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Goodnight Nobody: The Un-Childish Pleasures of Reading Great Children's Books

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An irresistible, nostalgic, and insightful—and totally original—ramble through classic children’s literature from Vanity Fair contributing editor (and father) Bruce Handy. 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 An irresistible, nostalgic, and insightful—and totally original—ramble through classic children’s literature from Vanity Fair contributing editor (and father) Bruce Handy. 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 Goodnight Nobody, Vanity Fair contributing editor Bruce Handy revisits the classics of every American childhood, from fairy tales to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and explores the back stories 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 Hat says about anarchy and absentee parenting, which themes are shared by 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, Goodnight Nobody will bring back fond memories for readers of all ages, along with a few surprises.


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An irresistible, nostalgic, and insightful—and totally original—ramble through classic children’s literature from Vanity Fair contributing editor (and father) Bruce Handy. 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 An irresistible, nostalgic, and insightful—and totally original—ramble through classic children’s literature from Vanity Fair contributing editor (and father) Bruce Handy. 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 Goodnight Nobody, Vanity Fair contributing editor Bruce Handy revisits the classics of every American childhood, from fairy tales to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and explores the back stories 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 Hat says about anarchy and absentee parenting, which themes are shared by 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, Goodnight Nobody will bring back fond memories for readers of all ages, along with a few surprises.

30 review for Goodnight Nobody: The Un-Childish Pleasures of Reading Great Children's Books

  1. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    For a person who loves (LOVES, even) reading about children's literature like me, this book was a prized find at the Texas Library Association Conference. It was the first book I had to read when I got home. Handy is a knowledgable person about children's literature and he shares the wide research he did on the authors and books in Wild Things. It's an amazing read for those of us who know and love Margaret Wise Brown, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, C. S. Lewis, and others. You will get all the backst For a person who loves (LOVES, even) reading about children's literature like me, this book was a prized find at the Texas Library Association Conference. It was the first book I had to read when I got home. Handy is a knowledgable person about children's literature and he shares the wide research he did on the authors and books in Wild Things. It's an amazing read for those of us who know and love Margaret Wise Brown, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, C. S. Lewis, and others. You will get all the backstories. You will get all the details from the author bios you didn't know or suspect. It will be fun. But... ...if you are like me, Handy may be a tad too opinionated at times about some of your favorites. You may feel (I did) a twinge of irritation now and then. It's okay. Those little zips of annoyance are rare. For the most part, I loved this wonderful book about kiddie lit.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rose Ann

    The author lost me when he stated that he could not get more than 30 pages into "Anne of Green Gables" and yet he had the nerve to make a snarky remark about Anne later on in the book! Hello? What a gasbag!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Стефан Русинов

    It was an interesting personal rundown on some of the history of American children's literature. I learned about some books I haven't yet read but would like to read and found out a few curious details about books and authors I already like. As a whole, though, Wild Things was an unsatisfying and at times very annoying read. The subtitle of the book is The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult, but there's barely anything on the topic in it. Mostly it's a random, scattered (and very j It was an interesting personal rundown on some of the history of American children's literature. I learned about some books I haven't yet read but would like to read and found out a few curious details about books and authors I already like. As a whole, though, Wild Things was an unsatisfying and at times very annoying read. The subtitle of the book is The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult, but there's barely anything on the topic in it. Mostly it's a random, scattered (and very joyless really, though the author is probably unaware of this result) mix of children's literature history, criticism, biography and early childhood reading theory, though none of those get elaborated on and they never seem like a coherent whole. In the first two chapters, for example, the author praises two classic books by Margaret Wise Brown as excellent children's literature, but labels them unacceptable from an adult's perspective. Okay, so where exactly is the joy of the adult then? Later, the author spends pages to retell The Juniper Tree, admits that he adores it and concludes that it is definitely not for children. Okay, but I thought we were talking about children's literature. Or is it just that the author sat down and wrote whatever came to mind? And if he claims that the devotion to loving a close one, as shown in The Runaway Bunny, is only possible during toddlerhood, again, what joy are we talking about? Most of the information provided is interesting, although it's really not much more than the things already available online. Plus, it's not the information that I bought this book for, I bought it because I expected to learn more about how children's literature can help us adults be better, or at least more joyful, people. There was almost none of that. Nevertheless it would have still been a worthy read had it not been for the lack of narrative purpose, the inconsistency of style, the shallowness of research and the personal remarks, which I found very superficial, cliched, prejudiced, distasteful, and badly, if at all, grounded. To give an example, The Giving Tree is dismissed as a bad book, because it's about two losers, it's sometimes used in sermons by preachers, it leaves the author cold and it's just beyond him why some children respond to it. And The Night Kitchen is arbitrary, because it lacks "true dream logic". Not very insightful, especially for something that cost me 30 bucks. Then again, a book that so bluntly exploits a classic title and image to advertise itself is doomed to fail the expectations. Those are usually the ones who have nothing to say themselves. I blame myself for falling for it. (The title is actually as inaccurate as the subtitle. I don't believe there's a reasonable explanation of why the book is called Wild Things, except for marketing purposes.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melora

    I really enjoyed this one. It probably didn't hurt that, L.M. Montgomery and Judy Blume aside, Handy's tastes and opinions align very closely with my own (so clearly he knows Good children's books when he reads them!). Hard to say how much I “learned” – I was a children's librarian for ten years, and I read a lot to my own kids – but Handy writes well and with a casual tone that makes his book feel like a very engaging conversation on old favorite books and authors with an exceptionally well inf I really enjoyed this one. It probably didn't hurt that, L.M. Montgomery and Judy Blume aside, Handy's tastes and opinions align very closely with my own (so clearly he knows Good children's books when he reads them!). Hard to say how much I “learned” – I was a children's librarian for ten years, and I read a lot to my own kids – but Handy writes well and with a casual tone that makes his book feel like a very engaging conversation on old favorite books and authors with an exceptionally well informed friend.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Don't bother with this tedious, critically vapid and utterly stupid book - Handy is an appallingly bad reader and I can find nothing good to say about this book at all - it is joyless, trivial and given the state of children's literature shows no understanding of the field or the texts - Handy doesn't have any insights at all into this fascinating genre worth listening to and his book is a total waste of time This would be a perfect book to use with undergraduates to show how not to read children Don't bother with this tedious, critically vapid and utterly stupid book - Handy is an appallingly bad reader and I can find nothing good to say about this book at all - it is joyless, trivial and given the state of children's literature shows no understanding of the field or the texts - Handy doesn't have any insights at all into this fascinating genre worth listening to and his book is a total waste of time This would be a perfect book to use with undergraduates to show how not to read children's literature but really Handy tells us far many times that it took him six years to write this book - this is a very poor return - if this is a clear eyed love letter to children's literature, God help us all

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Delightful! This was warm and accessible and funny. I didn't agree with everything the author says (HE DOESN'T LIKE ANNE!!!!!) but I forgive him. He gets children, and children's books, and Little House!!!! He opened a chapter that was mostly about Charlotte's Web with Sunday school-book excerpts from those awful holy-child-who-patiently-dies-young books. Fantastic book. If you like children, like to read to children, or have fond memories of the books you read as a child, you need this. Favorit Delightful! This was warm and accessible and funny. I didn't agree with everything the author says (HE DOESN'T LIKE ANNE!!!!!) but I forgive him. He gets children, and children's books, and Little House!!!! He opened a chapter that was mostly about Charlotte's Web with Sunday school-book excerpts from those awful holy-child-who-patiently-dies-young books. Fantastic book. If you like children, like to read to children, or have fond memories of the books you read as a child, you need this. Favorite quote: One thing I hope to convey is the sheer pleasure of reading children's books, not just to whatever children you have on hand but also for your own enjoyment and enlightenment. As Ursula K. LeGuin has written, "Revisiting a book loved in childhood may be principally an act of nostalgia; I knew a woman who read The Wizard of Oz every few years because it 'made her remember being a child.' But returning after a decade or two or three to the Snow Queen or Kim, you may well discover a book far less simple and unambiguous than the one you remembered. That shift and deepening of meaning can be a revelation both about the book and yourself." Having recently had an online argument with a woman who wanted there to be no young adult or children's books, and who bragged about skipping children's books as a child and going straight to adult books, I was especially glad to get this celebration of children's books by a well-read and literate author. The best children's books are magical for children AND meaningful for adults. My children did not always have exquisite taste, but I so remember the joy of sharing my favorites with them. I remember how hard it was to read that stupid book 100 times a week, and how pleasant it was to read the fine ones over and over. I sincerely hope I am never too old to delight in good books, no matter for whom they were originally intended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Agnė

    2.5 out of 5 I’m clearly not the target audience for this book because 1) I’ve never stopped reading children’s literature and 2) I’m currently studying children’s literature at the graduate level. Therefore, I didn’t find Wild Things particularly “profound” or “eye-opening.” Still, I enjoyed Bruce Handy’s conversational tone and appreciated his enthusiasm, the amount of research (mostly biographical) that went into writing this book, a few interesting observations, and some surprising connection 2.5 out of 5 I’m clearly not the target audience for this book because 1) I’ve never stopped reading children’s literature and 2) I’m currently studying children’s literature at the graduate level. Therefore, I didn’t find Wild Things particularly “profound” or “eye-opening.” Still, I enjoyed Bruce Handy’s conversational tone and appreciated his enthusiasm, the amount of research (mostly biographical) that went into writing this book, a few interesting observations, and some surprising connections to the adult literature (for instance, Handy claims that Portnoy's Complaint is “an R-rated antithesis” of The Runaway Bunny). However, Wild Things is not much of a book of literary criticism (that's what I expected) but rather a long, openly subjective opinion piece. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that but for me personally Wild Things contains way too much plot summary and biographical background on famous 20th-century children's authors (mostly Americans), and not enough insightful and original observations about the children’s books themselves.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Fitzgerald

    This one is a treat for lovers of children’s books! It was fascinating to find out the back-stories of some of my favorite books and their authors. It was good formatting on the author’s part to begin with picture books like Goodnight, Moon and work up to middle-grade level novels like Charlotte’s Web. I found out new information about every book and author presented, even familiar ones like C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series, and Laura Ingalls Wilder and the “Little House” books. I liked it when This one is a treat for lovers of children’s books! It was fascinating to find out the back-stories of some of my favorite books and their authors. It was good formatting on the author’s part to begin with picture books like Goodnight, Moon and work up to middle-grade level novels like Charlotte’s Web. I found out new information about every book and author presented, even familiar ones like C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series, and Laura Ingalls Wilder and the “Little House” books. I liked it when the author Bruce Handy made reference to how his own children reacted to certain books when being read to at their bedtime. Handy, and his children, were very honest in expressing which books engaged them, and which ones they had little/no interest in, with some surprises in their preferences. All in all, I enjoyed this book very much. It was like re-walking through my childhood memories of beloved books. Memorable Quotes: (Pg. 246)-“In the book Shock-Headed Peter, first published in Germany in 1845, there is a raucous collection of faux cautionary tales in which young reprobates suffer grotesque punishments or deaths.” (Pg. 65)-(Maurice Sendak, describing an encounter at a library conference)-“A woman stood up and said, “You know, I read Where the Wild Things Are to my daughter, and every time I read it to her, she puts her hands over her ears and screams.” I was stunned. And I said, “Well, why are you torturing your child? Do you not like her?”... And she said, “But it won the Caldecott. She’s supposed to like it.” There you go. Poor kid. She’s probably in some home at this point.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Denice Barker

    I am a reader. I read books. I read book reviews and I read about books. Reading books to children is golden. Perhaps it was with this in mind that when Mr. Handy revisited children’s literature when reading to his own children, he had a different perspective on what he remembered as a child. That is only logical and perhaps this is what sparked the idea for this book. I was allowed to read an advance copy of Wild Things and put everything aside to read it when it arrived. Mr. Handy introduces I am a reader. I read books. I read book reviews and I read about books. Reading books to children is golden. Perhaps it was with this in mind that when Mr. Handy revisited children’s literature when reading to his own children, he had a different perspective on what he remembered as a child. That is only logical and perhaps this is what sparked the idea for this book. I was allowed to read an advance copy of Wild Things and put everything aside to read it when it arrived. Mr. Handy introduces this book by introducing us to the first book published specifically for children in 1690. It reads pretty much like an adult shaking a finger in a child’s face while saying: Strive to Learn. Use no ill words. Tell no lies, etc. Our children are so lucky! Wild Things is presented chronologically, beginning with Goodnight Moon, a book he adores and which was definitely not a favorite with my children. But reading this, I learned a lot about what we missed and why we should have liked it. I thought right here, at the very start, that looking at a book written for a child and read to a child would look very different as an adult. And it was with this book that the author introduced us to how he was going to handle this book. We would be given the back story of the story and the author. We would learn a lot about the authors. I loved that. The book continues marching through time with Fairy Tales and Maurice Sendak, then Beatrix Potter and talking animals (in this, the author and I digress. I can agree with his scholarly take on why animals are book characters instead of people, but my take is much simpler. You can give a book with a boy as the main character to a girl and she will accept it but generally, you can’t give a book to a boy about a girl and expect him to read it. Even Kindergarteners will groan if you pull out a “pink” book for storytime. If an animal is the character they will all accept it. Right or not, that’s been my experience.) I loved learning about Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and was very disappointed that the one book that never left me, Little Women was one he couldn’t find many good things to say about. He didn’t like it, I loved it. Again, this is probably something to do with age. When given a book as a child that makes a huge impression on you, that book means something for the rest of your life. But he acknowledges people like me in his discussion. This book was funny, thoughtful, truly celebrates how lucky children today are to have the literature they have available to them, admonishes us to read children’s literature again for ourselves, and it was much too short. I would love a book dinner with this author. I probably couldn’t keep up with him on a scholarly level, but on the emotional level, I could. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I should have read the blurb more carefully: 'ramble' is indeed the correct word. Random bits, some fairly well-developed, few of which interest me (at least so far, about 1/4). The title would be more accurate as something like 'Things about Children's Literature that are more interesting to adults," you see. Whereas I was hoping for an argument to justify the Principle, the Broad Justification, of "reading children's lit as an adult." I will keep reading, at least for awhile. And I don't think I should have read the blurb more carefully: 'ramble' is indeed the correct word. Random bits, some fairly well-developed, few of which interest me (at least so far, about 1/4). The title would be more accurate as something like 'Things about Children's Literature that are more interesting to adults," you see. Whereas I was hoping for an argument to justify the Principle, the Broad Justification, of "reading children's lit as an adult." I will keep reading, at least for awhile. And I don't think I'll diss it, as some readers might indeed find more bits more interesting than I do. Some bookdart'd quotes: Otis Spofford, 1953, features a working single mother, evoking Handy's admiration. I bet she's widowed; lots were in those days of fried breakfasts, martini lunches, and cigars after dinner. "[K]now the kids. They are people, not a category." (One of my pet peeves is calling 'children's books' a genre.) "One painting of Jeremy Fisher lounging on a lily pad and eating a butterfly sandwich is proto-psychedelia, a nursery vision for opium eaters." A bit akin to the amazing Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals is the much older Totemism by Claude Lévi-Strauss, I'll try to find it. Point here is that animals are useful for learning to count, then to classify, and to compare & contrast, also useful "canvases" upon which to represent "our own prejudices and preoccupations" and "given that animals' essences are even more unknowable tha ours, they could also appear touched by the divine." Cleary was inspired to write Henry Huggins because the only book that appealed to the 'nonreader' boys at her library at the time was Honk the Moose. Now, I enjoyed that very old Newbery, but I agree that reluctant readers need more than one book! I need to find Mother Goose in Prose, by L. Frank Baum, in part because it was illustrated by Maxfield Parrish! Alcott was not proud of Little Women: "[Written] while I was ill, & to prove that I could not write books for girls. The publisher thought it flat, so did I... I do not enjoy writing 'moral tales' for the young, I do it because it pays well." Tom Sawyer Abroad and T.S. Detective were spoofs of Verne and Doyle, respectively. White said that Stuart Little is "[A] small guy who looks very much like a mouse, but obviously he is not a mouse. He is a second son." Hm. He might have said that only in defense of those squeamish about a mouse born to a woman. Or he might have wanted to be more biologically correct. He and Garth Williams had serious difficulty coming up with drawings of the spider Charlotte, as White wanted to be lifelike, realistic, and Williams wanted her to be attractive. Well, those are the bits I found most interesting. Mostly it was a rather slow read for me. You might find different bits to interest you. If you bother with it. I can't particularly recommend that you either read or avoid it; you decide. There is an appendix of recommendations, a bibliography, and an index.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Maas

    A Monumental, Yet Highly Accessible Book that Puts an Entire Genre in Perspective They say that great writers shouldn't be afraid of taking on big themes, and Bruce Handy took on a big, big theme with Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult. Namely, he took on the entire genre of Children's Literature. He starts with the very first Children's books, in the 18th century or so, which are little more than directives from 1777's The Primer: Cheat not in your play. Strive to l A Monumental, Yet Highly Accessible Book that Puts an Entire Genre in Perspective They say that great writers shouldn't be afraid of taking on big themes, and Bruce Handy took on a big, big theme with Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult. Namely, he took on the entire genre of Children's Literature. He starts with the very first Children's books, in the 18th century or so, which are little more than directives from 1777's The Primer: Cheat not in your play. Strive to learn. Play not with bad boys. Be not a Dunce. OK, Be not a Dunce, that's not Goodnight Moon, but that was a start, and Handy takes it from there. And yes, he starts with perhaps the greatest Children's book of all time, Goodnight Moon. What made Goodnight Moon, and other books, so great ? If I could get one insight from Handy's book - and there quite a few - it would be this: the best children's book authors like Margaret Wise Brown write from the perspective of children. There are talented writers out there, and there are writers who love what they do, but a good children's author? They need the talent and the love, but also the ability to write from the perspective of their target audience. Goodnight Moon's Margaret Wise Brown would spend a few hours writing her first draft, and then 1 to 2 years rewriting it. She would crouch down in fields and peek through grass to feel what it is like to be seeing the world from a child's eye again. So a good writer would begin Goodnight Moon 'There once was a bunny who was very, very tired.' But Margaret Wise Brown? In the great green room There was a telephone And a red balloon And a picture of The cow jumping over the moon That's how children see things - great green rooms, with balloons and pictures of cows jumping over the moon. If they are a bunny, or the woman in the room is a bunny, hey - that's the way it is. It need not be mentioned, because the child is four years old and accepts such things. These authors didn't always have or even like children, but they expressed their love for children through their books Often times the greats didn't have children, or even particularly like children. But they loved their target audience, and would do everything for them. I recall another character, not related - but quite parallel. John Snow - not the Game of Thrones Jon Snow, but John Snow with an h. He was a friendless, unlikeable fellow who was rather curt to everyone, to the point of rudeness. Oh, and he also strode right into the worst hit areas by cholera of the 1850s, mapped everything out, told everyone else they were wrong about it being transmitted through foul air, and then demanded the water pumps in infected areas removed. Because John Snow was such a monumental prick, England never had another cholera epidemic again. My point is - people can express their love for humanity in different ways. Some give kids hugs. Some tell the powers that be off, and hrumph their way to saving millions of lives. And some, like Margaret Wise Brown, kept away from children and bounced around in fields by themselves until they brought something to the world that helped out generations of children. And of course, Clement Hurd's great illustration found a way to bring it all together. But back to Bruce Handy - this is but one of countless insights he brings to the table No spoiler alert here, because he gives a hundred insights, but here are a few insights I gleaned from this book. The tales we like change while our needs change From this passage by Bruce Handy - Also, what we need from stories changes as we age. When we are very young, what we need are our parents. When we are older, what we need is to pull away from their gravitational field, or at least to try, and in the process kick up a little ruckus. In children's books, all parents are good, because we need them then. In YA, at least some are almost always bad because that is when we break away from them - even parental figures like the president in The Hunger Games. In older literature - parents get a more robust analysis - because we see them as a whole. But on to this thought - I couldn't help but think of the works of old - Beowulf, Inferno, A Christmas Carol and virtually every book. They reflect what the society needs at the time. The world progresses in the 1900s? Boom, we need Science Fiction, and here comes Jules Verne. J.R.R. Tolkien took the Fairy Tale back from the nursery Aesop's tales were the way to go, and then they went to be for children only. Tolkien and a few others took them back, and for that we should be thankful. L. Frank Baum's Oz held no hidden message - and that's what made it powerful Baum made his books from The Wizard of Oz series from pure imagination, and that was about it. He made them like an assemblyman from Ford's factory - he just pushed them out in a regular, efficient way. Baum was no C.S. Lewis with Lewis's allegories about religion. Baum was here to entertain, and that's about it. But somehow - that straightforward feel made him more powerful. There is meaning in real entertainment, and Baum's tales, which were good for their own sake, had a great deal of meaning. But in short - this is an incredible analysis, and just makes you appreciate the tales more I love Bruce Handy's contemporary Dani Shapiro and Joan Didion, but their insights aren't always easy. Shapiro talks about her marriage and life, and she writes about the difficulties so well that you begin to second guess your own. Didion gets to the heart of why the South isn't that great to visit, and then you don't want to visit the South. But there is no such price to pay with Bruce Handy's work. You love the tales, he explains why you should love them more, and then you love them more. He balances his memories of reading them as a child with readings as an adult - and there is no pretentiousness, no difficult to read analysis - just pure insight, delivered to you in the best way possible. In short, he set the bar high when taking on an analysis of an entire genre, and he surpassed it. Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult is an incredible book for you, a friend, or anyone at all. Like the books he covers, there is a universal positive impact on every page of this book, and I recommend it to anyone. Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult is just incredible.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JenIsNotaBookSnob)

    I liked this book. The target audience will probably love this book. I read a lot of juvenile literature. Just tons of it. I've reread all my childhood favorites and now I'm working through the books that I didn't know about when I was a kid. BUT, that's why I'm not the target audience. This book is best suited for someone who hasn't gotten around to rereading all their childhood favorites yet OR for someone who didn't read many of the children's classics while growing up. If you are a rational p I liked this book. The target audience will probably love this book. I read a lot of juvenile literature. Just tons of it. I've reread all my childhood favorites and now I'm working through the books that I didn't know about when I was a kid. BUT, that's why I'm not the target audience. This book is best suited for someone who hasn't gotten around to rereading all their childhood favorites yet OR for someone who didn't read many of the children's classics while growing up. If you are a rational person (I'm really not) you could also skip the chapters you just don't enjoy and then have a great reading experience. I insisted on reading the entire thing and such was my mistake. Chapters 1, 2, 9 and 10 were my favorites and are worth getting the book just for those. The rest of the chapters were mostly likable, but I could have enjoyed the whole book if I had skipped the Sendak chapter entirely. This is simply because when you work around children's books, you end up discussing Sendak. I could go my whole life happily never discussing Sendak again. The problem with Sendak is that you'd be hard-pressed to find a child who actually enjoyed Sendak's most popular books. The ones that are more likable by children, like "Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters" just don't get very much discussion. Though, I will say that Pierre did get mentioned in this book, so that was a good thing. I definitely recommend this to people who are thinking about rereading some juvenile fiction. You are the target audience. If most of what you read is juvenile fiction, then this book will feel like just more of the same. In that case, you can still read it if you don't insist on reading every chapter. I should have skipped the Sendak chapter. :)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Trin

    Such a warm, funny, well-researched, and thoughtful (as the author puts it) appreciation of the best of 19th and 20th Century children's literature. I was equally entertained and delighted by Handy's biographical sketches, criticism, and analysis. It helps that his taste is impeccable. (Handy's critique of Philip Pullman is much harsher than mine would be, but I can't say he's wrong.) I'm an adult (technically) who buys children's books for a living, so for me there's the added bonus of this boo Such a warm, funny, well-researched, and thoughtful (as the author puts it) appreciation of the best of 19th and 20th Century children's literature. I was equally entertained and delighted by Handy's biographical sketches, criticism, and analysis. It helps that his taste is impeccable. (Handy's critique of Philip Pullman is much harsher than mine would be, but I can't say he's wrong.) I'm an adult (technically) who buys children's books for a living, so for me there's the added bonus of this book being a wonderful celebration of the things that make my job worthwhile, and of the perennial favorites it still gives me a rush of pleasure to put into eager new hands.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tex

    I really enjoyed reading about these books on a literary level. It was a sweet encouragement for me to look back at the ones I liked (and didn't along with the author mostly) to see just why they appealed. Although not complete, there were terrific biographies of the authors of note including a couple of cute ones about Dr. Seuss. There was a bit that showed the challenge offered to Geisel to write an enthralling children's book selecting from only 222 words (listed). The author also couldn't hel I really enjoyed reading about these books on a literary level. It was a sweet encouragement for me to look back at the ones I liked (and didn't along with the author mostly) to see just why they appealed. Although not complete, there were terrific biographies of the authors of note including a couple of cute ones about Dr. Seuss. There was a bit that showed the challenge offered to Geisel to write an enthralling children's book selecting from only 222 words (listed). The author also couldn't help himself to be Seuss-like when remarking on some of their personal anecdotes: "Ad money enabled the Geisels to make a big apartment on Park Avenue where, running with a tony social set, they numbered among their best friends the heiress Zinny Vanderslip--a detail not at all germane to their consideration of Dr. Seuss, but a name so irresistible and evocative I had to shoehorn it in." It was interesting to see just how many of these authors were childless and that didn't seem to care much for children, but "had respect for their readers, no matter how young". Finally, he closes with some profound consumer advice: "Don't buy children's books written by celebrities (tell-alls for adults are okay) and don't buy books with sparkles on the covers" evoking endless clean-up for bedtime.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Bruce Handy provides fascinating back stories for many of our favorite books that we adults read as children, as well as a healthy dose of the importance and joy of reading to our kids. Completely delightful. This book helped me realize exactly why I love my job as a children's librarian--Beverly Cleary, Margaret Wise Brown (don't miss her story!), CS Lewis, EB White--so many fantastic authors. And now, so many books I loved as a girl that I'm going to add to my "to read" list. Oh, and that othe Bruce Handy provides fascinating back stories for many of our favorite books that we adults read as children, as well as a healthy dose of the importance and joy of reading to our kids. Completely delightful. This book helped me realize exactly why I love my job as a children's librarian--Beverly Cleary, Margaret Wise Brown (don't miss her story!), CS Lewis, EB White--so many fantastic authors. And now, so many books I loved as a girl that I'm going to add to my "to read" list. Oh, and that other thing about not wanting to let go of your grown children's childhoods--I came to the same conclusion. In the library, their childhood is all around me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christie Angleton

    Many of these essays are delightful, but Handy is a little too apologist when it comes to Dr Seuss.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I really am not exactly sure what to say about this book. I read it as part of a educator book club, and I was really hoping it would be a fun read that would focus mainly on how picture books can be meaningful, even for adults and older kids. I guess it kind of touched on that, but it ended up being more of a hodgepodge of the author's endless opinion ramblings and verbosity combined with some trivia about the authors of famous, older children's books. I was left feeling like I learned some ra I really am not exactly sure what to say about this book. I read it as part of a educator book club, and I was really hoping it would be a fun read that would focus mainly on how picture books can be meaningful, even for adults and older kids. I guess it kind of touched on that, but it ended up being more of a hodgepodge of the author's endless opinion ramblings and verbosity combined with some trivia about the authors of famous, older children's books. I was left feeling like I learned some random facts- some of which were interesting, some less so- and read a lot of academic jargon, but little else. The author is obviously passionate and knowledgeable on this subject, but so much of this is his opinion that it's easy to tale with a grain of salt and discount. He waxes on about certain authors to the point of being overdramatic, even giving Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon credit for establishing a genre of comedy that led to Monty Python and David Letterman. Yeah, still not buying that. He seems to have gained a major appreciation for Maurice Sendak that I just can't relate to. Some chapters were better than others to get through, mainly because the subject was more interesting (Dr. Seuss) or I shared in his enthusiam (Beverly Cleary). There was a large section about older fairy tales that I thought didn't quite fit the rest of the book since they aren't often read in their original forms by children anymore. The titles he chose are definitely aimed at Gen X and older adults, since many of the books are fading in popularity with the younger set. All in all, this was kind of a big "meh". It didn't help me as a teacher, and my limited time as an adult reader could have been better spent reading something I really wanted to read. 2-2.5 stars

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janis

    For those of us who love children’s books, Bruce Handy’s Wild Things is a pure pleasure! He revisits classics from Margaret Wise Brown, Sendak, Potter, Seuss, and many others, offering biographies and comparisons and often-offbeat analysis (he totally had me when he compared The Runaway Bunny to Portnoy’s Complaint). Read it and smile!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    A must read! Makes you see and appreciate your childhood - and grownup - reading in a whole new way. Such a cerebral but delightful blend of biography, criticism, history, and memoir. I am in awe of my brother Bruce.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Not quite the book I was expecting. I wanted to give up many times but the last two chapters (covering the Little House series and Charlotte's Web) were the best.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Allison Parker

    This was, indeed, a joy to read. I would call it a perfect reading experience, except for the "two final pieces of consumer advice," both of which I've found terrific counterarguments for: "Don't buy children's books written by celebrities... and don't buy books with sparkles on the covers." I'm assuming that B. J. Novak of The Book with No Pictures counts as a celebrity, and Bob Shea's clever Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great has sparkles GALORE, but I guess they are tongue-in-cheek sparkles, so This was, indeed, a joy to read. I would call it a perfect reading experience, except for the "two final pieces of consumer advice," both of which I've found terrific counterarguments for: "Don't buy children's books written by celebrities... and don't buy books with sparkles on the covers." I'm assuming that B. J. Novak of The Book with No Pictures counts as a celebrity, and Bob Shea's clever Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great has sparkles GALORE, but I guess they are tongue-in-cheek sparkles, so that's likely not what Handy's referring to. I would change that advice to "don't buy books that promise 'STICKERS INSIDE!'", but I'm a children's librarian who must be at least a bit concerned with the practicality of processing and circulating books with disposable parts, or as I privately call those wretched 8x8" paperback TV-show-tie-ins, "garbage books." ANYWAY, I'm certainly quibbling unnecessarily at this last point! Handy is funny, thoughtful, warm, and not overly nostalgic in his remembering, re-reading, researching, and critiquing of classic children's literature. I was absolutely delighted by his voice and perspective. The spot illustrations by Seo Kim were a charming touch. This is one book I plan to buy and revisit again and again.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I enjoyed Wild Things tremendously -- it was like a really satisfying conversation with an old friend. BH and I agreed about nearly everything and our slight differences weren't enough to ruin my pleasure in the conversation. His writing style is conversational -- sometimes chatty -- but also incisive. He's a smart literary critic and also smart enough to avoid, mostly, writing like one. I'm also very excited by the bibliography and book lists in the back. If I have one critique, it's that his bo I enjoyed Wild Things tremendously -- it was like a really satisfying conversation with an old friend. BH and I agreed about nearly everything and our slight differences weren't enough to ruin my pleasure in the conversation. His writing style is conversational -- sometimes chatty -- but also incisive. He's a smart literary critic and also smart enough to avoid, mostly, writing like one. I'm also very excited by the bibliography and book lists in the back. If I have one critique, it's that his book favors the old standbys. He's clearly appreciative of newer authors, but still ended up writing a book about Oz, Narnia, Goodnight Moon, and the March sisters. This in NO WAY dimmed my pleasure in Wild Things, but I found myself wishing for a sequel that would only focus on authors from that last 30 years. I want to hear about BH has to say about authors who don't have the same name recognition as Lewis and Baum. BH uses the word "joy" in his subtitle and it's entirely appropriate. That is, perhaps, what's most noticeable about Wild Things -- not the weightiness of his opinions or the novelty of his selections -- but the pleasure he takes in writing about these books.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rissie

    An absolutely delightful book of literary criticism involving "children's books." There is so much wisdom and humor in all of the books he discussed. I need to go back and reread all of them! There are some who do not like this book because the author mentions in passing that he does not like Anne of Green Gables. I LOVE the Anne books, but I am fine with someone having a different view point, especially if they can express it well. After sharing a quote from Anne of Green Gables, he notes that " An absolutely delightful book of literary criticism involving "children's books." There is so much wisdom and humor in all of the books he discussed. I need to go back and reread all of them! There are some who do not like this book because the author mentions in passing that he does not like Anne of Green Gables. I LOVE the Anne books, but I am fine with someone having a different view point, especially if they can express it well. After sharing a quote from Anne of Green Gables, he notes that "Anne is ... an early, prophetic version of the manic pixie dream girl archetype that would proliferate in the independent cinema of the early twenty-first century." Even if you love Anne, that's a pretty funny comparison.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    It seems to me there are two ways to read children's literature as an adult. One is to read it as a way to revisit the sweetness of childhood and the other is to examine the deeper meanings through the lens of maturity and adult understanding and experience. This book mainly focuses on the latter but does touch briefly on the former. I listened to it on Audible and the author reads it. It's pretty amusing in places and very interesting. Some of the books he discussed were favorites and others I It seems to me there are two ways to read children's literature as an adult. One is to read it as a way to revisit the sweetness of childhood and the other is to examine the deeper meanings through the lens of maturity and adult understanding and experience. This book mainly focuses on the latter but does touch briefly on the former. I listened to it on Audible and the author reads it. It's pretty amusing in places and very interesting. Some of the books he discussed were favorites and others I had either not read or had never heard of. I really enjoyed it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Read it. Peter have it to me. He loves analysis. I prefer to just love my books. A failing on my part? Most likely. I learned some interesting facts about authors and books. I’d not read everything the author included. Perhaps that would have upped the interest level for me. I just want the story, the characters, the emotions. Worth having read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sam (she_who_reads_)

    Not really what I was expecting. While interesting, I didn’t really take much away from this one.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    Cue the Vince Guaraldi and let me slip into my childhood bathrobe, it's time to get nostalgic! Is there ever a more perfect book for me?? This was absolutely preaching to the choir, analyzing some of the best contributions to literature (for any age) in the past 60 or so years, with honorable mention to the fairy tales and fables that often inspired them. Bruce Handy organized the book in ascending age level, from The Runaway Bunny to books about death and everything in between. He so perfectly c Cue the Vince Guaraldi and let me slip into my childhood bathrobe, it's time to get nostalgic! Is there ever a more perfect book for me?? This was absolutely preaching to the choir, analyzing some of the best contributions to literature (for any age) in the past 60 or so years, with honorable mention to the fairy tales and fables that often inspired them. Bruce Handy organized the book in ascending age level, from The Runaway Bunny to books about death and everything in between. He so perfectly captures the Joy of the title when reading a particularly wise paragraph by an author who never condescends to children but meets them exactly where they are, injecting their own personal humor and unique perspective. Like these gems: "Nobody, reflected Beezus, ever says anything about my imagination. Nobody at all. And she wished, more than anything, that she had imagination." "There were two kinds of children who went to kindergarten--those who lined up outside the door before school, as they were supposed to and those who ran around the playground...Ramona ran around the playground." "The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything." "'Of course I don't really eat them. I drink them--drink their blood,' said Charlotte, and her pleasant, thin voice grew even more pleasant... 'It's a miserable inheritance,' said Wilbur, gloomily. He was sad because his new friend was so blood thirsty." Are you not completely sobbing?? Bruce Handy also writes about the joy of looking at the illustrations of children's literature. Maurice Sendak's gruesome but friendly Wild Things, Beatrix Potter's jacket-wearing rabbits surrounded by botany-textbook-level nature, Garth Williams' disputes with E.B. White over how lovable versus how scientifically correct to draw Charlotte, all of these add immeasurably to the readers' enjoyment. I wouldn't have picked the exact same titles as he does, and he left out some important ones (The Phantom Tollbooth in particular), and he doesn't get into the importance of seeing yourself reflected in picture books, which as a teacher is so apparent whenever I read aloud a book with a non-white main character. But for the most part, this was a jam-packed nostalgia train to my own childhood and I loved every minute of it. I'll leave you with this incredible anecdote from Maurice Sendak that underscores the intense love a person can feel for a book and an author: "A little boy wrote, 'I love your book, you're great,' and then he drew a little picture. And I wrote back and I drew him a little picture and then I got a letter from his mother and she said, 'Edward liked your letter so much--he ate it.' It was like the ultimate compliment. He didn't preserve it. He didn't say, 'Oh, I have an autographed picture.' He ate it. I mean, that's how primal, that's how animalistic, that's how passionate we are as small people."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chel

    What a delicious book! I paid full price for the epub version (something I rarely do these days) based on Jennifer Senior's mixed-opinion NYTimes review, in which she complains about its being too clever and glib. That review made me want to decide for myself. I do not share her complaints, but I was not reading it as a children's librarian or a teacher selecting titles for a book list. I was reading it in the sense in which I believe Bruce Handy wrote it--for pleasure. (Well, he did have a cont What a delicious book! I paid full price for the epub version (something I rarely do these days) based on Jennifer Senior's mixed-opinion NYTimes review, in which she complains about its being too clever and glib. That review made me want to decide for myself. I do not share her complaints, but I was not reading it as a children's librarian or a teacher selecting titles for a book list. I was reading it in the sense in which I believe Bruce Handy wrote it--for pleasure. (Well, he did have a contract and I trust he gets paid, but if he makes money, he deserves it.) The book is something like taking a tour through a country that you visited long ago in companionship with someone who is more recently familiar and can tell you what you have forgotten, didn't notice, or background information and subsequent developments since last time you were there. He can tell you what his own kids enjoyed most on their last visit and fill in the dirt about why Fodor's left a certain byway out of their most recent travel guide. The conversation is fun, even if you don't always agree with your companion's tastes, and even though you don't have time to go everywhere you want to revisit. I was disappointed that he left out Roald Dahl, E. Nesbitt, and a number of other favorites (he apologizes for this), but you can't go everywhere. The footnotes are some of the best parts.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Harrison Smith

    Bruce Handy is such a funny, smart writer that I whipped through this in two sittings. He doesn't try to cover the entire history of literature for kids -- acknowledging that much of the early stuff is awful -- but looks carefully at what he chooses to focus on. I loved his chapter on Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder especially, and he's spot on about Beverly Cleary, whom he compares to Henry James (with shorter sentences). You may disagree with his opinion of "The Giving Tree," or "Oh Bruce Handy is such a funny, smart writer that I whipped through this in two sittings. He doesn't try to cover the entire history of literature for kids -- acknowledging that much of the early stuff is awful -- but looks carefully at what he chooses to focus on. I loved his chapter on Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder especially, and he's spot on about Beverly Cleary, whom he compares to Henry James (with shorter sentences). You may disagree with his opinion of "The Giving Tree," or "Oh, The Places You'll Go" but if you like children's books, you'll love "Wild Things." Please see my full review: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2017/08/...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marty Suter

    Really enjoyed this romp through many of my favorite children's lit, reminiscing about reading many of these titles to my own kids (Goodnight Moon, Ramona the Pest, Where the Wild Things Are..., among others). Although I didn't agree with Handy's take on all the books (I actually liked Anne of Green Gables), he billed it not as a best of list but a review of simply his favorites. Great background info on the authors and illustrators of these classics! And I'm sure I'll go back and re-read many o Really enjoyed this romp through many of my favorite children's lit, reminiscing about reading many of these titles to my own kids (Goodnight Moon, Ramona the Pest, Where the Wild Things Are..., among others). Although I didn't agree with Handy's take on all the books (I actually liked Anne of Green Gables), he billed it not as a best of list but a review of simply his favorites. Great background info on the authors and illustrators of these classics! And I'm sure I'll go back and re-read many of these titles (and even some I haven't gotten to). Highly recommended...

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