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Dowling, S. (2007). The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood. Ellen Handler Spitz. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. 250 pp. $25.00 (hb), $14.95 (pb).. Am. Imago, 64(4):582-586.

(2007). American Imago, 64(4):582-586

The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood. Ellen Handler Spitz. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. 250 pp. $25.00 (hb), $14.95 (pb).

Review by:
Scott Dowling

In Ellen Handler Spitz's new book, The Brightening Glance, we are quickly drawn into a setting that stimulates our imaginations as it encourages us to provide aesthetic experiences for children. Although primarily concerned with the pleasures and occasional pitfalls of imagination and aesthetic awareness in children, it is also a book about adult pleasure in providing opportunities and support for these experiences in young people. Its central thesis is the mutual benefit to all of us, of every age, of imaginative interactions with the world and with each other.

Although the author is direct in her intentions, the method she has chosen to develop her ideas is itself a model of an aesthetically pleasing interaction. She lets us experience what she is enticing us to provide for others, especially children. The book serves as an example of the process of discovery, supported wonder, and aesthetic awareness. It is also a very personal approach as she shares events and relationships in her own life as well as the observations and experiences of others. But it is her experience that sticks in this reader's mind, a sharing of her own moments of joy, fear, sadness, and exhilaration from early childhood to adulthood.

I have long admired and enjoyed Ellen Handler Spitz's books and papers. Her critical examinations of Where the Wild Things Are (Spitz 1988), Calvin and Hobbes (Spitz 1993), and Pat the Bunny (Spitz 1989) opened my eyes to themes and artistic devices found in the union of words and illustration. As a bonus, they are wonderful teaching tools for students learning child development. I anticipated that The Brightening Glance would be similar, a series of essays or a developed exposition and critique of the cultural artifacts that appeal to both children and adults. I anticipated a further categorization of such artifacts at different ages, showing their correspondence to the developmental level of the child.


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