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Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  337 ratings  ·  42 reviews
In sixteen spirited essays, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alison Lurie, who is also one of our wittiest and most astute cultural commentators, explores the world of children's literature--from Lewis Carroll to Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain to Beatrix Potter--and shows that the best-loved children's books tend to challenge rather than uphold respectable adult values. ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 20th 1998 by Back Bay Books (first published March 24th 1990)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star, non-fiction, 2013
Read in one sitting and late into the night because it was SO MCUH FUN, although, yes, uneven, and difficult to follow in places if one hasn't read the original books. Children's literature (Lurie says) runs under the radar, and the authors of children's literature often possess the same attribute, being commonly women; they are able to critique the social world, the world of adulthood, in a way that only outsiders can do.

They are able to get away it because they are only women, and their stori
Destinee Sutton
For me, this book didn't live up to its title. Sure, it's kind of about "the subversive power of children's literature," but it's actually mostly about the biographies of certain children's authors and how certain children's stories are archetypes for adult literary fiction. And it's not a cohesive book at all. It's a series of essays that were probably originally intended for lit crit mags. When Lurie does address subversiveness, it's usually historical (the book was published in 1990, so I did ...more
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who love books
Recommended to Katie by: A fellow student in Lurie's class on Folklore
Shelves: favorites
Back in the day, this book was subtitled "Subversive Children's Literature," which I think is more a propos. But maybe someone didn't like the double entendre. The chapter on "The Folklore of Childhood" (which is in my edition, if not the current one) certainly suggests that children are pretty subversive, with their jumprope rhymes about sex and booze, and their pervasive myths about the adult world, and this certainly squares with my own memories pretty well.

Certainly my own favorite childhoo
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, british
My favorite quotation from the book: "The Secret Garden is the story of two unhappy, sickly, overcivilized children who achieve health and happiness through a combination of communal gardening, mystical faith, daily exercises, encounter-group-type confrontation, and a health-food diet." I think this book is mistitled, but I recommend it to people who are interested in Victorian life & literature. There are some amazing biographical facts about J.M. Barrie, John Ruskin and so on. There is also a ...more
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was recommended to me someplace when I thought I wanted to be a children's author, and it was a tremendous inspiration to me then. However! It's a brilliant read regardless. Very enlightening. ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was clicking and clicking trying to find an image of the right cover and therefore the right edition. I forgot that this came from an academic library and had no dustjacket. Doh.

Library copy
Nov 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay, non-fiction
This was an uneven book which I still mostly enjoyed reading. Most chapters are about individual authors, the big names of childrens' lit. The rest is inconsistent analysis of past and present. Most conclusions I disagreed with, but I was pleased that the author while standing by her own claims, didn't automatically try to trash other viewpoints. On the other hand, she regards older standards of literature as having a form of contrivance to them but then ignores that more modern lit also has its ...more
Lisa Houlihan
Jun 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf, afemale, lang-lit-read
Alison Lurie's collection of essays is entertaining and at times thought-provoking, but mostly her analyses were too Freudian for me. And inconsistent: she says death was absent from children's literature until the 20th century. In context, it's possible she meant absent in the first half of that century, but she's not clear and says this just after mentioning Little Women. People die left and right in Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L.M. Montgomery, and Elizabeth Enright, and even N ...more
Sep 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub, non-fiction
It took a while to get into the book. Despite the title each chapter was devoted more to a mini-biolgraphy of children's author who wrote works that weren't the "norm" for the times. They did talk about the books but at times it seemed the "subversive" part was a stretch. Granted that could be our society has changed quite a bit since some of these novels came out. I'll warn you the chapters dedicated to the first 1-2 authors weren't as interesting and in one case disturbing so I'd advise to sti ...more
Jeff Lewonczyk
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book in pieces over two and a half months, which turned out to be a good strategy for what is essentially a collection of reviews and essays from a span of years. Though not written as a single cohesive argument, the presence is that children's literature has a long tradition of embedding values and messages that stand at odds with mainstream culture - anti-authoritarian thoughts, altered gender roles, etc. Lurie introduced me to some interesting new authors I'm looking into reading ...more
Debby Zigenis-Lowery
I found the first two-thirds of this book fascinating with Lurie's detailed discussion of early authors in the the field of children's literature. However, when I hit the chapter on Tolkien (and T.H. White), I was taken somewhat aback. While I love and admire White as Lurie does, I found her discussion of Tolkien shallow and disappointing. It seems clear she has not made a close study of Tolkien's writing, and it undercut the trust I had for her discussion of the earlier authors and her basic pr ...more
Oct 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting but, as I've learned about Lurie, full of silly flaws - she rebukes Ford Maddox Ford for writing too much because he needed to earn a living but has no problem with Frances Hodgson Burnett for doing the same thing - she paints Ruskin as a predator but doesn't tarnish JM Barrie who was much worse in many ways - I find her readings often superficial but still there is something worthwhile in her endeavour to bring a serious critical eye to children's literature in pieces mostly written ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I find Ms. Lurie's claim that she just couldn't find any American children's authors (in the year 1990) whose works suitably showed the subversive trends she was writing about somewhat spurious. No mention of Beverly Cleary and puckish Ramona? No discussion of Marguerite Henry and her animal stories? No Laura Ingalls Wilder and her subversive repackaging of her autobiography? Not even a passing mention of Gary Paulsen? Come on. ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology, education, kids
Lurie writes about the fact that many of the most beloved books in children's literature poke fun at, ridicule, or deeply question the culture that the book was written in. Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and many others have a subversive edge to them. I enjoy that and so I liked the book. ...more
Not as sensationalistic as the title suggests, this book describes mostly Victorian and Edwardian classics in children's literature and how they mocked the social mores of their day. I really enjoyed the chapters on fairy tales, as well as Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit, Pooh Bear, Kate Greenaway and John Ruskin. ...more
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Not a very deep examination and somewhat uneven. It's not light enough really to just be a popular piece, sometimes it veers into serious scholarship and sometimes it skims right through whole concepts.
But a good beginning. I was also conscious that most of my dislike came from how dated the approach now seems.
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A great and very interesting read for my FTTV research. Always trying to find information about children's television, and my hope was to find some ways to link the theories in this book to the television form. Anyway, totally wonderful, lots of fascinating biographical details of children's authors! ...more
Jul 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Different than I expected. It wasn't essays about the literature itself so much as the authors of subversive children's literature, but it was entertaining nonetheless. It inspired me to look for the some of the books mentioned. ...more
Thom Dunn
(2-11-2011) Amazon doesn't know "when or if" will be available. Listed as an import. Could it be a British title ?

Not mentioned at all in the Wikipedia article on Lurie....HOWEVER, the title of a children's book, Not in Front of the GROWN UPS, may be what the poster of this title intended ??
Elizabeth Bradley
Mar 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when this book is good, it's very, very good, but when it's not, it's ....plodding and academic. Still, I came away w/a new appreciation for Beatrix Potter - who knew she was a gifted botanist? - among other favorite authors... ...more
Mar 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grown-up-books
I really enjoyed this book on a variety of levels-- the professional, academic, reminscient, and of course, down right subervise sides of me all got something out of this work.
Chris Meger
Jun 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
I love the idea that children's stories are dangerous to the status quo. And thank god they are. This is a great book that adds a wonderful sub-text to pretty much the whole world. ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Little biographical and psychological sketches of well-known children's authors. Not as edgy as I'd hoped; closer to a series of lectures by a university professor on children's literature. ...more
Jun 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Nothing groundbreaking (though it's 20 years old and I've read a disproportionate amount of this sort of this), but quite good. Especially liked the chapters on Nesbit and Tolkien/White ...more
Elle Mill
Aug 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: children, non-fiction
A nice survey of the history of children's literature and collection of lesser known facts about famous children's authors, including Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, J. M. Barrie, and A. A. Milne. ...more
Alison Forde
Accessible text - worth a look.
Apr 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Lurie is a excellent critic and historian of children's books. These essays were a pleasure to thumb through. ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars.
You can definitely tell that this was originally published in 1990. The language is very academic and a little stiff. It helped me appreciate just how far nonfiction has come in the last 30 years.
Some of the essays are far better and more interesting than the others. My favorites were "Folktale Liberation," which talks quite a lot about the feminism that appeared in the original versions of many of the fairytales we know today; "Animal Liberation: Beatrix Potter"; "The Boy Who Couldn't
David Glenn Dixon
Lurie turned me on to A Game of Dark by William Mayne, back when we could still enjoy him, innocent of the knowledge that he was molesting his fans. At some point, I'll reread that book in light of later developments, as well as Lurie's chapter about it, looking for hints—I expect he'll turn out to be both monster and monstee. ...more
Robert Marsh
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
A bit dry and dull. Like reading a dissertation. Kind of light on subversive powers angle.
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Alison Lurie was a Pulitzer Prize–winning author of fiction, children's books and nonfiction.

Born in Chicago and raised in White Plains, New York, she joined the English department at Cornell University in 1970, where she taught courses on children’s literature, among others. Her first novel, Love and Friendship (1962), is a story of romance and deception among the faculty of a snowbound New Engl

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74 likes · 11 comments
“The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten.” 10 likes
“It is a curious thing that people only ask if you are enjoying yourself when you aren't.” 1 likes
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