Despite the jargon and occasional stuffiness, a cheering paean to children and reading.

ENCHANTED HUNTERS

THE POWER OF STORIES IN CHILDHOOD

An academic-popular hybrid seeks to redeem children passionate about reading from the derogative label of bookworm.

The act of reading is an active rather than a passive experience, avers Tatar (Germanic Languages and Literature/Harvard Univ.; The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, 2002, etc.). She adopts a personal tone in this exploration of children’s interaction with their literature, introducing in a disarming fashion her bedtime reading with her offspring before launching into a brief history of children’s literature followed by closer readings of several sacred childhood texts. Pulling her examples from both popular sources (she spends a lot of time with E.T.) and academic (Walter Benjamin figures prominently), as well as the recollections of her students, the author argues that a child reading is every bit as fervently engaged as a child at play. The best children’s literature, she continues, is designed to feed into and play off their need for wonder and adventure. Works covered include such venerable favorites as Alice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden but also roam forward in time to survey the contributions of Norton Juster, Philip Pullman and Dr. Seuss—indeed, the most piercing and sprightly observations come from Tatar’s reading of The Cat in the Hat. Despite attempts to keep the tone conversational, the author’s academic roots show: Words like transgressive and anomie rear their ugly heads, and at times the text feels like a digest of university lectures. Still, Tatar’s genuine fondness for her subject is palpable. “We can all remember the jolts and shimmer of books we read as children,” she writes. “That is why we revisit them as adults raising or educating children.” And “Souvenirs of Reading,” a collection of excerpts from writers’ recollections their childhood favorites, is easily one of the most endearing appendices ever affixed to a semi-scholarly work.

Despite the jargon and occasional stuffiness, a cheering paean to children and reading.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06601-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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