A well-documented, thorough history.

MINDERS OF MAKE-BELIEVE

IDEALISTS, ENTREPRENEURS, AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Who really decides what American children read? Children’s book historian and critic Marcus (A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and their Paths to the Caldecott Medal, 2008, etc.) answers this question by deftly tracing the evolution of American children’s literature from colonial primers to Harry Potter.

The author approaches the story from the little-known perspective of the publishers, librarians, critics, educators and booksellers who shaped the genre over three centuries. Beginning with American publisher Isaiah Thomas, who in 1779 offered American children pirated copies of London bookseller John Newbery’s toy books, Marcus shows the gradual shift from didactic, moralistic texts to illustrated books that entertained as well as instructed. He tracks the 19th-century emergence of entrepreneurial publishers in Boston and New York who recognized the potential kid-lit market in Jacob Abbott’s popular Rollo series and Samuel Goodrich’s Peter Parley tales. He chronicles the post–Civil War competition among children’s magazines like Our Young Folks, Riverside Magazine for Young People and St. Nicholas, which led to publication of high-quality stories and illustrations from the best authors and artists. Marcus provides an in-depth look at the impact of powerful children’s librarians like Anne Carroll Moore, such creative female editors as May Massee and Louise Seaman Bechtel, and emerging critics like Horn Book founder Bertha Mahony Miller. He explores the effects of Children’s Book Week, the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott prizes and the increased mass-marketing of popular culture in comic books, Golden Books, Disney spinoffs and series like Nancy Drew. Marcus notes the rise of multiculturalism, new realism, overseas printing, independent bookshops and single-editor imprints as evidence of the profound social and technological changes in late 20th-century America and astutely parallels trends in children’s books with movements in the larger culture. Throughout he features insightful anecdotes about such luminaries as Mary Mapes Dodge, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Wise Brown, Robert McCloskey, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), E.B. White, Ursula Nordstrom, Maurice Sendak, Margaret McElderry, Robert Cormier and John Steptoe.

A well-documented, thorough history.

Pub Date: May 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-395-67407-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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