Balderdash! tells the story of the first man to pioneer children’s literature as a category in its own right. In 18th-century London, children’s books were either morally improving fables to be read to children like sermons or codes of behaviour for parents and educators. John Newbery had the innovative idea that children would enjoy reading stories written especially for them. And what a clever marketing opportunity that turned out to be! A modern thinker in many ways, Newbery promoted the sale of his little pocket-books for children with free give-aways of toys and attractive window displays. He even had characters in his adult works mention his children’s books in passing.

Without a doubt Newbery revolutionised how literature would develop for young readers in years to come and in recognition, the first children’s book award in the United States was named after him.

Michelle Markel recounts the essentials of Newbery’s life with exuberance, spare use of words and a variety of fonts. The colour illustrations, by Nancy Carpenter, re-create the period setting in lovely muted tones with lots of amusing detail and background activity. This picturebook would be perfect for a small group to read together or in a classroom setting. Adults may appreciate it more than children, but it provides a highly accessible starting point for investigating who books are for and why they are important in our lives.