Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
For those who don’t know, I have a degree in librarianship. Sadly, I hated my Master’s program, but you can call me “master” which is pretty cool. One of the only courses I actually enjoyed during my time in library school was on the history of children’s literature. I’ve been a reader all my life and despite the fact that I didn’t read many of the children’s’ classics (or I did and forgot them), the history of children’s’ books is fascinating to me. As such, I found Bird, Danielson, and Sieruta’s Wild Things! a delight, full of fun trivia.
Let’s be real: I don’t read much non-fiction. Why? Because so much of it is dry and dull and there is no plot so I am bored. There’s good non-fiction, but I am very story and narrative-voice driven as a reader, so non-fiction can be really tough for me. Thankfully, Wild Things! is by a trio of librarians/professional reviewers/bloggers and it’s written in a very engaging style. Wild Things! not only had interesting content, but was compelling to actually read. The authors are clearly striving for humor in their telling and they achieve that.
Ultimately, I think the authors had two main points. 1) Children’s books deserve a lot more respect than they get. 2) Children’s book authors are people, and not perfect ones. The overall goal seems mainly to be to dispel the idea that people have about children’s books and they’re creators. The uninformed think of children’s books as “fluffy bunny” books and very simple to throw together, with an extra emphasis on picture books here. The authors thereof are seen as quirky and wholesome, perhaps in a bit of an eternal youth. If there’s a connecting thread through the various essays, it’s that. Children’s books and their authors are more complex than people generally give them credit for.
While everything in here wasn’t new to me, thanks to my course in library school, there was a lot of stuff that was. I am a HUGE fan of trivia, so that was delightful. For example, did you know that author Paula Fox is the grandmother of Courtney Love? To make the story sound even more fictional, Fox only learned that when the daughter she’d given up for adoption found her fifty years later. In other news, Shel Silverstein worked for Playboy before he became a children’s book author. Those are two of my favorite little nuggets of trivia treasure, but there is much more to be enjoyed.
One section of this book almost made me cry, which, as my friends know, is not an easy feat. There’s a lengthy section on LGBT picture books and authors. Basically, I want to punch humanity sometimes. It’s great that strides are being made, but my heart breaks for so many of these people. Even more, I’m upset that I didn’t know a single one of these authors (Maurice Sendak and Louise Fitzhugh, for example) was GLBTQ+, even though I’m really plugged into the bookish community. It makes it feel like it’s being somewhat kept secret even now and that saddens me more. Then there’s the section on the reasons books get banned, which includes homosexuality, and Christina had some angry feels. My point is that non-fiction doesn’t tend to make me emotional, but this actually did. Nice work, authors!
What Left Me Wanting More:
The only real issue I have with Wild Things! is the scope. The subtitle is “Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature,” but that is really misleading. There is some of that, certainly, as I’ve enumerated, but there’s so much more. Being gay and writing children’s books is not an act of mischief, for example. The subtitle’s cute and catchy, but it really doesn’t fit with the content. As I said, it’s not about mischief, but about the stereotypes of children’s literature and how narrow-minded they truly are.
The Final Verdict:
There’s a lot of great information in Wild Things! and I think other adult readers of children’s lit would enjoy reading this book as much as I did.