Wild Things doesn’t have much of an argument to make other than its premise that we should take children’s literature seriously, which I think many people already do, and yet the book succeeds wonderfully, not so much as an argument but as an eccentric essay, and an emanation of spirit ... But as a consistently intelligent and funny companion, Handy offers considerably more than charismatic trivia ... The Handy children’s appearances are brief but disproportionately memorable. Just as almost all kids’ books, with their frequent appearances by talking animals, are part emotional masquerade, Wild Things, too, is in disguise. It reads as a companionable romp through all the stories you sometimes tire of reading to your own children. But like The Runaway Bunny, it’s really a gently obsessive tale, a man gathering up so many words and ideas as if to create a magical stay against his own children growing up.
...a charming, discursive encounter with classic children’s literature from the perspective of a parent ... For parents who are embarking on this phase of rediscovery, for those in the thick of it, and for those for whom it is a warm and recent memory, Wild Things will be a delightful excursion. Mr. Handy writes with zip, sincerity and good humor. He has a gift for witty phrasing ... engaging and full of genuine feeling.
Handy does not offer a kind of string theory for the universe of children’s classics, trying to reconcile competing visions of what motivated their authors or what makes kids respond to them. If you ever wondered, for example, why a surprising number of children’s authors are childless, do not look for theories here. Instead, Wild Things is relaxed, discursive and personal, a survey course centering on the writers to whom Handy especially responds ... The result is very pleasing to read, when it isn’t frustratingly glib, which I regret to report is too often. Why the members of Handy’s brain trust didn’t tell him to cut out the excessive antics, I have no clue ... Handy quotes liberally from each book he admires, and he curates those passages beautifully, allowing readers both literary pleasure and a kind of time travel. His analyses are affectionate and often eccentric. He’s got a magpie’s eye for odd and shiny details ... One of Handy’s strengths is that his brain tends toward unlikely analogies. But as the book goes on, these analogies increasingly become a tiresome nervous tic. After making a series of clever observations, Handy can’t resist capping them with a silly hat.
...a terrific rumpus of a journey into the world of illustrated and young reader classics that Maurice Sendak grumpily termed 'Kiddiebookland,' and Dr. Seuss teasingly called 'brat books' ... Early on, it becomes evident where Handy is heading, toward the greatest mystery of all: death...Unfortunately, Wild Things never really answers where all this death comes from. Is it rooted in the fantastical grimness of the Brothers Grimm? Does the fact that so many children’s authors remained childless (Brown, Sendak, Seuss, Louisa May Alcott) have something to do with it?
...a clear-eyed and often hilarious deep dive into some old standbys of children’s literature. Though it would be easy to fall into either rapture or diatribe, Handy treats his literary subjects like family members, with admiration and infuriation and love. He’s a perceptive and affable close reader ... Though it’s a fun journey, it’s a little unclear whom this book is for: Handy is an editor at Vanity Fair, not a children’s literature scholar, and it sometimes shows. He hasn’t chosen to include the opinions of any children other than his own, and a side consequence of his endearingly conversational tone is occasional thoughtlessness ... Handy might have consulted any of the prominent children’s librarians who would be ready to share their insights. Given that Handy is publishing a book about children’s literature, not discussing it at the dinner table, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that he look a little deeper when his own perspective runs dry. His argument for why he hasn’t included any books from the current boom in children’s literature (except for occasional asides about Harry Potter) similarly feels arbitrary and thin. Like the adoring fan he is, though, Handy brings out the best sides of the books he describes. Maybe the greatest effect of Wild Things is to recover the full power of books that have been diminished in popular perception.
Handy’s brief but deeply satisfying survey of children’s literature marries curiosity, humor, and downright excitement ... Wild Things is not comprehensive in breadth, but Handy’s research – into the authors, their literature, and the history of the genre – makes for a read suitable with feet propped up and a comfortable chair. You’ll be there for a while ... Handy delivers with this witty and engaging survey of some treasured childhood classics. Wild Things showcases the universality of children’s literature, the best of which inspires readers of all ages.
Bruce Handy's generous, warm voice is just the kind you would want reading you bedtime stories. His style is emotional and intuitive, with pleasant jolts of irreverence ... Where he lacks, he is sensible and generous enough to point elsewhere, citing Alison Lurie, Joan Acocella, and others, lavishly. Indeed, the bibliography is a mine of such good essays that it threatens to overtake his own book – and his chapter on fairy tales often feels like a rehash of Acocella's essay on the same subject. But nevertheless, Wild Things has a consistent sweetness and spontaneity that make it satisfying even when the ideas are familiar.
…[a] knowledgeable and charming book … There's much more to enjoy here, in chapters about Beatrix Potter and Beverly Cleary, L. Frank Baum and E.B. White. Even if you're a parent at the point of thinking the thousandth reading of Goodnight Moon might just drive you crazy, Wild Things can show you something new in it.
Wild Things is presented as a smart look at children’s literature by a lifelong reader who loved books as a child and rediscovered them as a parent. It is that, and it does make some serious points about fantasy and death and how children use reading to learn critical thinking and find a place in the world. But what it’s really about is a series of opinionated profiles of the Kid Lit pantheon ... The opinionated, biography-with-zingers approach plays to Handy’s strengths as an editor for Vanity Fair and a former writer for Saturday Night Live and is great fun for those interested in colorful facts about their favorite children’s book authors ... Handy gives his favorite children’s books a close reading and uncovers one shiny nugget after another about the men and women who wrote them. His book doesn’t hang together, but to hear him tell it, Treasure Island and its 'unfollowable plot' don’t either.
A book like this is difficult to write and can be even more difficult to find an audience for. To succeed, the tone must be informative but not pedantic, and Handy nails it, displaying a highly engaging prose style that showcases an impressive ebb and flow of sentence structure and delicate mix of information and entertainment. The author expertly employs his experience as an editor and writer, mingling personal anecdotes with literary history and social commentary ... As well-researched as it is seamlessly composed, this book entertains as it educates.
...[a] spirited, perceptive, and just outright funny account ... Biographical sketches of the authors complement thematic analyses of their works. Interestingly, most of the authors profiled here had no children of their own, but nonetheless had a great understanding of children’s feelings and viewpoints. 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.