August 2017

Looking back at children’s books

By Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter D. Sieruta
Review by

In Wild Things, Bruce Handy offers a rousing and nostalgic romp through the classics of children’s literature.

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BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, August 2017

In Wild Things, Bruce Handy offers a rousing and nostalgic romp through the classics of children’s literature from the latter half of the 20th century, from Goodnight Moon to Ramona to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Clearly passionate about his topic, Handy dives into the context of the publication of these books with enthusiasm and verve.

Handy makes unlikely comparisons (Beverly Cleary to Henry James; The Runaway Bunny to Portnoy’s Complaint). He vividly portrays Margaret Wise Brown, with her loads of golden hair, unconventional love interests and seemingly endless well of inspiration, and her mercurial editor Ursula Nordstrom, who hovers at the edge of many of the most beloved publications of this era (it was she who convinced Maurice Sendak that Where the Wild Things Are should feature monsters, not horses). Handy tangles with scholars from children’s literature, such as Philip Nel and his interpretation of The Cat in the Hat—Nel argues it’s informed by minstrelsy, while Handy suggests that the cat may be a representation of Dr. Seuss himself.

But this is no scholarly tome. Indeed, Handy makes the personal and idiosyncratic nature of many of his reflections apparent. He frames his chapter on Narnia in light of his own religious inclinations (which are not C.S. Lewis’) and describes how it felt to realize the book had such Christian themes (he was dismayed, but also enduringly drawn to the way the children relate to Aslan, which Handy believes was how Lewis experienced his faith). And Handy’s enthusiasm for Cleary’s character of Ramona is as genuine and sweet as an ice-cream cone on a hot summer’s day. This is a compulsively readable and entertaining collection of essays that will take readers back, in the best sense, to books they may have nearly forgotten but will delight in remembering.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Bruce Handy.

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Wild Things!

Wild Things!

By Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson & Peter D. Sieruta
ISBN 9780763651503

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