Chapter Summaries 4 (pp. 141-172)

Raychel Trevino ~ LSSL 5393 ~ Dr. Lesesne

Love 'em & Hate 'em

Critics are people who are paid to tell creators of works unique to their own imagination and creativity that they could do better. Many works of art, in any medium, including literature, can rise or fall at the hands of a critic. The works by Horatio Alger in the late 19th century is a testament to that. Critics stated that Alger's books lacked depth and literary quality. However, about 25 years later their sales were up again. Regardless of the critics negative take on these fantastical stories, preteens and teens love the adventure and mysteries within the book's covers. And awhile later, when their price came down to fifty cents a copy, the deal got even sweeter!

The Original Fancy Nancy

As much as critics wanted to convince readers that serials were not literary works of fiction, but superficial formulaic trash, the fans kept asking for more. Nancy Drew is a perfect example of a series that was not only popular but has longevity. It emerged during the Great Depression and is still in print today. Not only was the book a great escape during the bleak days of the Depression Era, Nancy herself was an example of a life lived free of female stereotypes and poverty.

Today Nancy's independent spirit is something unrealistic in the real world, so what's the attraction? Critics claim that she's just a commercialized product - and they mean that in the most negative sense of the word. However, a product is what her creator meant her to become, so the Stratemeyer Syndicate could only take the critics opinion as a compliment.

Clash of the Titles

In the early 20th Century when serial novels were selling like hotcakes, critics that up that point had been talking trash about these books decided to take a different approach. It was a case of catching more flies with honey. Instead of focusing on the negative of the serials, they decided to focus on the positive of quality selections being published at the same time. Publisher Weekly's editor began Book Week, an annual event that focused on better reading choices for children. Children's book rooms in public libraries were being established, and the first John Newberry Award was awarded. The adult public was beginning to understand that there was a difference between quick-write books and "literature." Apparently, no one bothered telling the kids. During an extensive survey conducted in 1926 that included 36 thousand children from 34 cities a whopping 98% had a favorite book written by a single author: Edward Stratemeyer.

Taking the Good with the Bad

The Horn Book, the first magazine to focus solely on children's books was edited by Bertha Mahony (later Miller). Twenty two years after its first publication Bertha wrote an article describing the purpose and role of a critic. She explained that critics not only emphasized weakness in works of children's literature but more importantly they highlight the excellence in them as well.

Reference: The Big Six Review Journals In Children's Literature

Be Your Own Best Critic

In today's world, there are plenty of places to go when trying to find quality children's books and book reviews. That wasn't the case in the early and even mid 20th Century. Children's book reviews were left up to a handful of highly qualified ladies, but it's important to mention that they were not always right - which is the case with most imperfect humans.

Today we have a lot more resources available to us when we are looking for book reviews, but the same truths that the ALA study in 1926 discovered are still true today: kids like what they like. Also, we have to rely on our gut instinct to decide whether a book is "good" or not. Just because they lack a gold foil seal on them doesn't mean they aren't going to please the young masses.

The Golden Era: Little Golden Books

After World War II, the atmosphere for Baby Boomers was one of calm. The Little Golden books emerged, and parents loved their price tag, and children loved their vibrant illustrations and cute stories. No one knew what the critics thought, because no one asked their opinions. They weren't too happy about that, and The Little Golden Books were not the golden child for experts. However, as we have seen in the past, it mattered little - they sold tons.

It Was Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times - For Critics That Is...

In the 1960's and 1970's, critics' jobs became even more difficult. In the past they could usually at least agree with each other most of the time, but then came books that turned all that around. Harriet the Spy was one that was despised by some critics and loved by others. How was the public supposed to know what to think with opposing reviews? The "new age" books were difficult to critic and the "old school" books that critics loved were still hated by kids. It was a classic case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Let Me Tell YOU Something...

Making our way to the 21st Century, we have a whole new set of critics.. Let me introduce you. Their names are: Everybody. Thanks to sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and even book store sites like Barnes & Noble, everybody has a voice and is able to use it. Kids can log on and tell everyone willing to read their comments whether a book was good or not, how many stars it deserves, and whether is was in investment or waste of precious time in their young lives.


Bird, B., Danielson, J., & Sieruta, P. D. (n.d.). Wild things!: Acts of mischief in children's literature.