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Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  72 reviews
An animated first-time history of the visionaries--editors, authors, librarians, booksellers, and others--whose passion for books has transformed American childhood and American culture

What should children read? As the preeminent children’s literature authority, Leonard S. Marcus, shows incisively, that’s the three-hundred-year-old question that sparked the creation of a r
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Houghton Mifflin
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3.81  · 
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 ·  249 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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May 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a review certainly, but it is also a look at how librarians fit within Marcus's take on the publishing industry, past and present. When you are aware of your own personal worldview, it makes sense to interpret the books that fall into your lap with that view at the forefront of your mind. FYI.

Beware setting yourself up as a guardian of the moral and cultural growth of children, for lo thou shalt be kicked in the rear historically as a result. As a children's librarian there's a wide swat
Barb Middleton
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Writer Lucy Boston describes editor, Margaret K. McElderry, "...she sailed forth, leaving me feeling like waste paper after royalty had passed." This awestruck comment gives a glimpse of publishing history during the early 1900's that reflects a time when editors had more authority and nurtured fledgling authors to create close relationships that inspired loyalty to each other that lasted throughout their careers. This editorial relationship and the evolution of bookselling is revealed over 300 ...more
I only skimmed the first several chapters (did librarians really see themselves as guardians and protectors of childhood in decades past?) and read through the last half of the chapter on the 1970s and the chapter on the 1990s.

I didn't get much out of it, mainly because I can't keep the various publishing houses and their imprints straight. There were people who were incredibly influential in bringing children's literature to where it is now (mostly booksellers who I've never heard of before).
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.
May 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: children's literature lovers also interested in history or publishing industry
This book was featured in Instructor a few years back. I was excited to read it, but was a little let down when I finally got it. I had hoped that the book would focus more on authors and texts than it did, but if I had looked at the title and blurb more closely I would have known not to expect that. I read the first 20 pages or so, then skipped ahead to the chapter on the 50's. I read about half of that. Soon, the due date for the book was approaching, so I skipped head to the last chapter that ...more
Jake Rideout
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Finally! FINALLY!

After a mere 2.5 months, I finally managed to finish this book. While it was rich with information that a person like me (school librarian, former bookseller, and Children's Lit Fellow) should have stored in her mental arsenal, the delivery was at times a little dry. Okay, a LOT dry. I will admit to skimming entire pages as I slogged through the 40's and 50's.

This book works best if you already have a decent working knowledge of publishers and their major titles from the last 50
May 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is so good. He shapes a coherent narrative from the disparate strands of how children's literature came to be in the US, and the redoubtable and remarkable women (and a few men) who made it happen. The grace of his prose never falters, and he tells the story as it happened. It was marvelous to see the women whose names I knew only as giants in the field, and those I had the privilege of knowing personally, come to vivid life (and work) in these pages.
Librarians, teachers, scholars, people w
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, just-for-fun
Even though on first glance this might seem like a book just for "library nerd" types, I truly think anyone who has ever enjoyed childrens books would enjoy this, well, history of children's books. Tales of librarians, and how we got our "we know better than you do what you want to read" reputation. Watching publihsers go from publishing no childrens material to some to making bank off of it.
My favorite anecdote is how the early publicity for "Pat the Bunny" actually name checked Hemingway. And
Tony DiTerlizzi
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating history of children's publishing in America from the early colonists' printing presses to Harry Potter. Highly recommended for anyone thinking of entering (or active) in the field.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
This was a textbook for a graduate class, and I hated it. Not only is the writing so-so, the drudgery with which the facts are portrayed makes an interesting history seem incredibly boring. Additionally, he bounces back and forth in time so much that it’s hard to keep track of when things occurred. The chapters are linear, but within them, the events are not placed in sequential order. Such a frustrating read.
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive history of children's literature in America, starting from the founding of the New England colonies to J.K. Rowling's third Harry Potter book.

The author does a great job of tying the cultural trends in different periods with the kind of childrens books that are published. For instance, the second page of the chapter on the 1950s (called "Fun and Fear") has a quote from a cultural anthropologist, Martha Wolfenstein, which goes, ".... from having dreaded impulses and being worried
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
From the New England Primer to Harry Potter. Marcus covers both the business side of things--from the days with no international copyright law, where Americans could publish Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll without giving them a dime, to the rise of women in publishing as maternal keepers of the children's book departments, and the spawning and eventual conglomeration of all the familiar houses: Simon & Schuster (who started their own company because, as Jews, they were excluded fro ...more
May 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ursula-nordstrom
Leonard Marcus lives in Brooklyn and I wish he would invite me to dinner so that I could check out his bookshelves and we could talk about children's books all night long. This is the history of American kidlit and the stories of the publishers and librarians who decided what American children should be reading. Marcus has a real knack for plopping the reader right into each time period and for making me interested fascinated with so many of these "minders." I've always been a kidlit enthusiast ...more
Harold Underdown
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Minders of Make-Believe tells the story of children's book publishing in the United States from Colonial times to the mid-1990's. It's the only book available on the subject, and it's excellent.

Contents of Minders of Make-Believe: Two chapters cover the period from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th. The story then jumps forward to a chapter about the 1920's, when the first specialist children's book editors and imprints appeared. Then the story continues with chapters about each deca
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Marcus has written a very interesting history of publishing English books for children in the United States from the 1690 New England Primer to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in July 2000. The twentieth century, when publishers first appointed knowledgeable women editors to begin and run specialized children’s imprints, gets the most coverage. As the subtitle advertises, the debates in the field supply the story’s plot: should books for children be educational or ent ...more
Oct 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I did learn some new things in this history of children's literature in America, starting with the fact that the Puritans only allowed Biblical reading because anything else was considered frivolous. Many influences were touched upon--social, political, religious, educational, international--but none were treated with any real depth or detail. Instead there seemed to be endless and minute discussion of publishers, editors, and the political intrigue of that world; this focus was just not that co ...more
Sep 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting overview of the children's publishing business, from its development in the 18th century to the present. I expected to skim through this book, and did for quite a bit of it, but I was pleasantly surprised at how often the clear, intelligent writing compelled me to actually read and enjoy. I would have appreciated more content in the book's final chapter, from 1980 through 2000, when editorial decisions became so heavily influenced by buyers at the big book chains. I work in children' ...more
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really 4.5 stars. Chock full of amazing details about nearly three hundred years of American history, Marcus's book--for a writer, former teacher, and book junky like me--made as compelling reading as a novel.

Having read a couple of his other books, which focused more tightly on specific figures in the history of children's books, I expected lots of anecdotes and so on, and this book had then aplenty. In addition, readers will find a wide historical sweep that explains all sorts of phenomena--pa
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: rabid kiddie-lit fans
In short, this book covers the "allied realms of librarianship, bookselling, and criticism." (p.104)

Here are some tidbits I enjoyed.
1. How the Newbery and Caldecott Awards got started.
2. The buzz about The Story of Ferdinand when it was published. People said it was obviously a commentary on the Spanish Civil War, but the author and illustrator had no such intention.
3. The controversy between fairy tales(fantasy) versus the familiar(realism) for the youngest children.
4. How a notable librari
Jun 17, 2008 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
I enjoyed this book very much. You should understand that it is a history of publishing for children, discussing the various editors, houses, and mergers of the last 200 years. I really enjoyed recognizing some of the now-deceased imprints of my childhood (Harper and Brothers > Harper and Row > HarperCollins, for example; Houghton Mifflin and HBJ, which recently joined to become HMH) and it was quite exciting to read about the birth of the paperback lines such as Dell Yearling that formed ...more
Mar 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this book, based solely on the title. Unfortunately, it didn't even come close--I couldn't get past chapter two. What I would have done if I had written this book: included a lot more cultural context, gone into depth about what the old children's literature was about and compared it to today's, and included pictures! It's one thing to describe the awesomeness of some of the old engravings, and another thing completely to include examples of how illustrations changed over ti ...more
Jun 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: children's librarians
I now have a rather thorough understanding of the history of children's book publishing in the United States. At times I felt bogged down by details such as exactly where an editor's office was located, but I recognize that the author was providing a scholarly look at the industry and was writing a resource for students of this topic.

It was especially interesting to learn how children's librarians and editors worked rather closely together to attempt to meet their perceived needs of children. Th
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
A compelling read for anyone invested in the business of children's literature (probably not so much for those who aren't). I found it hard to slog through the first chapter or so, as children's books were just emerging, because they felt a bit like a laundry list of names at times. (Still, was very interested to see the major role played in early NYC printing by Quakers...) By the time Marcus hits the late 1800s though the book became much more of a page turner for me. I learned a lot I never k ...more
Lee Anne
Aug 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
So I didn't read every word on every page, but I got what I wanted out of it. This is focused more on the publishers and editors who shaped children's literature, and I wanted more stories of the authors and controversies behind their famous books. It was mildly interesting, though. But he spelled Danielle Steel's name wrong, which is such an easy thing to check, so boo. I think people think she should have that extra "e" on the end because it makes her name look more romance-novel-y, honest to ...more
Jun 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
This book doubles as the history of women as heads of publishing houses in America. This history ranges from the end of the nineteenth century to the Potter age. Chapter by chapter, decade by decade, the book keeps track of what was published by whom, and what book turned the industry on its head this time. This was apparently 14 years in the making, which explains why the last chapter pretty much goes like this: "Reagan was elected and he cut all the funding to schools, then Harry Potter was pu ...more
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at the history of children's book publishing in the U.S. I muddled through the first couple chapters but once Marcus swung into the 20th century, the book really took off for me. It's incredible to see how kids' books, children's sections in bookshops, and children's rooms in public libraries are all very recent conceptions. I'm so grateful I was born in a time when publishers and creators of books for kids were in full flourish -- and when children and their reading lives wer ...more
Jesse Bornemann
Leonard Marcus is not Robert Louis Stevenson or J.K. Rowling - don't read this book expecting daring-do or wandplay, though there's a fair amount of battling between rival bands (e.g. librarians and serial authors). Marcus is a historian, not a novelist - and "Minders of Make-Believe" reads like a no-frills timeline. Worthwhile if you're in the publishing industry, or a hardcore devotee of traditional kid lit. Ends abruptly with Harry P. and without any commentary on the future of children's rea ...more
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is vastly entertaining as well as immensely informative. Marcus is a great storyteller and I particularly enjoyed various machinations of stalwart editors (most of them women) as they operated above and below the radar in the major houses during the 20s 40s and 50s. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in American children's literature (which should include any American former children who use goodreads).
Jun 12, 2008 rated it liked it
A review of children's literature in the United States and the forces that shaped it. Lots of good narratives about authors and publishers, and changing understandings of childhood over time. Good stuff in this book, but it was much more dense than I was expecting--and after keeping this book overdue from the library for several weeks I finally returned it only half-read. The chapters I stuck through were worth the effort, so maybe I'll give finishing it a try some other time.
If I were teaching a children's literature course for a graduate program, I would use this book! It's that good but it also reads a lot like a textbook so I found it challenging to read at night when I was already tired. I probably should have brought this one with me when I traveled to Texas from Rhode Island last month but I hate the bulk of a hardcover book and the worry over the possibility of losing a library book!
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Leonard S. Marcus is one of the world's leading writers about children's books and their illustrations. His many books include The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy; Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy; Dear Genius; and others. His essays, interviews, and reviews appear in the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. Leonard S. Marcus lives in Br ...more