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Local Author Celebrates Favorite Childhood Writer

Author Paul Allen
Laura Kennedy
Author Paul Allen first encountered the works of Eleanor Cameron at age 8.

At the age of 8, Paul Allen was perusing the stacks at the Bloomington Public Library when he discovered a book that ignited his imagination and, years later, resulted in a biography of the acclaimed author, Eleanor Cameron.

It was "The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet" that captured young Allen's fancy and had him staying up all night to devour the science fiction tale.

"That was the first book I remember not being able to put down. I just had to finish it," recalled Allen. "The plot of the book is these two boys build a rocketship and take it to this undiscovered planet. It's a very kid-empowering book, and as a kid that just really spoke to me." 

"Her view of children's literature was that the classics were what mattered most."

Years after first discovering Cameron's book, Allen was teaching reading to seventh-graders when one of his students challenged him to read more of Cameron's books.

"That started me off into looking more into her career. I had known she had other books, but I didn't know the extent of it. So I just started poking around and was surprised to find that even with the internet, there wasn't that much out there about Eleanor Cameron. I just wanted to find out who she was."

Paul Allen's new book is available on the University of Mississippi Press.

Allen was at that time living in Minnesota, nearby an archive at the University of Minnesota that contained the Eleanor Cameron Papers. Allen dove into the trove, which has never been opened since Cameron's death in 1996. He discovered that she had a wide range of genres in which she wrote, from science fiction to fantasy to realistic fiction. Cameron also become an early critic of children's literature at a time when children's literature was not yet taken seriously as an art form.  

It was her critical assessment of a fellow writer that brought Cameron some negative publicity. In an essay, Cameron criticized "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl, dubbing it mean spirited and tasteless.

"She came from a traditional view of children's literature," explained Allen. "Her view of children's literature was that the classics were what mattered most. So it galled her somewhat that a book like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" would be read to children in the classroom. She thought adults should set a better example of what they are reading to kids."

While Dahl was unappreciative of Cameron's take on his work, Allen said her criticism helped bring legitimacy to the field of children's literature criticism. 

Listen to an extended cut of the interview.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.