An academic-popular hybrid seeks to redeem children passionate about reading from the derogative label of bookworm.
The act of reading is an active rather than a passive experience, avers Tatar (Germanic Languages and Literature/Harvard Univ.; The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, 2002, etc.). She adopts a personal tone in this exploration of children’s interaction with their literature, introducing in a disarming fashion her bedtime reading with her offspring before launching into a brief history of children’s literature followed by closer readings of several sacred childhood texts. Pulling her examples from both popular sources (she spends a lot of time with E.T.) and academic (Walter Benjamin figures prominently), as well as the recollections of her students, the author argues that a child reading is every bit as fervently engaged as a child at play. The best children’s literature, she continues, is designed to feed into and play off their need for wonder and adventure. Works covered include such venerable favorites as Alice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden but also roam forward in time to survey the contributions of Norton Juster, Philip Pullman and Dr. Seuss—indeed, the most piercing and sprightly observations come from Tatar’s reading of The Cat in the Hat. Despite attempts to keep the tone conversational, the author’s academic roots show: Words like transgressive and anomie rear their ugly heads, and at times the text feels like a digest of university lectures. Still, Tatar’s genuine fondness for her subject is palpable. “We can all remember the jolts and shimmer of books we read as children,” she writes. “That is why we revisit them as adults raising or educating children.” And “Souvenirs of Reading,” a collection of excerpts from writers’ recollections their childhood favorites, is easily one of the most endearing appendices ever affixed to a semi-scholarly work.
Despite the jargon and occasional stuffiness, a cheering paean to children and reading.