Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Hendrik Willem Van Loon was one of the most popular authors of books for young readers during his time. His works on geography, the arts, and the history of the United States, written and illustrated by the author, went through multiple reprintings and later appeared in cheaper, often paperback, editions. The Story of Mankind proved to be one of his most enduring works.

Recognized for its merits by being named as a winner of the Newbery Medal, The Story of Mankind was primarily important for three major reasons. First, it demonstrated that history for young readers did not have to be overly simplified or simplistic. Van Loon conveys a considerable amount of information in his work, often in fairly elaborate detail that requires concentration and attention by his readers. Second, Van Loon’s work showed that young readers could be interested in history as history, rather than history disguised as the story of fictitious children living on the fringes of great events from the past. Third, and perhaps most important, The Story of Mankind proved that juvenile and young adult readers could be interested in a serious subject, approached in a serious fashion, when presented to them in an extended format. For these reasons, as well as for its inherent merits and considerable appeal, The Story of Mankind stands as a landmark work.