One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.

As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.

balderdash cover

Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book.

not 1726

Given the amount of children’s literature I read, I can’t fathom a time when there weren’t books written for kids. But as this book aptly describes, in the early 1700s that was not the case. Children were not wanted in bookstores or libraries. Between Markel’s engaging text and Carpenter’s comical and vibrant illustrations, kids can really get a sense of the difference. The few books children were told to read in school were “religious texts that made them fear that death was near, and manuals that told them” how to do everything.


When John Newbery gets introduced into the book, you can’t help but like him. In a time where so many adults were reading for pleasure, it is astonishing that no one else had tapped into the niche market of children. Some 20 years earlier, philosopher John Locke had written about the need for children to have “easy and pleasant books” as part of their education, but few had agreed with him.

john locke spread

Thankfully for all of us kid lit bloggers, Newbery created books specifically for children that were irresistible, fun, and educational. They were also pocket sized so the kids could take them with them wherever they went. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the “father of children’s literature” – John Newbery.

I adored this book. I admit that children’s book bloggers are probably biased about this one since it touches on all of our sweet spots – great story, wonderful illustrations, engaging, and a book about books! But this is also one of those great biographies for children to read because it talks of someone going against the norm to follow a passion.  John Newbery loved books. He loved them at an early age, there just weren’t any around that were intended for him. So when he got old enough that he could make a difference, he did. He also created the first magazine for children.

newbery quoteHistorically adults have a hard time celebrating how brilliant children really are. Especially in Newbery’s time when children truly were meant to be seen and not heard, to stay out of the way of adults, and to act like little grown-ups a lot of the time, Newbery  inherently knew that children must be happy in order to thrive, that they too needed to find pleasure and delight.

Markel finishes the book with a great page of more detailed information on Newbery’s life for the older reader (or adult) who wants to know more. There are also little gems throughout the book, such as a picture of John Locke saying that “Reading should be a treat for children,” on the spread where he is merely mentioned as “a famous philosopher.” This book is sure to capture the attention of children as well as grown-ups.

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