“Audacious Kids”

A new edition of a classic study of American Children’s Literature

Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story.
By Jerry Griswold.
Johns Hopkins University Press, 368 pp.
Available from
Amazon or JHUP

Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Book is a new edition of what has become a standard study of American Children’s Literature. Published in 1992 by Oxford University Press and later in a paperback by Penguin Books, Audacious Kids was a prize-winning and trail-blazing work. In this revised edition from Johns Hopkins University Press, Jerry Griswold adds:

  • a discussion of the book’s reception
  • a comprehensive History of America’ Literature for the Young, from colonial times to genre-busting offerings of the present
  • and a Bibliography of some 100 essays and books that responded to the original Audacious Kids or to subjects raised in it

At its heart, Audacious Kids remains a discussion of a dozen childhood classics published during the “Golden Age” (1865–1914) — beloved favorites like Tom Sawyer, The Wizard of Oz, and Little Women. And it offers remarkable proof that each book tells essentially the same story, a story intimately connected to this country’s political identity.

Here is what critics and reviewers have had to say about the book:

“Lucid and persuasively argued. Indeed he manages that difficult thing in writing about children’s literature: He manages to provide the reader with an interesting new intellectual angle on these books, without condescending to his material or diminishing its elusive and potent magic.”
 — New York Times

“Griswold’s analysis helps us appreciate that this country’s children’s literature is not marginal but squarely within our central literary tradition.”
 — Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Griswold’s analysis is coherent and persuasive.”
-Kirkus Reviews

“This is an impressive book. . . . The achievement of Audacious Kids is major. . . . It is not often that a scholarly book is so entertaining. The writing is articulate, the style lively.”
 — The Library Quarterly

“Griswold is successful in making the case for serious consideration of America’s children’s classics.”
 — Southern Review

“An insightful blend of literary and social history that ends with an interesting political perspective: these stories . . . are symbolic of our nation’s fight for independence and struggle toward maturity.”
 — Booklist

“One of the most exciting books of the year . . . . It challenges accepted thinking and is extremely readable, likely to appeal not only to scholars but also to those with nostalgic memories of Little Women and The Wizard of Oz .”
 — Signal

“This engaging book will quickly become an essential authority for students of children’s literature and should reach a wide audience among librarians, parents, and scholars of American literature.”
 — Choice

“This study by Jerry Griswold is boldly audacious, compelling, and convincing in its argument. Griswold defines ‘The Golden Age of Children’s Books’ as the period between the Civil War and World War I . . . [and] finds a pattern that threads its way through the children’s books of this period. . . . Griswold amasses persuasive evidence from a number of disciplines . . . [in a] sophisticated analysis of twelve novels: The Wizard of Oz, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Tarzan of the Apes, The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Toby Tyler, Hans Brinker, The Secret Garden, and Pollyanna. . . . The interpretations of each book are lively, original, and persuasive. . . . This book is felicitously written and provocatively argued, truly a significant contribution to the study of American literature and culture.”
 — American Historical Review

“In addition to dealing with American history, Audacious Kids includes literary and psychological interpretations of the books under consideration and biographical discussions of the books’ authors. In the hands of a less capable writer, such an eclectic approach could easily result in disjointed and uneven work, but Griswold, like Rumplestiltskin, pulls all of his strands together and spins them into gold.”
 — Journal of American History

“ Audacious Kids contributes a coherent new framework for the study of America’s formative literature, one certain to stimulate and enlighten both academic and general interest readers. An example of outstanding literary criticism, Griswold’s book illuminates the literature it analyzes and itself provides an example of lucid, pleasurable prose.”
 — Horn Book

“Griswold writes clearly, convincingly, and even entertainingly. This thoughtful union of the scholarly and the readable deserves a very wide audience.”
 — Library Journal

“The book’s virtues are clear argumentation and convincing analysis. The cultural and psychoanalytical criticism are well integrated and mutually illuminating, buttressed by relevant information about the personal histories, composing habits, and general mindsets of the authors discussed.”
 — American Literature

“An intriguing analysis of the dynamics of a dozen classic works published during the Golden Age of American Children’s Books (1865–1914).”
 — Nineteenth-Century Literature

“Griswold’s book is impressive in its close, productive readings of each of the novels and for the picture he paints of the relationship between literature and society. . . . Audacious Kids grants to children’s literature an important place on the literary and cultural scene.”
 — History of Education Quarterly

“In a time of unprecedented and often impenetrable critical discourse, this book is deliberately jargon free and accessible . . . to both scholarly and general audiences. It is written with clarity and humor, with inventive energy and an agile, synthesizing intelligence. . . . Audacious Kids begins a long-awaited, collective consideration of these key works of national literature.”
 — Children’s Literature

“The real audience remains those like me who love children’s books, appreciate critics who understand them, and delight in reading well-crafted and thoughtful essays about them.”
 — Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac”

Audacious Kids, by Jerry Griswold, is a compelling study of twelve classic children’s books from the Golden Age of American children’s literature (1865–1914). The book first appeared in 1992 and was published later in 1996 as The Classic American Children’s Story: Novels of the Golden Age. In addition to being praised by a wide audience including scholars, teachers, critics, students, as well as general readers, Audacious Kids was recognised as a landmark in children’s literature and childhood studies when the Children’s Literature Association honored the book as an outstanding contribution to children’s literature scholarship and criticism in 1992. Over the course of twenty-two years, from the first publication in 1992 to the revised edition in 2014, Audacious Kids has been acclaimed nationally and internationally and has found a permanent place in scholarship on American children’s literature.”
 — International Research Society for Children’s Literature

“Griswold’s enthusiasm for these novels is abundantly clear and is . . . the book’s most appealing feature.”
 — Children’s Literature Association Quarterly

“This is an excellent book.”
-Book Report

Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story.
By Jerry Griswold.
Johns Hopkins University Press, 368 pp.
Available from
Amazon or JHUP

“Suddenly sailboats began to appear all around him.”

Read an hilarious account by Meg Mardian of the book launch at Warwick’s in La Jolla, California, by clicking here.


14. December 2016 by
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