A writer and critic with a firm grasp on her subject, an acute eye for talent, and a sure prose style, Selma Lanes was the grande dame of children’s literature. She wrote the definitive book on Maurice Sendak, and her essays and articles on children’s books and their creators have almost single-handedly raised critical standards for the entire field. Like her previous collection, Down the Rabbit Hole, her new book includes classic essays on the masters she admires most: Sendak, Steig, Gorey, L. Frank Baum, Zemach, Rowling, and others.
What concerned Lanes most was the integration of text and image, the abilities of authors and artists of picture books to somehow change our perceptions. In a larger sense, she asked, “What makes some children’s books work and others fail? How does art for the young reflect, distort or create a social perspective?” Earlier she observed, “With the possible exception of advertising and film, no popular medium in our time has been as experimental, inventive, and simply alive as children’s books.”
In the present atmosphere of mergers and corporate conglomerates that now define “mainstream publishing,” she wondered if this remains true. Is the field still dominated, as formerly, by a devoted cadre of geniuses able to spot and encourage talent, willing to take risks, and ferocious in their desire to bring children the best that authors and illustrators have to offer? This book provided her answers, as well as affectionate salutes to the writers and artists whose work deserves to be remembered.
With lilting voice and great enjoyment, Lanes brings us deliciously closer to the works and processes of William Steig, E.B.White, and others through personal musings [and penetrating criticism] full of both romance and pragmatism.