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Schoenecke, Michael, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
Behold the Child: American Children and Their Books 1621-1922. Gillian Avery. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1994.
If from the mouths of babes comes much wisdom, perhaps even more can come from the literature written for children by adults. And from a study of that literature by a sensitive, sensible interpreter of that literature. We have both in this superb study of American children and their books from the beginning to 1922. One of Avery's concerns is to demonstrate how the literary diet cooked up for American children was different from that ladled out to their English cousins. English children were taught to be a part of a group, a team, whereas American children were from the earliest days treated as little adults, were taught their accountability before God's bar of judgment and later were schooled in the individualism and self-development which characterized the American spirit to get ahead.
Avery looks at all the authors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries who wrote for children and evaluates their contributions. She analyzes and evaluates but never condescends to those authors whose contributions were not of first-rate quality. She is undoubtedly strongest when writing of the major writers of the 19th century because, in fact, their contributions may have been more literary. But throughout Avery writes in clear, direct and sensitive prose that is a pleasure to read. The book is doubly valuable in reproducing many of the fine illustrations which graced the original books. …