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Children's LiteratureWhile a great deal of attention is often paid to "classics" in the teaching of literature, in recent years there has been a noteworthy trend to acknowledge the value of contemporary or popular authors. Widely read and critically praised authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, and Gary Paulsen have carved out a niche not only on the bestseller lists but also within humanities' classrooms. Thus, it is in an era of broader acceptance of popular fiction as a teachable art form that this encyclopedia of criticism and biography appears. This set is an eleven-volume encyclopedia of popular authors whose work emerged in the last twenty-five years. This massive work includes not just novelists but also authors who focus their art on genres such as nonfiction, short stories, journalism, essays, and screen writing. As such, the set provides a broad-based resource for secondary students seeking information, guidance, or material about major popular authors of the modern era. Each of the first ten volumes features in-depth attention to approximately ten authors. Each author is treated in a similar narrative manner. The reader is first provided an abstract summary of the author and his or her importance. Next, a detailed biography is presented that highlights the growth and experiences that helped shape the author's art and attitudes. Then a summary essay is provided that globally addresses key themes, values, and approaches that typify the author's work. This section is followed by a series of writings that describe the plot, themes, and nature of some of the author's major works. The individual author's section then concludes with a listing of additional resources such as web sites,documentaries, films, and books that depict that artist's work or life. The eleventh, and final, volume in the set is a compilation of indices that make referencing a specific author fairly easy. Throughout this set numerous illustrations, art prints, and samples of artwork apropos to themes connected to specific author's works, appear. These illustrations help to make this a visually appealing set, one that offers a tremendous amount of information about authors whose work remains widely read at this time. Throughout the ten narrative volumes the many authors who contributed to this endeavor write in a clear and crisp style. Entries are well outlined and offer both positive and negative criticism. This is particularly true in the analysis sections that are included in each summary of an author's work. In these portions, points of criticism are made in an open-minded but penetrating way. This makes this set a valuable guide for individuals interested in suggestions for future reading. Yet, it is in the sections dedicated to the "Author's Life" that the meat of this set lies. It is in those biographical sketches that readers learn about the growth and development of artists whose work may have had an inspiring effect upon a reader's life. How enlightening to know more about the raw materials of life that allows these talented artists to mine creative ore from their own experiences. Thus this set is an immensely valuable tool for schools or libraries dedicated to encouraging both the passionate exercise of reading and the submerged potential to write that exists in so many people's lives. This is a thoughtful set and one that will enhance any humanities reference section. 2005, Marshall Cavendish, $459.95. Ages 14 up.
—Greg M. Romaneck