46 Leah Price on Children’s Books: Turning Back the Clock on “Adulting” (EF, JP)

What do children love most about books? Leaving their mark on inviting white spaces? Or that enchanting feeling when a book marks them as its own, taking them off to where the wild things are? To understand childhood reading past and present, Elizabeth and John talk with the illustrious and illuminating book historian Leah Price. They explore the tactile and textual properties of great children’s books and debate adult fondness for juvenile literature. Leah asks if identifying with a literary character is a sign of virtuous imagination, or of craziness and laziness. She also schools John on what makes a good association copy, and reveals her son’s magic words when he wants her to tell a story: Read it!

For many years an English Professor at Harvard, Leah is founder and director of the Rutgers Initiative for the Book, and she tweets at @LeahAtWhatPrice. Her What We Talk About When We Talk About Books recently won Phi Beta Kappa’s Christian Gauss Award.

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, the concern about distinguishing between juvenile and adult books seemed to shift from moral panic about speeding up sexual maturity to worry about turning back the clock on what we now call adulting through the mainstreaming of young adult literature.

Mentioned in the episode:

Patrick Mc Donnell, A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

“Association copy”–e.g. Frida Kahlo’s goofily annotated and illustrated Works of Edgar Allen Poe.

Mo Willem, We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Manners with a Library Book

Dorothy Kunhardt, Pat the Bunny

Erica Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Peggy Rathmann, Ten Minutes Till Bedtime

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Richard Wilbur, The Disappearing Alphabet

Dr. Seuss, On Beyond Zebra!

Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote

Charlotte Lenox, The Female Quixote

Recallable Books: what else should I read if I enjoyed this episode?

(Leah) Francis Spufford, The Child that Books Built: A Life in Reading

(Elizabeth) E. Nesbit The Railway Children: not to mention The Phoenix and the Carpet and Five Children and It

(John) Wanda Gag, Millions of Cats: it’s The Road for cats…

John also wrote a children’s book, back when his kids were tiny:

Time and the Tapestry: A William Morris Adventure

Listen and Read Here:

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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