Vanity Fair contributing editor Bruce Handy’s new book, Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature As an Adult, arrives at an ironic time in his life. It was published this month, just as he and his wife, fellow author Helen Schulman, become empty nesters. It’s a fascinating look into the books many of us treasure most (Lena Dunham has her favorite characters from children’s books, Ferdinand and Eloise, tattooed on her arm and back, for example).
This writer, also Handy’s former assistant, still remembers Handy’s kids coming into Vanity Fair’s offices to visit their dad a decade ago. During his time as a senior editor at the magazine—a time when we received the daily specials from his favorite restaurant by fax—much of Vanity Fair’s cultural content fell on Handy’s shoulders. Working with him on articles about pop culture, I got to learn a great deal about Hollywood history, New York cultural institutions, and different worlds of dining. More than a decade on, as I’m reaching an age where kids are starting to come into the picture, I’m back at the well. I’m asking the newly minted children’s books expert to tell me which ones I should, eventually, fill my shelves with.
Can you tell me where this book came from?Picture books don’t get the recognition they deserve. Once in a while, you get a Maurice Sendak [Sendak’s best seller, Where the Wild Things Are, inspired Handy’s title], where you get appropriate credit, but great picture books should be seen alongside great graphic novels. They’re so important, too—they’re a kid’s first introduction to visual narratives.
Or any narrative.Right. Even something as simple as Goodnight Moon exists as this proto-narrative: Here’s what’s in the room, let’s say goodnight to it. There’s a progression there: They end up leaving the room and they’re saying “goodnight” everywhere. It’s taking you from your immediate world to a larger one—it gets kids ready to go on this great adventure.