January 15, 2018 | Charlotte Donlon

In Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy explores classic children’s books, engages their critics, and provides background information and details about the stories and their authors. Publishers Weekly says, “…Handy’s breezy, friendly style lends the book a bright feeling, as of old friends discussing old friends, and this book will surely leave its readers with a new appreciation for childhood favorites.” I agree with this take and recommend this book to anyone who enjoys children’s literature now or who might want to return to their favorite childhood stories.


In a chapter about fairy tales, Handy writes about how Grimms, Perrault, and others mimic reality as viewed through the eyes of children. Handy writes,


“…the profound strangeness of the new and the unfamiliar, the fear of lurking monsters and hidden evildoers, the seeming arbitrariness of adults’ demands, the supernatural assumptions about almost everything. When I was two or three, for instance, I thought the sun literally set on the other side of our neighbor’s house—and why wouldn’t I have? A little older, I believed our TV worked because there was a small troupe of actors living inside the set, performing Underdog and Captain Kangaroo just for me.” 


Handy says fairy tales grab the attention and imaginations of children because they make perfect sense to them. When real life seems kind of scary, it makes sense for kids to connect with fairy tales that are kind of scary.


In a chapter on Ramona Quimby (one of my favorites), Handy cautions readers to not limit Beverly Cleary’s achievement by calling her a realist. He writes:


“Her best books are gems of emotional insight and also, most important of all, they are very, very, funny, though never jokey—they’re comedies of manners for children. Cleary made me laugh at the age of eight and still makes me laugh nearly half a century later. Slapstick comedians aside, the only other person I can think of who has managed that is Charles Schulz.”


Handy examines several other authors and their books in Wild Things. Reading his own assessments and his well-researched analysis will surely inspire you to track down the books you read as a child and engage them again on this side of life.


Charlotte lives in Homewood with her husband and their two children. She’s earning an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, and she does freelance writing and copywriting. You can find her online at www.charlottedonlon.com, on Twitter at @charlottedonlon, and on Instagram at @charlottedonlon. You can sign up for her weekly email newsletter about reading, writing, and creativity via her website at charlottedonlon.com. Email newsletter subscribers are invited to participate in book giveaways, too. Feel free to contact Charlotte at charlotte@charlottedonlon.com with any questions or comments!