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A Word or Two from Michael Rosen

Enjoyed Michael Rosen’s latest book, The Missing?

Why not also try Reading & Rebellion (OUP) in which he is a co-editor of extracts from some long-forgotten children’s books from the early to mid-twentieth century? Those with a keen interest in the history of children’s literature will probably already know of Kimberley Reynolds, and may have read her fascinating book Left Out: The forgotten tradition of radical publishing for children in Britain 1910-1949 (OUP). Reading and Rebellion is an anthology of some of those works she highlighted, selected by two (unrelated!) Rosens: Michael and Jane.

Michael and Jane are two lifelong readers (and current author or preserver) of radical literature for young people; all three editors bring their academic and personal knowledge of the subject to curate their findings. Their combined experience offers us an Introduction which outlines the reasons behind their interest, as does Polly Toynbee in her Preface. We then have ten sections, each with around half a dozen excerpts from their chosen books. The sections are separately introduced to place the works within the social, political and publishing context of the times. The sections themselves range widely over many subjects from ‘Stories for Young Socialists’ to ‘Sex for Beginners’ (all from the 1920s and 30s, and more down to earth and accurate than many succeeding attempts!), and ‘Visions of the Future’. They are also interspersed with occasional excerpts from the ‘Adventures of Micky Mongrel the Class Conscious Dog’, a series which ran in the Daily Worker from 1930.

There is a great deal of variety in the material the editors have included: fiction, instruction, songs (hurrah – with their music – so frequently omitted in writing about songs!), which shows twenty-first-century readers just how wide-ranging radical writing for young people was in the first half and a bit of the previous century. The book is comprehensively illustrated - but only in monochrome, a pity as the colour palette of many of the originals tells us as much about their underlying philosophy as it does about the limitations and development of printing during these sixty years. Altogether, this book is ‘a good thing’ as Sellar and Yeatman would say. The book itself, with its list of works cited and textual acknowledgements, together with the reasonably comprehensive indexing, should provide extremely useful resources for students both of children’s literature and left-wing politics. It’s far more than the ‘snapshot’ Reynolds claims in her Introduction, as much of the material sampled is very hard to come by in hard copy or virtual format. Coupled with Reynolds’ more overtly academic, and excellent Left Out, it opens a window on a previously neglected genre, and one hugely relevant to our present times.

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