Bruce Handy, author of “Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult,” takes an opinionated, biography-with-zingers approach to the Kid Lit pantheon: from Beverly Cleary to Maurice Sendak. And don’t get him going on “The Giving Tree.”

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“Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult”

by Bruce Handy

Simon & Schuster, 307 pp., $26)

Bruce Handy doesn’t waste time staking out a critical position. On the fifth page of his new book, “Wild Things: The Joys of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult,” Handy says Beverly Cleary’s grade-school novel “Ramona the Pest” “is like Henry James with much shorter sentences.” One paragraph later, he complains that the Curious George series carries “a stale, colonial aroma” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is “a now dated Cold War fable about collectivism — Ayn Rand for kids.”

Don’t get him going on “The Giving Tree,” Shel Silverstein’s “inexplicably popular retelling of ‘Stella Dallas’ and ‘Mildred Pierce’ for nursery schoolers.” Handy interrupts a disquisition on the similarities between “The Runaway Bunny” and “Portnoy’s Complaint” for a two-page takedown of “The Giving Tree.” One minute he’s wondering whether Philip Roth was familiar with “The Runaway Bunny” (“probably not”), the next he’s calling the main characters in “The Giving Tree” — a boy and a tree — “two deluded losers engaged in a folie à deux: the Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo of children’s literature.”

Tell us what you really think, Bruce.

“Wild Things” is presented as a smart look at children’s literature by a lifelong reader who loved books as a child and rediscovered them as a parent. It is that, and it does make some serious points about fantasy and death and how children use reading to learn critical thinking and find a place in the world. But what it’s really about is a series of opinionated profiles of the Kid Lit pantheon: Cleary, Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis. Handy draws a wide line between those he writes about and those he doesn’t; the latter includes Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien, Chris Van Allsburg and J.K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter series, “though spectacular, goes on forever.”

The opinionated, biography-with-zingers approach plays to Handy’s strengths as an editor for Vanity Fair and a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” and is great fun for those interested in colorful facts about their favorite children’s book authors. Did you know Brown, the author of “Goodnight Moon” and an Auntie Mame character of some renown, died when she did a cancan kick and a blood clot dislodged and went to her brain? Her last word was “Grand!” and her epitaph was “Writer of Songs and Nonsense.” Handy, who can’t give anyone the last word, suggests “Goodnight Nobody.”

I’m the ideal audience for “Wild Things.” I love Cleary’s novels about Ramona and Beezus, Henry and Ribsy, and believe that her memoirs, “A Girl from Yamhill” and “My Own Two Feet,” are neglected Northwest classics. Like Handy, I’ve teared up when reading “Winnie the Pooh” to my kids and, like him, I didn’t get “Where the Wild Things Are” when I read it as a child. I’ll even go him one better and say that “Charlotte’s Web” is the Great American Novel, Huck Finn or no Huck Finn. Gatsby? Great, but not as great as “Charlotte’s Web.”

Handy gives his favorite children’s books a close reading and uncovers one shiny nugget after another about the men and women who wrote them. His book doesn’t hang together, but to hear him tell it, “Treasure Island” and its “unfollowable plot” don’t either. Neither does “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” There he goes again.