Practical criticism of three "classic" or soon-to-be-classic children's books - Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, E.
B. White's Charlotte's Web, and Chris Van Allsburgh's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - provides the substance of the Nimble Reader.
McGillis employs these texts as well as others to explain the basic tenets and processes of criticism and to discuss criticism's usefulness in enhancing our understanding of children's literature.
He skillfully balances theoretical discussions of various types of criticism - archetypal, psycho-analytical, political, structuralist, poststructuralist, reader response, and the New Criticism - with practical analysis of his primary texts and other works.
With his engaging choice of texts, emphasis on practical criticism, and inclusion of bibliographies of both children's literature and works on literary theory and criticism, McGillis has succeeded in producing a dual-purpose volume: The Nimble Reader not only demonstrates a new approach to children's literature as a serious object of study but also represents one of the clearest presentations of literary theory published to date.