Emily's Reviews > Magic Kingdoms: Discovering the Joys of Childhood Classics with Your Child

Magic Kingdoms by Regina Higgins
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it was ok
bookshelves: child-lit-studies

Regina Higgins' survey of classic, mostly British, books from the "Golden Age" of children's literature (roughly from Alice in Wonderland in the 19th century, to Winnie the Pooh in the 1920s, with C.S. Lewis thrown in as an honorary member of the club) dissatisfied me. Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of books about children's literature, guide books for parents, and literary criticism for scholars. This book aims for both targets and doesn't hit either.

It is ostensibly addressed to parents (and actually written in the second person; phrases like "as you read this book with your child..." abound) but as a guidebook it is inadequate because of the narrow focus on a handful of world-famous books that any parents who care about their child's reading are almost certainly already familiar with. Well and good that Winnie the Pooh, Mole and Ratty, and Peter Pan et al. will lead one's children into a magic kingdom where they will find "the inner strength to meet the challenges of a new world, and in imagination prepare for the adventure that awaits in reality -- the adventure of growing up..." What if you're anxious to discover as yet unknown books -- and lots of them -- for an insatiable book-worm? What if your picky reader develops an aversion to Narnia? Sometimes we parents just need long comprehensive lists of books grouped by age.

Of course I can't but agree that the classics are classic for a reason. These are wonderful books, and Higgins is eager to tell us why, which brings us to the literary criticism part of the book. There are some insights to be found here, but for the most part the analysis consists of pages and pages of plot summary reminiscent Cliff's notes, and again, it makes me wonder who this book is for. If we've already read the books, we know what takes place in them, and if we haven't, and dutifully intend to read them to our children, why spoil the stories so very thoroughly?

In general, I can't fault Higgins' enthusiasm for the kingdoms and gardens of these books, "places set apart for the cultivation of young life, a natural landscape where the essential self can blossom and grow." I was just hoping for something more to sink my teeth into.
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