April's Reviews > Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children's Literature

Feeling Like a Kid by Jerry Griswold
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's review
Jul 22, 09

bookshelves: professional-books
Read in July, 2009

For everyone who teaches or loves children's literature, I highly recommend this book. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never heard of Jerry Griswold, the director of the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature and a professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University. This is likely because he approaches children's lit from an English background while most of my friends and I come from an education background. Regardless of professional stance, this book is worth reading. Griswold asserts that there are five themes common across great (mostly classic) children's literature: Snugness--for example, the cabin in Little House in the Big Woods (I prefer the synonym Coziness); Scariness--this is pretty self-explanatory; how many of us enjoy a book that gives us a good scare? Of course, what children find scary and what adults find scary might not be the same thing; Smallness--not only tiny characters and miniature worlds like those in Stuart Little and the Borrowers, but also the feeling of powerless that accompanies being a child and therefore small; Lightness--both in terms of weight, as in when characters can fly a la Mary Poppins and Harry Potter, and in terms of attitude, where children are, hopefully, light-hearted, especially in comparison to adults; and Aliveness--this would include books where animals, toys and other objects, and the natural world take on the characteristics of humans. Griswold provides numerous examples for each theme, and the book is filled with full-color reproductions of illustrations from some of the books he discusses. He also asserts that by studying these themes in children's literature, we can learn much about the nature of childhood itself. The most fun for me was thinking of other examples of books for each theme, from both my own childhood reading as well as adult reading of children's books. I also remembered many details from my childhood while reading this book: like building forts with furniture and blankets and playing in my treehouse. Given its small format and short length (126 pages without references), this book would be an excellent supplementary text to prompt much discussion in a children's lit class.
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