Ellen Handler Spitz Reviews Children’s Literature

by Phillip Witteveen on May 15, 2014

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“Almost entirely absent from elementary school curricula, rarely chosen as bedtime reading by parents, poetry—formerly a joyful accouterment of youth, an inexhaustible gift—seems forgotten,” writes Press author Ellen Handler Spitz in this week’s New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. “Yet poetry and children belong together.”

Spitz’s review centers on two children’s books that “strive to create, by very different means and with different results, a sense of the poet Emily Dickinson as a person.” In this, and other published criticism, she returns to the relationship between aesthetics and psychology, especially in youth cultures. For Spitz, a scene in a painting is to an artist what a treatise is to a theorist, and what a session is to a therapist. They are all, for their practitioners, modes of psychological discovery, and in her work, she has sought to understand art in that form. Spitz originally developed her critical position in Illuminating Childhood, her case studies of film and literature seeking to answer essential human questions about what it means to grow up. From that vantage point, these children’s books enrich a heritage of psychological discovery, and elucidate for a new generation of readers the discoveries of poetry, specifically. Given a new voice in children’s literature, “Dickinson seems oddly charming, her whimsy leavened by warmth and appealing humor.”

Read the New York Times piece here, and be sure to check out Illuminating Childhood for more of Dr. Spitz’s insights.

 

 

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