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.