WRB—Oct. 2022 Children’s Literature Supplement
Tyrants, orphans, the wild west, small women, et cetera
[Readers with children (I assume they have children) have been asking us to do this for months—the problem is Nic and I don’t know so much about the topic. Sarah does, though, know quite a bit, and we’re delighted to have her on board for this new monthly feature. If you have an idea for a monthly feature yourself, you’re welcome to reach out to us and pitch it: email@example.com. —Chris]
Welcome to the latest addition to the WRB: the Children’s Literature Supplement! Don’t click away just yet—whether or not you have children, you shouldn’t preclude yourself from reading and enjoying this wonderful collection. Simply put, there is a great deal of lovely, powerful, important children’s literature out there, but it is often choked out by fluff. This collection will bring you ideas about children’s literature, old and new, and why we should preserve and promote the good and the great found in this canon. Furthermore, we want to combat the idea that children’s literature is just for children. If the point of a great (or even simply good) book such as the Inferno or Bleak House is to tell us something about virtue and the universal human experience, why can’t we look at great and good children’s literature in the same manner?
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By way of introduction:
[Well first, why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t really, but I’m claiming that my 20+ years of experience as an oldest sibling somehow qualifies me to dispense book advice to others (It’s worked for me. —Chris). Oh, and that beautiful children’s literature course I took in college definitely helps, too. Since then, I’ve been honing my editing and literary skills working for National Review as their podcast manager and associate editor. I also actively participate in or direct four choirs, one of which consists of about 30 hilarious and squirrely children. When I’m not writing or singing, you can find me flying a Cessna Skyhawk, desperately hoping that this time, I’ll be able to land it correctly.
And so, I bring you some links which, maybe, will convince you to give Phantom Tollbooth, Bridge to Terabithia, and Johnny Tremain another read. —Sarah]
Building that library:
Over at NCR, Erika J. Ahern shocks some readers with her declaration that she “bans books.” Check out her reasons, though, and may you, too, become a literary tyrant.
What does it mean to create your own home library? Leila Lawler makes a very good case for why you should, and gives some tips on how to achieve your goal.
Something old . . .:
If you have a NYT subscription, try searching their archives for Anne T. Eaton’s reviews of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s cherished books.
. . . and something new:
A little-known E. Nesbit book is being published in paperback.
Need some German children’s books about life in the American West? Apparently, these were highly popular back in the day.
For the media-minded:
Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival podcast is bursting with suggestions and ideas, all dealing with children’s literature. Her frequent interviews with contemporary authors are also excellent.
Searching for a childhood favorite whose title constantly eludes you? Try this.
The Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts (Eric Carle of The Very Hungry Caterpillar fame) was designed by the architecture firm of Norton Juster (of The Phantom Tollbooth fame).
Tomie dePaola, who passed away in 2020, is iconic in the children’s lit world. Curious about his art? Barbara Elleman’s The Worlds of Tomie dePaola seems like a good place to start.
What I’m reading:
How Sarah discovered this book is unimportant, but suffice it to say, S. E. Grove’s The Glass Sentence has been a thrilling read.
From the publisher: Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, Sophia’s parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned.
Then Shadrack is kidnapped. Sophia must search for him with the help of Theo, a refugee from the West. Together they travel over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounter pirates and traders, and rely on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and Sophia’s unusual powers of observation. Little do they know that their lives are in as much danger as Shadrack’s.
She’s planning a review of the book, which is not without its flaws, upcoming for NR. There’s lots to mull over, from the difficulties of world building to the author’s clever use of time (and timelessness). [It’s also amazing which books are and are not NYT best-sellers—perhaps someone would like to explain this phenomenon? Thankfully, no movie has (yet) been made of this book or its sequels. —Sarah] [Jordan Pruett recently did explain, at Public Books: It’s complicated. —Chris]
What’s the draw for children to orphaned literary characters? Leila Lawler’s review of Anne of Green Gables has a passing thought on this, and I hope she’ll expand on that thought sometime soon.
It’s interesting just how many famous literary figures are orphans.
Sarah, who has a minor [major? all-consuming?] obsession with Louisa May Alcott and her work, did enjoy the 2019 film version of Little Women, but Rebekah Wojtysiak over at Hearth and Field very much didn’t. [I just rewatched the movie in light of her critique and find her point unconvincing, but it is a theme worth reflecting on—and an excuse to reread and rewatch Little Women. —Sarah]
Meghan Cox Gurdon has a book out about the importance of reading aloud, and Alison B. Hart give us her personal reflection on that joyful pastime here.
It is our firm belief that everyone should read Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows at some point, that you should read it when you’re young, and then that you should pick it up again later. Peter Hitchens eloquently brings this point home in his recent essay for The Lamp. [If I would dare to disagree with this masterful writer on one point though, I think that, wonderful as the illustrations of E. H. Shepard may be, I prefer the Robert Ingpen–illustrated version. —Sarah]
Intrigued by that Classic Children’s Literature course mentioned earlier? You can take it too.