A Genuine Labour of Love

Review of Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult

In this informative, intriguing journey through children’s books, author Bruce Handy begins with the premise that “the best children’s literature is every bit as rich and rewarding in its concerns, as honest and stylish in execution, as the best adult literature – and also as complicated, stubborn, conflicted and mysterious. Like any worthwhile art, great children’s books are capable of speaking in many different ways to many different readers.”

When Handy, an accomplished journalist, became the father of Zoe and Isaac, he experienced an unexpected joy. As he read bedtime stories to his children, it was “like revisiting a favorite old neighborhood after many years and finding not only that it hadn’t been chain-stored into submission or paved over altogether, but that it was far more interesting and complex than I knew.”

Handy’s goal in writing Wild Things was more than just sharing his joy at rediscovering children’s books. He hoped also to show why he and other adults have loved the books they loved; how the political, social and personal contexts of the authors’ lives shaped what they created; what the books themselves meant to the authors and illustrators; and ways in which the authors and their books fail, often due to cultural blind spots in their worldviews.

This reviewer was particularly interested in reading the chapter entitled “God and Man in Narnia,” and to discover how Handy, an avowed unbeliever, was yet influenced by C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.

It is clear throughout Wild Things that it is, as Handy says, “a genuine labour of love.”  

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