Review of Minders of Make-Believe
by Leonard Marcus

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The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books by James Cross Giblin

Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature tells the story of children's book publishing in the United States from Colonial times to the mid-1990's. It's the only book available on the subject, and it's excellent.

Contents of Minders of Make-Believe: Two chapters cover the period from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th. The story then jumps forward to a chapter about the 1920's, when the first specialist children's book editors and imprints appeared. Then the story continues with chapters about each decade up to one on the 1980's, which includes some events from the 1990's, ending with the story of Harry Potter and the implications the series' success had for the industry. Fifty pages of notes provide support, followed by an extensive and useful index. In each chapter, information about changes in the business are woven together with stories about companies, individuals, and books.

"Change and More Change: The 1970s:" To provide a detailed example of what you will find in the book, here are some of the things covered in this particular chapter: An examination of growing sales of paperbacks; gossipy but informed coverage of a controversial National Book Award winner in 1972; the emergence of children's literature as a subject of academic study, though still marginalized; the story of the founding of Cricket; how Ann Beneduce made the publication of The Very Hungry Caterpillar possible through co-editions; a decline in sales in the early 1970's caused by a decline in federal funding for libraries, and how the rise of independent chidldren's bookstores and growth in bookstore sales generally made up for it; the first auction of a children's book (Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?) and the rise of agents specializing in children's books, such as Marilyn Marlow; and how the firing of Macmillan staff as a result of union organizing efforts led Susan Hirschman to resign and found Greenwillow.

Comments Minders of Make-Believe is both readable and comprehensive. The writing has substance--this is a book that provides an education--but it is neither heavy going nor dry. There's no other book available on the subject, and we're fortunate that it's such a good one. I've learned a lot from it, and I find myself going back to it to check the details of a story or get some background on a current trend. I agree with Booklist's starred review: this book is "indispensable."

Who Needs Minders of Make-Believe: Anyone working in children's book publishing--writers, illustrators, editors, art directors, designers, publicists, sales staff--who wants to understand our industry needs to read this book. Children's librarians and teachers will also find it essential. But this book is not just for those professionally involved with children's books. Parents and just about anyone else involved with children will gain an increased understanding of the books their children read and the forces and individuals that helped to shape the industry that creates them.

For more books by Leonard Marcus, please see my selective bibliography of his work.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for free from the publisher, as do most reviewers.

Where and How to Purchase Minders of Make-Believe:

You can, of course, also purchase this at any bookstore. If they don't have it in stock, they can order it for you.

This review is copyright © by Harold Underdown ( Google + Profile ). If you wish to reproduce it, please see the Terms of use. Last modified 3/16/2013.

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