Jay Gatsby. It’s a profound, eye-opening experience to reencounter books that you once treasured after decades apart. A clear-eyed love letter to the greatest children’s books and authors, from Louisa May Alcott and L. Frank Baum to Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Mildred D. Taylor, and E.B. White, Wild Things will bring back fond memories for readers of all ages, along with a few surprises.
This was actually my second time starting this book. I read the first 50 pages in a hardcopy last Christmas break, put it down, and never picked it up again. It just wasn’t engrossing to me to hear this guy talk about Goodnight Moon and the woman who wrote it, because I couldn’t even remember that book well enough nor cared. But this time, I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Handy (it’s alright), and I powered through. Once I got into the work of Beatrix Potter and CS Lewis and books I actually cared about and could understand the reasoning behind his biographical exploration, I liked it. I mean, I’m an English major and one of my favorite classes was Literature for Young People, but I think if you love books you’ll enjoy this book as well. It’s not necessarily a fun read, but it’s really informational and will have you thinking more in depth about books you’ve probably just breezed through in the past.
My favorite section of this book was when he looked at Little Women and Little House on the Prairie,two books I adored, and explored why they might not be read so often by male children. Then, he dives into the Little House series and how it is actually way more masculine than the cover illustration might suggest. There’s house building and pig killing and broken limbs all on the western frontier. It was fun to hear those passages he referenced and also to think about how he as a male adult reader for the first time understood them and interacted with them. I also love how he talked about the sisters of Little Women and how Amy never gets a fair shot. I love Amy. I get why we all, as book lovers, identify as Jo, but I’m also definitely an Amy. Whoops.
Anyway, if you love books about books and revisiting some of your childhood favorites, check out Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy, on sale wherever books are sold.