of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
From tongue twister to spine-tingling tales, Schwartz is a master collector, compiler, and translator of folk tricks and tales. In the children's department where I am a librarian, Schwartz is best known for his Scary Stories books (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones), which circulate like hotcakes to those young readers longing for tales that will seriously scare them. However, Schwartz has contributed far more to young people's literature than just these story collections. He has been lauded and celebrated by many organizations for his varied contributions to folk literature, and the breadth of his collecting as well as the depth of his research make these adulations well deserved.
Schwartz began his career as a journalist, but, after the publication of his bestselling book A Twister of Twists, a Tangler of Tongues, he devoted himself to becoming a collector and arranger of folk wisdom, rhyme, and silliness. His collections range in content from funny rhymes (I Saw You in the Bathtub) to tall tales (Chin Music) and superstitions (Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat). He has even compiled a book of "secret languages" (The Cat's Elbow) that show ways to add syllables to the words of any language so that the speaker is incomprehensible to those not in the know.
Impeccable source notes and bibliographies have always been a hallmark of Schwartz's work, which exhibits the kind of serious scholarship that children deserve in books written for them. At a time when other folklore collectors and folktale retellers were being urged by scholars and librarians to give their readers clear, consistent, and accurate information about the sources of their materials, Schwartz's comprehensive information was the example to follow. Not only does he offer appropriate citations and acknowledgements, but he often uses notes in the backs of his collections to give a sense of the story behind the story, inviting readers backstage to the world of folk collecting research.
By occasionally using an accessible easy reader format (An I Can Read Book), Schwartz has created several collections of stories and jokes (In a Dark, Dark Room, All of Our Noses are Here, etc.) that take the folk literature of children back to its elementary-aged source. One can easily imagine these tales, jokes, and rhymes traveling from the printed page back out to the schoolyard where they were collected. And that's the way Schwartz would want it. As Schwartz put it: "…[W]hat am I trying to say to a child who reads my books of folklore? […] Understand that you are part of a living tradition to which you contribute and from which you draw. You are deeply rooted in the experience of the human race and are part of something remarkable and continuous--the folk. At a time when everyone and everything seem in transit, it is good to know this."1
--Kate McDowell, Reviewer
1 Alvin Schwartz, "Children, Humor, and Folklore," Horn Book, August, 1977.
A Selected Bibliography of Works by Alvin Schwartz:
(* indicates "An I Can Read Book")