John Rowe Townsend,
Written for Children
(1965; Harper, 1990)

Readers who enjoy children's literature have any number of overviews available to them, but few are as lucidly composed as Written for Children, Townsend's comprehensive overview of English-language children's literature. Townsend is not only a well-established critic of children's literature, he is the author of a number of books for children and young adults. His frank and personal commentary engages the reader in a way that no scholarly criticism can. Since its first publication in 1965, Townsend's book has been revised four times, and this, the most recent edition, marks its 25th anniversary. Certainly, this is a testament to the power and relevance of his writing and analysis.

Townsend divides the history into four parts: before 1840, 1840 to 1915, 1915 to 1945 and 1945 to 1989. These divisions mark significant shifts in the development of children's literature. With each division, he examines different trends and philosophies in writing for children, as well as specific genres, where appropriate. At times, he considers separately developments in British and American literature and does not neglect Canadian and Australian authors.

Townsend's commentary is lively, straightforward, articulate and laced with dry humor. His opinions are clearly his own, and he will not hesitate to offer thoughtful criticism on books proclaimed as unqualified classics. He knows what he likes, and he doesn't mind telling you. His enthusiasm is infectious, and it will be a rare reader who can resist the urge to head for the nearest library's children's room, Written for Children in hand, to search for the treasures he recommends. Townsend writes with certainty and authority -- even about his own books.

In addition to meticulous chapter notes, Townsend provides a 10 1/2-page bibliography of what he indicates includes only books that were consulted and found helpful for the purposes of his study. The bibliography is a treasure trove for anyone serious about the study of children's literature. Finally, a detailed index provides quick access to those who can't wait for chronology to see what Townsend has to say about their personal childhood favorites.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 30 May 1999

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