November 20, 2017

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Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel | SLJ Review

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redstarMARKEL, Michelle. Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books. illus. by Nancy Carpenter. 44p. bibliog. further reading. Chronicle. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780811879224.

K-Gr 2 –This winning picture book takes on a subject that one wouldn’t think, at first glance, would be of interest to modern-day audiences—a look at the life of an 18th-century publisher and shopkeeper. But said publisher is none other than John Newbery, who embraced the teachings of John Locke and is credited with introducing the notion that children’s books should be engaging and entertaining instead of strictly instructional and religious. We are all greatly in his debt. Markel’s delightfully exuberant treatment follows Newbery’s lead and presents the facts of his life in a wholly original and absorbing way, mixing evocative and richly detailed cartoon artwork, a playful use of typography, and visual and textual homages to his books and legacy. Carpenter relies on sepia ink, and the pages are digitally made to look old and weathered. Readers learn that Newbery was a savvy businessman, selling patented medicine, magazines, and toys in addition to his carefully selected books and was not at all assured that his ventures would succeed. “Will the parents buy them? Are they too…cheerful? The children gobbled them up like plum cakes.” The back matter is fully sourced and extensive and includes biographical detail as well as descriptions of the books mentioned. VERDICT This title is a fun read-aloud with multiple curricular connections. A stellar introduction to “the father of children’s ­literature,” and a glorious example of dynamic bookmaking. ­Huzzah!–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2017 issue.

Luann Toth About Luann Toth

Luann Toth ( is Managing Editor of SLJ Reviews. A public librarian by training, she has been reviewing books for a quarter of a century and continues to be fascinated by the constantly evolving, ever-expanding world of publishing.

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