Wild Things ~ Handy

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult
Bruce Handy

Available at libraries near me: Hartford Public Library, Library Connection consortium

Further information and reviews at Goodreads.

When I first learned of this book, I thought it would be about the feelings inherent in reading children’s lit as an adult. It’s not; or, at least, the first chapter is not. “New Eyes, New Ears: Margaret Wise Brown and Goodnight Moon,” while informative, at times funny, and well researched, reads as more of a biography of Brown than a sentimental, or even nostalgic, investigation of the story.

On page 13 we get one of few examples of the content I had anticipated. Handy discusses Brown’s assertion that she dreamt the Goodnight Moon story, then relayed it to her editor, who loved it.

The anecdote rings true to me because the book has a strange, dreamlike feel in places: for example, the quiet old lady whispering hush who materializes in the middle of the book after we’ve already been introduced to her empty rocking chair.

Expanding on the presence of the quiet old lady, who has an unknown relation to the bunny, Handy continues, “it’s just the kind of odd, open-ended detail…that gives Goodnight Moon traction with children’s imaginations.” That’s all well and good, but this does not tell us how the quiet old lady plays with adult audiences.

I found even the introduction to be a bit contradictory. Handy states, “One thing I hope to convey is the sheer pleasure of reading children’s books, not just to whatever children you have on hand but also for your own enjoyment and enlightenment (xvi).” A few pages later he adds, “I hope this book will shed light on why we loved the books we loved (xxi).” It seems he hasn’t quite made up his mind whether he is going to focus on reading the books now, or what it was like when we read them in our childhood.

As I mentioned previously, there is some very interesting information sprinkled throughout the chapter. The original title for the story was Goodnight Room (14). I appreciated Handy’s theory that Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be viewed as a sequel to Goodnight Moon (15). And my eyes rolled when I read that Brown’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, requested that the cow’s utter be deemphasized “lest the art offend some readers, especially librarians, as too biologically frank (18).” Oh those sensitive librarians…

Overall, this just isn’t what I was expecting. It’s not bad, I would simply prefer to spend my time rereading my favorites and experiencing the joy they do bring.

Worth checking out: Yes, but to learn about the authors rather than the experience of reading the stories as an adult.


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