Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature: Of Bunnies, Cats, Monsters and More
It continues! As ever, folks just can’t seem to write books without slipping references to children’s books into them, left, right, and center. And while it seems an odd exercise to collect these titles, it’s also oddly informative. I’m still trying to piece together a unified theory about why this happens at all. No answers thus far but I live in hope. While I’m pondering and postulating then, here are some surprising jolts of the month:
My Mother, the Bunny, and Me by Edith Kunhardt Davis
There is a story that they tell about the great children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore. Apparently when confronted with interactive or tactile books (titles that she considered little better than toys) she would dismiss them with a cursory insult of “Truck!” There is no known record of how she felt about Pat the Bunny, but I think we can make a pretty good assumption from that anecdote. The daughter of Dorothy Kunhardt, author of the aforementioned bunny book, tells the story of her mother, the book, and her own life. PW says the book contains “casual insights into children’s book publishing” which is the most intriguing element to me.
Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books by Phil Nel
I am incapable of conveying to you the degree to which I am delighted that this book is finally coming out. Slated to appear on bookstore shelves right now, it may well be the one adult title I read in 2017 (sad but true). As Kirkus describes it, “An acclaimed children’s literature scholar picks up the mantle of Walter Dean Myers, Nancy Larrick, and others by exploring the ways in which the lack of diversity in children’s literature negatively affects American culture as a whole.Working off of the premise that America has entered a new era of civil rights, Nel … asserts that the ‘cultures of childhood play a prominent role in replicating prejudice’ and that stereotypes within literature are maintained and replicated through a combination of nostalgia, structural racism, fervent belief in the myth of American exceptionalism, and lack of exposure to varied minority life experiences.”
Did I mention I was excited?
Night Shift by Debi Gliori
This one’s sneaky because the brief glance at the cover and author might well make you think it was just another one of Deb Gliori’s charming picture books (my personal favorite being Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg, of course). A quick glance at the subject heading, however, confirms that it’s actually shelved in the adult Self-Help section instead. On the one hand it’s a picture book about battling dragons. In actuality it’s Debi’s story about battling depression.
Monsters by Derrick Jensen
Not a pleasant looking book but I’m including it here for the sole reason that apparently amongst its many short stories it includes one called “The Murdered Tree,” which “tells Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree from the tree’s perspective as a vicious boy slowly kills a majestic tree for his own gain.” Alrighty then.
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
This one appears to be getting a fair amount of in-house love. And why not? A librarian writes letters to famous books. Some she likes. Some she can’t even pick up. And since children’s literature often appears in cases such as this you’ll be sure to find letters addressed to Judy Blume. How could there not be?
Autobiography of a Family Photo by Jacqueline Woodson
Did you know that they were reprinting Ms. Woodson’s 1995 adult novel once again? As it was originally described by the publisher: “It is the Vietnam era, the ‘Brady Bunch’ era, a time when men walk on the moon and families unravel. Brooklyn pulses with African American and Latino life, a world separated by invisible barriers from the white world. Through the eyes and ears of the unnamed narrator, we come to know – in all its sensuality and brutality – a world that is held together by a young girl’s fragile perceptions and cautiously emerging desires. Autobiography of a Family Photo is a coming-to-consciousness, coming-of-age story of a young girl, told with passion and poetry, honesty and clear vision.”
Alas the new jacket image hasn’t been released yet, but I sure do like the old one:
Finally, I enjoy reading the book review section of the Sunday New York Times every week. The “By the Book” section is of particular interest, and I’m cultivating some theories about it. As far as I can tell, the only time an author will confess to having read something as a child is when they can either pull out adult novels they loved when they were ten, or they’ll mention stuff like Swift Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe (or some other book with the name “Robinson” in the title somehow). Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden was interviewed in this very section recently. The question she received was “Is there one book that made you a reader?” Here was her response:
“I often talk about my favorite book, which is Bright April by Marguerite de Angeli. It was about a young African-American girl who was a Brownie with pigtails. And that was me. It was the first book I remember where I really saw myself. I think books are so important as windows to other worlds, but they can and should also be mirrors. For young readers to see themselves in something important like a book, that really makes an impression.”
And THAT is how it’s done.
Filed under: Surprising Jolts of Children's Literature
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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