Anyone whose life involves children’s literature has probably encountered the assumption that books for children are all sweetly sentimental tales of selfless trees and fluffy bunnies. In Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, librarian-bloggers Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson (also a BookPage reviewer) and their late co-author Peter D. Sieruta thoroughly debunk that notion.

In chapters focusing on book challenges, gender and sexuality, the lasting effect of the Harry Potter phenomenon and other topics on which authors, readers and arbiters of taste have often clashed, the co-authors present a history of the personal stories, sociopolitical debates and subversive details that underlie classic and contemporary books for children and teens. Both longtime fans of children’s lit and relative newcomers will find something to appreciate here, including a risqué image hidden in a Trina Schart Hyman illustration, a discussion of the apparently equally disturbing presence and absence of underwear in books for young readers and varying opinions as to whether or not Nancy Drew will topple civilization.

The chatty, humorous text is broken up by text boxes, “Pushcart Debates” between the authors, rare sketches related to well-known works and, of course, line drawings of mortified-looking fluffy bunnies.

Source notes and an extensive bibliography make the book ideal for university courses, but the audience for Wild Things! is much broader than just students. Anyone who loves children’s books will relish the historical facts, insightful interpretations and wild anecdotes in this highly recommended addition to the literature about children’s literature.


This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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