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Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature    by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta order for
Wild Things!
by Betsy Bird
Order:  USA  Can
Candlewick, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Anyone interested in children's books will find Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature an entertaining read. Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta collaborate on this rather unconventional look some of the most beloved works of children's fiction and nursery classics.

As much about the creators of children's stories as the books themselves, this overview not only sheds light on some of the drama in the authors' lives and the untold stories behind various classics, but it also offers an antidote to the extreme sentimentality that all too often surrounds the genre.

'We hope to dispel the romanticized image of children's literature, held by much of the public, of children's authors writing dainty, instructive stories with a quill pen in hand and woodland creatures curled up at their feet,' explain the authors. 'We'd like to share stories about books and their creators that defy this condescending mentality surrounding children's lit.'

As you read this book you'll realize that certainly some children's books are didactic in nature and are intended to introduce basic concepts (1-2-3 and A-B-C) or instruct youngsters about proper behavior, but there are many others that are actually rather subversive, thought-provoking and life changing.

While some of these seemingly innocuous books overturn adult pretensions and defy social laws, others subtly empower the reader to think critically or outside the box (especially the adult box). In fact, look closely and you'll realize that some of these stories actually undermine adults' authority over children.

Occasionally irreverent, this volume will look at some of the classics we grew up reading (or had read to us) as well as some of the mega-hits that have captured the Best Seller Lists over the last decade or two. There's information here of the sometimes not exemplary lives of children's authors/illustrators as well as on the material that was banned or changed so it wouldn't offend adults.

Some of the chapters, or interludes as they are dubbed by the authors, include a section on celebrity authors, another on sex and death, and a chapter on eye- opening scandalous mysteries and mysterious scandals.

Maurice Sendak, the great-granddaddy of the modern picture book, and J. K. Rowling, who earned an untold fortune with Harry Potter, share these pages with other children's luminaries such as Roald Dahl, Theodor Geisel, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Laura Ingalls, Judy Blume and Mo Willems.

In the book's concluding chapter the authors give themselves a pat on the back for 'stamping out as many fuzzy bunnies' as they could in Wild Things. 'We started this book railing against the 'fluffy bunny' mentality that surround the world of children’s books,' they write.

Admittedly they did a passable job but, as we know, these little furry characters continue to appear wherever children's books are sold. That warm-fuzzy category of books, especially for young children, is far too popular (and lucrative) to be vanquished by three librarians!

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