Join an international crew of guests as they discuss Jerry Griswold’s new “Behind Children’s Books”

Everything is different this year. My new Behind Children’s Books is available from Amazon as a paperback ($9.95; 148 pp) or can downloaded as an e-book ($7.95). But what about a book launch, now that bookstores are shuttered? Well, if Billie Eilish can turn out great music from her bedroom, I figured I could do something similar…

On May 17, I launched the book via Zoom from my spare bedroom. An illustrious international crew was assembled. The result was a really brilliant and hilarious cocktail party.


May 15, 2020. Jerry Griswold’s new book offers “Backstories & Revelations” about classic and contemporary children’s stories

  • How were Ronald Reagan’s political views shaped by his favorite childhood books?
  • What does Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) say is the very heart of “The Wizard of Oz”?
  • And what explains the preponderance of bears in children’s books and flying in African-American stories?

In this amusing and insightful collection of 60 essays, Jerry Griswold reveals the backstories to beloved children’s books. Drawing upon his hundreds of publications (in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere) and combining these with new work, he considers such authors as Hans Christian Andersen, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, and…


Backstories & Revelations by Jerry Griswold

“Great stay-at-home reading” — Kate Bernheimer

“Behind Children’s Books: Backstories & Revelations” (148pp; pub date May 15).
  • How were Ronald Reagan’s political views shaped by his favorite childhood books?
  • What does Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) say is the very heart of “The Wizard of Oz”?
  • And what explains the preponderance of bears in children’s books and flying in African-American stories?

In this amusing and insightful collection of 60 essays, Jerry Griswold reveals the backstories to beloved children’s books. Drawing upon his hundreds of publications (in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere) and combining these with new work, he considers such authors as Hans Christian…


“Like a famished alley mutt, he digs away at the bone of truth”

Chicago is most often called the Second City by people prepared to drive six hours rather than spend a weekend in their own part of the Midwest. Chicago also is a city where holding opinions is confused with intelligence, contrariness is taken as proof of individuality, and the metropolitan style seems hopelessly frozen in an era when everyone wore hats.

As proof of this last observation, consider how Mike Royko is presented by his publishers in his recent collection of columns (Sez Who? Sez Me!): cigarette butts spilling out of an ashtray, filthy coffee cups everywhere, a ratty cubbyhole they…


They began with injured horses in World War I


Disney’s politics in the era of the New Deal and FDR (from the NYTimes Book Review)

“The Adventures of Mickey Mouse (50th Birthday Edition),” by Walt Disney (David McKay Company, 1978)

Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world on November 18, 1928, in “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon talkie. In 1978 the David McKay Company, noting that it was “Mickey’s first hardcover publisher,” reproduced from the color originals the first three books in which the mouse appeared. “Jumping Juniper,” Mickey would have said.

In some circles a Disney book may still be unwelcome. It has become routine to deride Disney Inc. This wasn’t true in the old days, in the days when Janet Flanner went to meet the master, when Jerome Kern would say that Disney “has made the 20th Century’s…


Food and the dead, Irish begging door-to-door, Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”

“Coco,” directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina (Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Studios, 2017). A terrific animated film that makes use of Mexican customs surrounding the Day of the Dead.

Halloween, an event now celebrated in many parts of the world, has come to mean different things to different people. For adults, the holiday has acquired a Mardi-Gras flavor and offers opportunities to pose at parties and bars as preening pimps and naughty nurses. Spandex, it seems, has liberated many a black cat and outed a number of otherwise closeted French maids. “If you’re over twenty-one,” a student of mine observed, “Halloween is more about stare than scare.”

For kids, Halloween remains a night to sport with fears and make candy-seeking visits to homes decorated with spider webs and grinning…


Can grown-ups be trusted?

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” directed by Tim Burton (Warner Bros, 2005)

Johnny Depp has denied insinuations by internet bloggers that he was impersonating Michael Jackson in playing Willy Wonka (the oddball candyman with whitened face and long black hair) in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Depp said he channeled Keith Richards for his role in Pirates of the Caribbean and Ozzy Osbourne for his character in Finding Neverland. But in playing Willy Wonka, Depp insisted, he was not inspired by Michael Jackson but by the late children’s show host Fred Rogers.

That’s quite a choice: between the preternaturally innocent Mr. Rogers and the Michael Jackson found innocent of child…

Jerry Griswold

Writer/critic/professor/journalist: children’s literature, culture, film, travel. Seven books, 100's of essays in NY&LA Times.

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