My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although now somewhat dated in parts, and in others somewhat debateable, The Child and the Book is an epochal classic in the world of children’s literature criticism. Taking a psychological and reader-focused approach, Nicholas Tucker explores the differing attitudes of the child reader throughout growing up. His age-bracketed chapters finish with literature for older children (ages 11-14) and stand solidly against three more general chapters: one on fairy stories, myths and legends, another on selection, censorship and control and a final chapter on who reads children’s books.
Academic writing can often be spectacularly difficult to penetrate both to those in and out of the club, and it is to Tucker’s credit that he has produced a stylishly accessible – and fabulously intriguing – book. His chapters on the reader aged 0-3 particularly appealed though I’d love to have an argument over some of the generalisations posited here.
One thing to note is that The Child and the Book is now over thirty years old and, as is inevitable in such cases, has elements that have now dated. I’d welcome a revised edition taking in light some of the more current research – particularly in areas of emergent literacy and comics. Even with these faults however, Tucker’s work remains fascinating – and madly exciting.
As an introduction to the world of children’s literature, and a sympathetic look at reader-response theory, it’s hard to beat this. I’d recommend this alongside Maria Nikolajeva’s excellent The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature and also Perry Nodelman’s The Pleasures of Children’s Literature because these are books and authors that can’t help but excite you about the potential – and the depth – of children’s literature.