From Publishers Weekly
No aspect of American life is as shrouded in idealizing myth as childhood. In this compelling work of historical synthesis, University of Houston history professor Mintz argues forcefully—if not originally—that for most of the past three centuries childhood has been the exception rather than the norm. Responding to the exigencies of colonial life, Mintz writes, the Puritans unsentimentally mentored children as "adults in training." With the explosive rise of an urban, factory-based economy in the mid-19th century, childhood first emerged as a discrete period of development. Limited, home-based instruction was replaced by compulsory instruction in public schools—but not all children benefited. For most young people in the years after the Industrial Revolution—despite the mixed results of reformers—childhood meant grim factory or farm labor, poverty, loneliness, exploitation (economic and sexual) and often unspeakable cruelty. Poor, immigrant and black children suffered disproportionately as the class gap widened. More recently, Mintz recounts, childhood has been refined and extended into the phenomenon of protracted adolescence. That childhood has mostly been less than ideal is not surprising. What may be, for many readers, is Mintz's portrait of just how far from the ideal this country has been—and perhaps continues to be—in meeting the health needs, education and welfare of all its children. 36 b&w photos.
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*Starred Review* Mintz uses Huck Finn's raft as the image of the quintessential ideal American childhood, filled with adventure and exploration. But he reminds readers of the seriousness of Huck's life and the grim realities of American childhood from the early colonies, through the progressive era, and up to modern times. Mintz confers special attention on the childhoods of American slaves, Native Americans, and immigrants. Tracking the major social, economic, and cultural developments in the nation's history, Mintz focuses on their impact on the lives of children and adolescents. Culturally, children have been viewed as both inherently corrupt and as innocent, eventually coming to be seen as objects of affection; economically, they have been viewed as property, financial contributors, and major consumers; socially, they have spurred the creation of asylums, orphanages, and reform schools. Mintz traces changes in the legal status of children and in such laws as those establishing the age of sexual consent and restricting child labor. He also examines the evolving image of adolescents and their impact on modern culture and commerce. Readers who enjoyed Ann Hulbert's Raising America
[BKL Mr 15 03] will love the breadth of perspective in this engrossing book. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved