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

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 5, 2015

Did Laura Ingalls once cross paths with a band of mass murderers? Why didn't Maurice Sendak end up illustrating The Hobbit? Why was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory banned? This is a book for adults who love children's book and are seeking out the tidbits, the morsels, the gossip, and the anecdotes that surround the beloved genre.

When I was in grad school, Betsy Bird came and gave a talk about books and included a number of stories that she was already gathering for this book. I followed Peter Sieruta's blog religiously. Based on these two things along with my own knowledge of children's books and their history, there wasn't much that was surprising in this book. Those not familiar will find a treasure trove of information if they are patient enough to deal with the strange way in which this book is put together. There is a clear "agenda", for lack of a better word. The authors themselves have an idea of what they consider worthy children's literature and are quick to point out what they consider to be good both stylistically and morally. For example, an entire chapter praising LGBTQ literature and their authors, while poking fun at celebrity authors a few chapters later.

Missing from this book was a lot of psychology as well. The authors have a clear bias toward celebrity authors (I do too sometimes), but they don't delve any deeper than their opinions and that of other non-celebrity authors. I wanted to know the impact these stories and reading in general has on these children. Do more children read a book that has been banned? How did these books influence future generations? Are there titles in which a great deal of hoopla was raised about its moral superiority, only to never be heard from again? I imagine there are quite a few in that last category. The authors tell us about the conflict between good and bad fiction for children as perceived by critics and gatekeepers and not the children themselves, but as another reviewer put it "little exploration into the reasons why this dichotomy might exist."

To be clear, these three authors are experts in their field, well-versed in the way of children's literature and their histories. However, this book fails to do what it claims it will do, which is to reveal secret and sometimes naughty stories behind our beloved kids books. Instead, we are treated to three people's opinions in a book that keeps losing its focus. There's some good meat here, but there is also a lot of air, which made the book not very filling for me.