Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: Children’s Literature by Seth Lerer
August 12, 2008, 2:55 pm
Filed under: book reviews, nonfiction | Tags: , , , , ,

“All children’s literature recalls an unrecoverable past, a lost age before adulthood.”

As an adult, children’s literature, from Aesop to Stephenie Meyer, holds a certain allure for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I spent so much time up and down trees and constructing rafts that I didn’t get my fill of books as a child, or that I’m reliving my more vicarious days through these books, or that they’re simply excellent works set to entertain a younger audience. (Or of course the obvious option of all three!)

In Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History From Aesop to Harry Potter Seth Lerer explores the historical influences and interpretations of childhood and children’s literature. This history begins in classical antiquity and takes the reader through centuries of children’s literature to arrive at more contemporary works.

Reading Lerer’s book has been an enriching experience in the world of western children’s literature. He manages to illuminate the evolution of the child’s book by exploring particular influences ranging from ideas of child as citizen, Puritan influence, girl books, to the influence of prize culture on books. Throughout the reading I consistently would pause recalling not only the books from my childhood but also those books I have recently read and how they fit into Lerer’s reader.

Children’s Literature was described to me as not exclusively being an academic work but a book that would also be beneficial for a more general reading audience and I completely agree. Lerer’s book was not the easiest read but it was a most enjoyable and informative read. It’s one of the few books I took serious time with and not only because it dealt with some weightier topics but because the book provided me with information that I wanted to stop and think about and that I wanted to take notes on.

I was asked by Tiny Librarian about whether I found Lerer’s book to be “interesting/entertaining” and “containing good research on the subject?” Easily I can answer yes to both of these inquiries and it was of particular interest for me when I came to Lerer’s chapter on the history of the children’s library in America and the story of children’s literary prizes and how these two prominent features have helped shape the landscape of books directed at children. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Lerer, Children’s Literature is food for thought and an exploration of the world of childhood book-related fantasy that is on equal footing with the numerous explorations of adult literature.


Having taught some undergraduate surveys in children’s lit, I think this one could be a good textbook. Most of the students who’ve come through my classes have been on their way to teaching careers, and they need something halfway between scholarship and something for a general audience. Great review!

Comment by Andi

Andi: I concur! Though I have not taught any courses, I did take a children’s literature course one semester and reading this book I kept thinking how beneficial it would have been. In retrospect the book we used was fun, but didn’t provide a great deal of direction or was nearly as interesting.

Comment by bookchronicle

I’m a big fan of children’s literature, and a book on the topic that is both entertaining and informative sounds perfect. Thanks for the review. I’m going to look for this one.

Comment by Nymeth

Nymeth: This is definitely a keeper (otherwise I’d send you mine!) and I’ve found myself using it as a reference book already a handful of times and I’ve only owned it for a month or two.

Comment by bookchronicle

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