On March 12, Seth Lerer ’76 was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism for his scholarly work Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter (University of Chicago Press, 2008).
On the website Critical Mass, NBCC board member Carlin Romano commented: “Lerer brought to his subject both the critical acuity and unlimited openness it deserved. He insisted on placing a complex literature within the history of childhood, a story both contested and blessedly clear. He took into account the cavalcade of publishing history, without permitting it to trample the imaginative ‘transformations’ wrought by the books.”
In his book, Lerer studies iconic ancient and contemporary children’s books that have encouraged a lifelong love of literature in young readers during their formative years. The author examines the changing environments of family life and human growth, schooling and scholarship, and publishing and politics in which children were changed by the books they read. This unique, single-volume work captures the rich and diverse history of children’s literature, considering such writers as J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert McCloskey, Shel Silverstein, and many others.
Lerer was recently interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, in which he revealed that the book is a kind of “intellectual autobiography” that draws upon his “youthful passion for reading and his experience as a parent.”
After nearly two decades teaching in Stanford University’s English Department, Lerer recently became a Distinguished Professor of Literature and dean of the arts and humanities at the La Jolla campus of the University of California, San Diego. Lerer also is the author of Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. His next project is an annotated edition of The Wind in the Willows.