Whether it’s real or imaginary, every child has a secret space, and this remarkable book explores them all. For some it’s a treehouse or a hidden spot beneath a bush; for others it’s a private psychic refuge--a favorite book, or a dollhouse that becomes a stage for a young imagination. As the more than four dozen pieces collected here reveal, such spaces play a key role in a child’s development and retain a symbolic power that resonates throughout our adult lives. No reader will put this book down without experiencing a rush of familiar memories and new insights into that bygone world.
Poet Diane Ackerman evokes that “parallel universe behind the eyes / which no one shared, or dare discover”; Paul Brodeur recalls the “fort” where he and his brother defended Cape Cod against invaders in World War II; Nobelist Wole Soyinka offers a poignant verse portrait of Africa’s lost children; and Paul West remembers youthful encounters with his eccentric neighbors Edith and Osbert Sitwell. Elsewhere, Robert Coles summons up memories of his first years as a doctor and a wise young patient who taught him a lesson he has never forgotten, and Mary Galbraith shows how childhood loss is transformed into art in Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic Madeline. And these are just a few of the gems in a treasury that includes Anne Frank, the controversial photographs of Sally Mann and the crudely eloquent drawings of young South African refugees, clinical case studies and profoundly personal imagery.
A perceptive, thought-provoking work for general readers, Secret Spaces of Childhood opens a wonderful window on the world of the young.
Elizabeth Goodenough is Lecturer in Comparative Literature, the Residential College, University of Michigan.