Seth Lerer contends that the history of children’s literature is inseparable from the history of childhood – for children have always been ‘made’ through the texts and tales they hear, study and repeat. In this way, he suggests, learning to read is not only a lifetime experience: it is also a life-defining one. We are all formed in significant ways by our childish reading matter, and especially at those moments of transformational reading when particular books arrive in our lives just as we are exactly ready for them. Such moments chart the development of a literate imagination, and trace the ways in which children fall in love with books, and so find worlds within books and books within worlds.
This is an ambitious analysis to offer in one volume to the general reader, and it’s a testament to Lerer’s skills that his story seldom falters. A kind of default academic tone occasionally seeps through his prose, but like any great teacher (and I bet he is one)