Review: Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, & Peter Sieruta

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, & Peter SierutaWild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Peter D. Sieruta
Published by Candlewick on August 5, 2014
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
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four-stars

Secret lives, scandalous turns, and some very funny surprises — these essays by leading kids’ lit bloggers take us behind the scenes of many much-loved children’s books.

Did Laura Ingalls cross paths with a band of mass murderers? Why was a Garth Williams bunny tale dubbed "integrationist propaganda"? For adults who are curious about children’s books and their creators, here are the little-known stories behind the stories. A treasure trove of information for a student, librarian, new parent, or anyone wondering about the post–Harry Potter book biz, Wild Things! draws on the combined knowledge and research of three respected and popular librarian-bloggers. Told in affectionate and lively prose, with numerous never-before-collected anecdotes, this book chronicles some of the feuds and fights, errors and secret messages found in children’s books and brings contemporary illumination to the warm-and-fuzzy bunny world we think we know.

For those who don’t know, I have a degree in librarianship. Sadly, I hated my Master’s program, but you can call me “master” which is pretty cool. One of the only courses I actually enjoyed during my time in library school was on the history of children’s literature. I’ve been a reader all my life and despite the fact that I didn’t read many of the children’s’ classics (or I did and forgot them), the history of children’s’ books is fascinating to me. As such, I found Bird, Danielson, and Sieruta’s Wild Things! a delight, full of fun trivia.

Let’s be real: I don’t read much non-fiction. Why? Because so much of it is dry and dull and there is no plot so I am bored. There’s good non-fiction, but I am very story and narrative-voice driven as a reader, so non-fiction can be really tough for me. Thankfully, Wild Things! is by a trio of librarians/professional reviewers/bloggers and it’s written in a very engaging style. Wild Things! not only had interesting content, but was compelling to actually read. The authors are clearly striving for humor in their telling and they achieve that.

Ultimately, I think the authors had two main points. 1) Children’s books deserve a lot more respect than they get. 2) Children’s book authors are people, and not perfect ones. The overall goal seems mainly to be to dispel the idea that people have about children’s books and they’re creators. The uninformed think of children’s books as “fluffy bunny” books and very simple to throw together, with an extra emphasis on picture books here. The authors thereof are seen as quirky and wholesome, perhaps in a bit of an eternal youth. If there’s a connecting thread through the various essays, it’s that. Children’s books and their authors are more complex than people generally give them credit for.

While everything in here wasn’t new to me, thanks to my course in library school, there was a lot of stuff that was. I am a HUGE fan of trivia, so that was delightful. For example, did you know that author Paula Fox is the grandmother of Courtney Love? To make the story sound even more fictional, Fox only learned that when the daughter she’d given up for adoption found her fifty years later. In other news, Shel Silverstein worked for Playboy before he became a children’s book author. Those are two of my favorite little nuggets of trivia treasure, but there is much more to be enjoyed.

One section of this book almost made me cry, which, as my friends know, is not an easy feat. There’s a lengthy section on LGBT picture books and authors. Basically, I want to punch humanity sometimes. It’s great that strides are being made, but my heart breaks for so many of these people. Even more, I’m upset that I didn’t know a single one of these authors (Maurice Sendak and Louise Fitzhugh, for example) was GLBTQ+, even though I’m really plugged into the bookish community. It makes it feel like it’s being somewhat kept secret even now and that saddens me more. Then there’s the section on the reasons books get banned, which includes homosexuality, and Christina had some angry feels. My point is that non-fiction doesn’t tend to make me emotional, but this actually did. Nice work, authors!

The only real issue I have with Wild Things! is the scope. The subtitle is “Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature,” but that is really misleading. There is some of that, certainly, as I’ve enumerated, but there’s so much more. Being gay and writing children’s books is not an act of mischief, for example. The subtitle’s cute and catchy, but it really doesn’t fit with the content. As I said, it’s not about mischief, but about the stereotypes of children’s literature and how narrow-minded they truly are.

There’s a lot of great information in Wild Things! and I think other adult readers of children’s lit would enjoy reading this book as much as I did.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif writing is hard
That goes for children’s books too.

4 responses to “Review: Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, & Peter Sieruta”

  1. Heather says:

    This book sounds awesome, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it until just now! Random pieces of trivia are so much fun, especially as it relates to children’s literature. I actually did know that fact about Shel Silverstein, but I did not know about Paula Fox/Courtney Love…crazy!

    History of Children’s Lit was one of my favorite classes, too 🙂 Was that the one where we did the presentation on Anne of Green Gables? All of the assignments from grad school are starting to blur together at this point. lol. I should totally make people call me “master,” because that would be hilarious.

    • Christina Franke says:

      You would love it, I think. Basically the only classes that were actually good were the ones she taught. Wow, do not remember her name, but she was Canadian. I felt like she was a real professor in a way the others weren’t, though maybe that’s what professors are like at big colleges? Idk.

  2. Giselle says:

    No I did not know you have a librarianship! That’s awesome! i don’t read many non fiction either – I don’t remember the last time I did actually, but it sounds like this one was fun to read as well as compelling! I’ve also never really thought of the process of writing a children’s books. Some of them suck, I gotta say – I bought some for my lil one that had me roll my eyes, but others are definitely classics if you ask me. It sounds like a perfect read for people in the field especially! 🙂
    Giselle recently posted…Review: MARY: The Summoning by Hillary MonahanMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      It’s really interesting. The focus is mostly on books for younger readers, but it’s nice to see an overview of the genre and some of the changes. There’s also some reflection on the book awards and whether that has anything to do with what the kids actually liked. Pretty cool!

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