Fuse #8

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Children's Books That Defined an Era

When The Guardian requested that readers vote on the books that defined each successive era of the 20th century, that got Monica Edinger thinking. Asked she recently:

"...would it be possible (or has it been done already?) to come up with similarly defining children’s books of the various 20th century decades?"


My boss came up with the following:
1900s: Wizard of Oz
1910s: Anne of Green Gables
1920s: Millions of cats
1930s: Caddie Woodlawn
1940s: Curious George
1950s: Cat in the Hat
1960s: Snowy Day
1970s: A tossup between Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret and The Outsiders
1980s: Arnold Lobel’s Fables
1990s: Harry Harry Harry [he means Mr. Potter]
2000s: Man Who Walked Between the Towers
Not bad. Not bad at all. I mean, it really all comes down to how you want to define said eras. If you want to show how the course of children's literature has changed over the years, this is a darn good collection. Personally, my sole objections lie with the 80s and 2000s. My boss explained that Fables was one of the few titles he was familiar with that really delved into the notion of making fables accessible in a quite format (or something to that effect). As for Gerstein's book, it's impossible to get a hold on changes in kidlit publishing in this particular century. I might opt for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus since Mr. Mo is particularly good at wrangling the old marketing machine. Pigeon sort of defines how it is that we're selling books to kids these days. But if I wanted to be snarky, I guess I could find a book covered head to toe in glitter and spangles and say that IT was the defining book (The Fancy Nancy ripoffs, perhaps?) but I could never be so cruel.

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At 12:36 AM , Blogger T.S. said...

Ah, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz...my not-so-secret obsession! *drool*

At 8:36 AM , Blogger Monica Edinger said...

Hope those interested come by to weigh in. (Betsy, you too!) I've responded to John's comment with one of my own. The specific post is at:

At 1:27 PM , Blogger MotherReader said...

You know, I'd give the 2000's to Harry Potter - even though the first book came out in 1997, because the book didn't get the chance to shape much of the 1990's.

Then I'd give the 1990's to Junie B. Jones/Magic Tree House which I think shaped the way series were used and marketed.

At 5:12 PM , Blogger Brooke said...

I don't know . . . If I were going to choose a book to represent the '60s, I'd have to go with either Where the Wild Things Are (1963) or Harriet the Spy (1964).

That's right -- Sendak's anarchistic monsters came out the same year Kennedy was assasinated, and seems almost like a harbinger of an era when American society was on the verge losing its collective mind.

Meanwhile, Fitzhugh's novel was the first to portray chidhood not as a special, magical time, but as one of deep unfairness, when parents sometimes drink and put their kids in therapy.

Progressivism, counterculture, postmodern alienation, and a bit of psychedalia -- what else can you ask for from the 1960s?

At 10:42 PM , Blogger Jenny Han said...

For the 80s, I'd go with Berenstain Bears.

At 9:49 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Well certainly Harriet and Wild Things were indicative of the social climate of the 60s, sure. But if we're talking about kidlit trends and significant moments, there's no contesting The Snowy Day. I mean, it may not look very 60s, but it redefined the entire industry, broke barriers, etc. etc.

At 12:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Pigeon sort of defines how it is that we're selling books to kids these days."

Wish you'd take some time to expound on this a bit. What exactly do you mean by it? Put it in a new post--I think it's an important enough question to warrant a full posting!


At 3:14 PM , Blogger L. Diane Wolfe said...

I agree that the Harry Potter books should be more 2000s.
And not to take away from Fables, but the Choose Your Own Adventure books really did a lot for the 80s.

At 8:43 PM , Blogger Sarah Stevenson said...

I agree, I'm not sure about the 80s choice, especially since I was still a child in the (early/mid) 80s and seeing the title just made me go "huh?" Jenny's suggestion is a good one. When I think about it, though, I guess a lot of the books I read as a child were published earlier...Ramona Quimby comes to mind, as does Superfudge...


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