A friend has pointed me to this article by Moira Redmond on "dreadlit". It makes many of the points I've been making, but I have one serious quibble:
"How to account for the neo-gothic shift of so much children's literature? The most obvious explanation is that the world is simply a grimmer place now than it was when Harriet [the spy] was published."
Really? In 1964 poverty was endemic, children left school anything between the ages of 15 and 17, it was ok to hit your kid, wife battering was considered a family affair, child sexual abuse was considered the child's fault, and a young middle class woman couldn't earn enough to support herself independently and if she was raped it was because she was out of bounds and therefore brought it upon herself.
Gosh. The past was *so* much safer wasn't it?