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Children at Play: An American History Hardcover – 15 Oct 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 269 pages
  • Publisher: New York University Press (15 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814716644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814716649
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,305,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The dual column format allows readers to make careful verse-by-verse comparisons between languages."-"Islamic Horizons",

About the Author

Howard P. Chudacoff is George L. Littlefield Professor of American History at Brown University. His many books include How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture and The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Well-researched depiction of the culture of childhood restores faith in the resilience of children 30 Aug. 2007
By Bernard De Koven - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Howard Chudacoff's Children at Play: An American History explores the changing nature of childhood in American since the 1600s.

The whole notion of childhood as an historical and cultural phenomenon is, in itself, revelatory. Reading Children at Play is to see American children as something like a separate country, with its own government, its own history, its own customs, its own borders.

In a large part, the history of American childhood proves to be a story of borders being constantly redrawn, redefined, reinterpreted. Chudacoff's well-documented and compassionate study shows how children, poor and wealthy, slave and privileged, native and immigrant, surrounded on all sides by adult America, endowed with childlike resilience and endless capacity for passion, have managed to resist hundreds of years of concerted adult efforts to subvert childhood into something other, something safe, predictable and under control.

Children at Play is in many ways a romance. As the book nears its conclusion, and we read about the evermore massive attempts to co-opt children's play, we find our very adult selves hoping against hope that children will once again reclaim their inalienable rights, breaking the shackles of rampant commercialism and overprotective parents so they can once again take up their "quest for independence."

Here, from the end of the chapter "1950 to the Present," Chudacoff gifts us with a ray of hope: "...while media critics and child advocates have fretted about the hypnotic, sedentary quality that television has inflicted on children, there is always the possibility that kids can convert an object as mundane as a TV box into ther own plaything." He goes on to quote a story told by Isabel Alverez. "See, those old television sets used to have the cardboard [backs] with holes in them. The television was on and we could see all of the lights in the back...So we took the cardboard off and put our dolls in there and played that it was the city of Manhattan." Chudacoff concludes: "Kids still find ways to be kids."

Bernie DeKoven, author, Junkyard Sports, The Well-Played Game
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
For historians but also parents and grandparents 16 Sept. 2007
By Frances F. Fisher - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Done with the skill of a fine historian there is much here for parents and grandparents. I am particularly impressed with his conclusions. WHAT are we buying our young people and HOW are we programming them in the 21st century ? Whatever happened to play with imagination and to leisure time without stress? We have much to learn from the early days so well chronicled by Dr. Chudacoff. I suggest all those who fight lines at Xmas for the latest electronic gadget or dialup a list of playdates for the little ones wise read and reflect on this book first.
Written by Fran FF...a retired guidance counselor
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting essay 12 Aug. 2013
By Celine Derudder - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The points I liked in this book were as follows :

-It seems to be very well researched and documented. If a student needed the book as a starting point for further academic work, I am sure the references listed would be a great help, from philosophers and psychologists to recent studies.
-It reads easily, even if you are no specialist - I picked it out of sheer interest for the topic
-It covers the aspects of childplay in a very structured way : from the 1700s to late 1990s, society's outlook on children for each given period of time, boys vs girls and white children vs black or Amerindian children, where they play, what with.
-the introduction is absolutely brilliant.

What I lacked a little :
-Some repetition, due to how the book is structured - in a clear but somehow rigid way; at some point you have read enough times than Indian boys hunted and rode ponies to emulate thier adult counterparts;
-I wish the last part about television and toy mass marketing had been more developed, as to me it was one of the most interesting ones.

Overall a very insightful and enjoyable read. I think a good companion book for parents interested in more would be Bruno Bettelheim's " A good enough parent", which goes on to explore children's psychology through play and how to sometimes just let them be, as Chudacoff also recommends.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
disappointingly repetitive and thin 5 April 2014
By S. Nardi - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm both an academic and a father, and was looking for a book that would help me understand and historicize the role toys play in childhood. This did not do that in anywhere near the depth I was expecting. Really, it was quite disappointing.

The subtitle is a hint at what's wrong--in attempting to be comprehensive (and cover white, black, and Native American experiences) the argument is spread very thin, and ends up painting pretty much everyone with pretty much the same brush. There are a lot of "African Americans, too..." kind of generalities that add little intellectual depth.

Worse still, the actual thesis boils down to nothing more than the claim that kids are pretty resourceful, and will find ways to play that go beyond the prescribed functions of any particular toy or play space. Okay, true enough, but this doesn't need to be stated in so many ways and at such length. And that simplistic argument gets in the way of more sophisticated questions, such as the way (and why) that fact has been challenged by parenting literature and marketing strategies.

I was looking for an institutional history of play, and in particular a history of the idea of the toy as an educational object. That is in here, but in a glancing, partial, way. Part of the problem is Chudacoff relies heavily on memoirs and other personal writing as source material. As a result the book skews heavily to listing various styles of play and restating the thesis. He mentions parenting books and educational theory--but never at the depth that this material deserves. As a result the book feels padded and too short at the same time.

There's a great book hidden somewhere inside the folds of fat here, but it didn't come out. Save your money.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Great Mom Read 11 Jan. 2008
By rachel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a new mom I have so little time to read. A friend had told me that this was one to make time for, and she was right. Enjoyable, interesting and it made me feel slightly smarter - since all I seem to be reading these days is the back of Cheerios boxes. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a very well written book by a historian who writes from a unique perspective. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
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