Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, which I wrote with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, has hit bookshelves.
I’ve already spoken about the book at more than one conference in more than one state, and I always like to tell folks about author-illustrator Trina Schart Hyman. She was an act of mischief all her own.
Our book, you see, sets out to dispel the cute-and-fluffy notion of children’s literature – the idea, that is, that
a) children’s books need to be only sweet and edifying and
b) that the people who write and illustrate them live the lives of angels (or need to).
And if you’re going to take a look at any one author who flew in the face of such notions, it’s Trina. To say that she wasn’t afraid to stir up controversy doesn’t quite capture her work. I think that she simply made the books she wanted to make and didn’t pander to the gatekeepers of our field. Sure, she snuck in some shocking things (giving an all-new meaning, for one, to the phrase “naked furniture,” as you’ll read about in our book), so I think a part of her must have been like a mischievous kid, just wanting to have a little fun.
And when we set out to include a portion of our book that highlights those things that authors and illustrators slipped into their books in the name of mischief, we soon discovered that Trina had all the best stories.
One of our favorite stories includes a macabre moment of revenge – in the form of an illustrated tombstone. Trina was as fearless, it seems, as she was talented.
(She was awarded Caldecott Honors in the years 1984, 1990, and 2000. And she won the Caldecott Medal in 1985 for Saint George and the Dragon.)
And yet another story involving Trina (a.k.a. Slim Hyman) that, sadly, we had to cut from our book?
It’s at our Wild Things! site, a blog we created to accompany the book. The site includes stories that were cut from the original manuscript. (The stories were cut merely due to length; we initially turned in a manuscript much longer than it needed to be.) That story can be read here and includes Newbery author Lois Lowry (a.k.a. Twinkles), who submitted the tale.
Trina and her shenanigans. We left the writing of Wild Things! thinking that someone, somewhere should write a biography of this intriguing woman.
Hmm … Next project?
Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Adult Interest)
Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson
$22.99, 288 pages, 14 years & up
Secret lives, scandalous turns, and some very funny surprises—these essays by leading kids’ lit bloggers take us behind the scenes of many much-loved children’s books.
Did Laura Ingalls cross paths with a band of mass murderers? Why was a Garth Williams bunny tale dubbed “integrationist propaganda”? For adults who are curious about children’s books and their creators, here are the little-known stories behind the stories. A treasure trove of information for a student librarian or new parent, or for anyone wondering about the post–Harry Potter book biz, Wild Things!contains the disseminated knowledge and research of three respected and popular librarian-bloggers. Told in affectionate and lively prose, with numerous never-before-collected anecdotes, this book chronicles the major feuds and fights, errors and secret messages found in books, and brings contemporary illumination to the fuzzy bunny world we think we know.
Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and is the author ofGiant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In addition to writing for The Horn Book magazine, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production.
Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews, and in her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and / or interviewed hundreds of top names in picture books. Julie Danielson lives in Tennessee.
Peter D. Sieruta (1958–2012) was an author, book critic, and frequent reviewer for The Horn Book magazine. His blog, Collecting Children’s Books, served as inspiration for his contributions to Wild Things!