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A group of essays on books for children, originally published in the Washington Post and lightly edited into something resembling a book-shape, focused around books that are not as widely known as Perrin would like them to be.

This is neither amazing nor horrible. It is somewhat to the bad side of mediocre. In general, Perrin does manage to communicate why he likes the books, whether they were available in findable editions at the time of writing, and what age range he considers them appropriate for; he also usually gives interesting biographical detail about the authors, and in a couple of cases has dug up things that I have never heard of, think are genuinely obscure, and would be interested by (e.g. P. L. Travers' I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, which sounds like a fascinating and unusual WWII novel).

On the other hand, he is incapable of not telling you all about the plot. I do mean all. He tries to restrain himself from mentioning endings if the book is attempting to be surprising, but he can't resist alluding to the twists in veiled terms, and it's pretty amazingly transparent. I wanted to go through half of these and spoiler-cut, and I usually don't care about spoilers. I would like a review to make me interested in the book, not to make me feel as though I have already read it-- it's the difference between those movie trailers which mention a major plot point and the ones where you sit there going 'that was the entire film condensed into two minutes so I guess that saved the price of a ticket, huh'.

Also, this came out in 1997. That is... fairly recent past, so it is possible that maybe Perrin should not be quite so jumping-up-and-down amazed when there are people in kids' books who are not white Protestants. The kind of amazed where he's all 'it's so awesome how everything new is so inclusive!' and I am all 'you just actually recommended Ernest Thompson Seton's Two Little Savages without mentioning any of the huge gaping issues that anyone can deduce at this point in history just from reading the title'. *facepalm* He claims, too, that the Doctor Dolittle books are not racist. There are many good things about the Doctor Dolittle books. I read them and loved them as a child, and what stuck with me was the wonder of traveling to new places, the amazingness of the ability to speak to all kinds of animals, the indomitable spirit required in learning language after language after language. They are racist as fuck. Every time I reread them they've gotten worse (except Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, because it has so few human characters; I will always love that one). As things become better, more and more large swathes of the past are full of Problematic, but there is 'progressive for its time' and then there is... not, and Hugh Lofting is the latter and I think admitting to that nowadays does not mean you have to say you hate the books, you know? I mean I reread the things, because they are part of my childhood. Seriously, though, racist as fuck.

Anyway. Perrin's book at least does not perpetrate some of the issues I've seen in other writing about children's books, you know, the kind of writing that holds that children's books are somehow Beneath Literature, or that children are not a worthy audience and all that sort of annoyance. He is quite good about remembering that children are people, and also that people who aren't children often want and sometimes need for various reasons to interact with children's books. I appreciate that, because there are so few critics who do not treat childhood as a (possibly contagious) disease.

On the 'I am sitting here reading this as a book' level, it was moderately entertaining. Newspaper writing.

So I don't really recommend this, but I may well read several things mentioned in it, and it's entirely possible some of those will be rec-worthy. Mostly it just makes me want to reread I Capture the Castle. Again.


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March 2017

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