Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)
This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.
Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.
Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.
A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.