New Book! “Behind Children’s Books”

Backstories & Revelations by Jerry Griswold

Jerry Griswold
3 min readApr 18, 2020

“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 Andersen, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, and Roald Dahl and shows how their personal lives lie behind their work for the young. Examining both classic and contemporary children’s literature, Behind Children’s Books explains the real usefulness of nonsense, how the Land of Oz is actually California, and more.

THE AUTHOR: Jerry Griswold is a leading authority on children’s literature and a former professor (San Diego State University, UCLA, UCSD, the University of Connecticut, the National University of Ireland); for more than a decade, he was also Director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. Griswold has published seven books–including Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature (Johns Hopkins) and the prize-winning Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story (Oxford, Penguin, Johns Hopkins). A frequent contributor to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, he has also written for Paris Review, Nation, New Republic, Boston Globe and other publications.


  • “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.” — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
  • “You can say Jerry Griswold knows a thing or two about children’s literature. The San Diego State University emeritus professor has written seven books on the subject and is the former director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. Now, in the new book titled ‘Behind Children’s Books: Backstories & Revelations’ he dives into a variety of topics tied to children’s literature — everything from how his favorite children’s books shaped Ronald Reagan’s political views to ‘the preponderance of bears in children’s books.’ A collection of 60 essays, Griswold’s 148-page book touches on classic and contemporary children’s literature, from Hans Christian Andersen to Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl.” -Michael James Rocha, San Diego Union Tribune
  • “So lively and so engagingly written that it will appeal to and engage the imaginations of all readers who have even a passing interest in the literature of childhood” — Booklist


Behind Children’s Books is available now as a paperback ($9.95; 148 pp) or e-book ($7.95) on Amazon. Preview the Table of Contents and sample pages by clicking on “Look Inside.”

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Jerry Griswold

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