Professional Reading – “Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

Wild ThingsBird, Betsy, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Candlewick, 2014. 278p. $22.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5150-3.
Most professional reading is instructive, but some books rise above that and are also filled with personal stories that make the book memorable and pleasurable. Wild Things! by three children’s book bloggers is the latter, filled with fun, almost gossip-like history and anecdotes but not mean-spirited. The tone is friendly, like hearing a colleague who knows the inside scoop on a famous person, but with source notes to back up all the information.
Topics covered include “subversive” children’s lit, GLBT authors and characters, books that attract censors, popular books that critics disliked, books by celebrities, and how money propels some publishing. Some topics, such as the Stratemeyer Syndicate that produced Nancy Drew, have been covered in many previous articles and books. But other topics, like Roald Dahl’s sexual escapades as part of his spying activities are lesser known.
One of the most interesting sections concerns the many GLBT children’s book creators and how their “outsider status” likely contributed to their ability to capture that feeling in their characters, including Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1965). Although they are quite critical of many celebrity authors like Madonna, the authors were quite clear in pointing out some actors who have created critically acclaimed books, including Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Ian Black.
Librarians will also appreciate the chapters on the attempts by some to ban or censor books for children, from the taboo topics of sex and death, to racist aspects of classics – or books that battle racism like Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This Newbery Medal-winning book used the N-word because it is historically accurate and important to the depiction of racism in the story. Sometimes these censors are librarians, who refuse to stock popular series books because they are not considered great literature.
All in all, this is a great book to read for entertainment but it is enlightening too, like a health food that tastes really good. Treat yourself to this joyous celebration of the wilder side of children’s lit, knowing there are plenty of vitamins inside. Back matter includes extensive source notes, lengthy bibliography, and index.

Penny Peck, San Jose State Univ. iSchool

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