In Which I am Irritated by a Review

Did anyone else read this review by Laura Miller of Leonard Marcus’s Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature? I haven’t read the book, but I have read Leonard Marcus’ edited collection of Ursula Nordstrum’s letters, Dear Genius, and his biography of Margaret Wise Brown, Awakened by the Moon, both of which I found fascinating. What little I know about the history of children’s book publishing industry in New York City I learned from those two books.

So I was excited to see that Marcus has a new book out and read the review eagerly. And, well, it was my least favourite kind of review, one that bitches about the book under review not being the book they were hoping for:

What probably strikes many people as the most fascinating aspect of the history of children’s literature in America—the children, and the literature itself—takes a back seat to editors and reviewers, printers and magazines, libraries and bookstores.

Lucky Miller to have her finger on the pulse of what strikes people as the most fascinating aspect of the history of children’s literature in the US. Even with the modifier “probably” she seems pretty certain. But whether her supposition is true or not—and I have no idea how you’d prove it—it’s a bizarre thing to complain about given the book’s subtitle: “Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature”. Seems to me that the words “entrepreneurs” and “shaping” are a pretty clear indication that Marcus’s book is going to be about the children’s book publishing industry and the “editors and reviewers, printers and magazines, libraries and bookstores” who made it happen.

Miller says the book will mainly be of interest to “historians and people in the industry”. I’m guilty of both those charges, being a publishing geek who’s part of the (broader) children’s publishing industry, as well as an ex-academic who did history, I am this book’s target audience.

Like I said, I have not read Minders of Make-Believe. Perhaps it is as off the mark as Miller claims; I’ll find out when I read it. But I will not find fault with the book for doing exactly what it sets out to do.


  1. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    yes, i read and was profoundly irritated by that review. and i ordered the book for myself today! leonard marcus is my secret boyfriend!

  2. Diana Peterfreund on #

    For PETE’S SAKE!

    Thank you for allowing capital letters back. I need to vent my frustration with the Shift key. Why, why, WHY do people feel the need to complain that an Italian restaurant is not a Thai noodle place?

  3. hillary! on #

    Because they are bummed out that they couldn’t get what they wanted. They’re just spoiled brats.

  4. Patrick on #

    My thought is we send the reviewer dingo pee and see if that is an effective solution to this problem as well.

  5. Liset on #


    So, I’m reading through the girly magazine (which is a dirty secret of mine) Cosmo Girl, and I see a quote from you about writing! And boy, was I surprised!

    Did they have to ask before they published it? Or do did you have to submit something? Either way, it was cool seeing a name that I really like in a magazine I’m usually ashamed of… ^-^ Hehe!

  6. janet on #

    I didn’t think the review was bad. Most of it wasn’t about the fact that she didn’t like the subject matter — just the sentence you quote (which isn’t even necessarily a criticism) and part of the last paragraph.

  7. KT Horning on #

    I thought it was a pretty poor review, in every possible sense, and that the reviewer made it clear throughout that she wasn’t interested in the subject matter to start with. But that’s typical of a NYT reviewer, isn’t it?

    What wasn’t clear to me was which errors of fact were Marcus’s and which were the reviewer’s. For example, the whole bit about librarians banishing series books is ridiculously simplistic, although it’s widely quoted. Laura Ingalls Wilder is offen used as an example, as we see here from the review: “The prejudice against series . . . was so virulent that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiographical novels about her pioneer childhood were repeatedly shut out of librarian-administered awards competitions like the Newbery Medal, merely because they seemed series-ish.” The fact that Wilder won Newbery Honors for her books in 1938, 1940, 1942, and 1944 is evidence to the contrary.

    And who’s using terms like “grande dame” and “doyenne?” I hate it when that kind of terminology is used to describe women in positions of power and influence. These poor women may as well just put on their white gloves and church-lady hats and go sit over in the corner while we chuckle about how quaint they are.

    Like Justine, I have read Marcus’s earlier books and am eager to read this one, too. I’ll probably pass, however, on the reviewer’s own forthcoming book on her personal experiences with Narnia. Now THAT’S a subject that really doesn’t interest me!

  8. Justine on #

    Liset: I heard about it from a friend who was working as an intern at CosmoGirl. She even sent me a copy. (Thanks, Megan!) So, no, they didn’t contact me. The quote comes from this post.

    KT: You know I’d be VERY surprised if those errors were Marcus’s. That review was sloppy from start to finish. And, yeah, left me with zero interest in her own book.

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