The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter

University of Minnesota. Feb. 2019. 240p. further reading. reprods. pap. $39.95. ISBN 9781517908010.
In 2013–14, the New York Public Library hosted an exhibition curated by Marcus about “the role children’s books play in world culture and our lives,” with materials spanning several centuries. He has since collaborated with the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature to create a new iteration of the show and this catalogue, which pairs Marcus’s original commentary with items from the Kerlan. The book explores the creation and evolution of children’s literature (predominantly focusing on England and the United States), from morality lesson books to the Stratemeyer Syndicate to Harry Potter. There is discussion of comics, censorship, and art style trends. A coda contains a selection of contemporary works from the Kerlan, followed by a list for suggested reading. This catalogue is well designed, featuring crisp, full-color images of materials alongside annotations and commentary. However, while this “is not a strict history of children’s books,” it is glaring in what is missing: the racist past (and present) of children’s literature. The racial stereotyping in The Story of Little Black Sambo is brought up, but racism isn’t examined in sections about Mary Poppins or Dr. Seuss. Some works by creators of color and different cultures are represented, but there isn’t mention of how disproportionately white the world of children’s literature has continually been.
VERDICT While this title will be nostalgia inducing for some, its unwillingness to grapple with racial inequities makes the overall effect saccharine and lessens its authenticity

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