Roger Sale invites us to discover anew some of the great works of children's literature, works that have been read and loved but seldom given the benefit of serious literary assessment. It takes a critic of special gifts—receptiveness, discrimination, clarity of perception, independence of judgment—to discuss these books as illuminatingly as Sale does.
This is not a survey but a very personal book: Sale writes about stories and books with which he feels an imaginative sympathy. As it happens, they include a great many of the classic children's texts, works as disparate as “Beauty and the Beast” and Alice, The Wind in the Willows and Babar, “The Snow Queen” and Peter Rabbit, the Jungle Book and the Oz books. He conveys a fresh sense of what is special and memorable about each of them.
While avoiding conventional literary history, he sketches the circumstances of the author's life when they provide insight into the works. Unlike Bettelheim and others, Sale is not concerned with the “uses” of children's literature. He writes for adults, with the conviction that adults can find delight in these books. Many already do, and perhaps with his stimulus, many more will.
Roger Sale has written a most unusual book on the subject of children’s literature; one that refuses to pigeonhole its subject matter as a distinct—and therefore implicitly minor—literary genre… Never has so urbane, so civilized—in sum, so adult—a voice been raised on behalf of children’s books. It is high time.
Sale concentrates on what he calls the ‘classic successes’: Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Kipling’s Kim, L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, White’s Charlotte’s Web, and the Freddy stories of Walter R. Brooks. About these authors and books he has written essays that are a near-perfect blend of literary criticism and psychological portraiture.
[Sale] is interesting and very engaging; he is a constructive rather than a destructive—or a deconstructive—critic. In this era of self-conscious and abstruse (often obtuse) textual analysis, his air of wondering and grateful appreciation, his concern for the writer’s intention, and his willingness to use the word ‘I’ seem most attractive.
It is all, as Charlotte, that spidery spinner of words, puts it: ‘TERRIFIC.’
- 286 pages
- Harvard University Press
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