In 2008, Jill Lepore published “The Lion and the Mouse,” a compelling essay on a mid-century controversy that helped reshape children’s literature. Lepore describes how the publication of EB White’s classic story “Stuart Little” about an adventurous “mouse child” born into a Manhattan family attracted critics and librarians due to the unconventional (for the time) merging of fantasy and fantasy Reality caused a stir. White’s book raised questions about which adults should decide what is suitable for children (parents, librarians, editors) or whether that responsibility rests best with the children themselves. One way of reading “Stuart Little”, according to Lepore, is “an indictment of both the childish nature of children’s literature and the rejuvenation of American culture.”
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This week we bring you a selection of pieces about the living world of children’s literature – which, at best, has always contradicted the conventions of the genre and the expectations of young readers and their parents. In “Among the Wild Things”, published in 1966, Nat Hentoff explores the radically innovative literary style of the author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. (“The boys in Sendak’s books – especially the books he writes – are sometimes troubled and lonely, they easily slip in and out of fantasies, and at times they are stubborn and persistent.”) In “The Storyteller” contemplates Cynthia Tsarina Madeleine L’Engles creative vision and explores the enduring influence of her popular novel “A Wrinkle in Time” and its sequels. In Far from Well, published 1928, Dorothy Parker reviews AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series and offers a stinging review of The House at Pooh Corner. In “Beatrix Potter” the writer Laurie Colwin writes about the natural style of the author of the classic Peter Rabbit series. (“The book began as a letter to a little boy named Noel Moore, who was recovering from an illness. ‘My dear Noel,’ the letter begins. ‘I don’t know what to write to you, so I’ll tell you one Story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. ”In Judy Blum’s Magnificent Girls, Anna Holmes describes how Blume revolutionized young adult fiction by vividly portraying the inner workings of her female protagonists Larson in “How Gyo Fujikawa Drew Freedom in Children’s Books,” how the Japanese-American artist, whose parents and brother were sent to internment camps in 1942, became one of the country’s most popular children’s illustrators. (“Fujikawa’s illustrations showed children of all kinds on all kinds of adventures . ”) Together, these pieces offer a unique glimpse into a remarkable genre, and we hope they add a little something to your weekend n confer magic.
– Erin Overbey, archives editor
Maurice Sendak’s fantastic imagination.
Fact, fiction and the books by Madeleine L’Engle.
Our returning hero, Winnie-the-Pooh.
How the famous children’s author revolutionized literature for young people.
The struggle that reshaped children’s literature.
The artist, whose career flourished while her family was interned during World War II, stayed in tune with a child’s view of the world and found a way to draw a better one.
The author of “Peter Rabbit” never wrote to her young readers and never whitewashed nature in her name.