Sale's influence on literary criticism is most evident in his work on children's literature. Prior to his work in the 1960s and 1970s, few professional critics chose to take children's literature seriously, but Sale argued that it could and ought to be given the same respect and scrutiny as adult fiction. In 1978, he published a book entitled Fairy Tales and After, which is essentially a collection of essays defending the literary value of children's literature, and then offering his critical perspective on authors from A. A. Milne to Rudyard Kipling to Beatrix Potter.
Sale is also credited with being among the first literary critics to seriously discuss the work of J. R. R. Tolkien (which had been largely dismissed as "juvenile" and unworthy of analysis by most prominent critics, most notably Lionel Trilling). His essay "Tolkien and Frodo Baggins" appeared in Tolkien and the Critics (ed. by Neal Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo) in 1968.
Work as a journalist
Sale contributed frequently to the New York Review of Books in the 1970s -- he wrote 39 reviews and articles for that publication from 1971 to 1983, and offered his critical opinion of such now-notable books as Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow and Dispatches by Michael Herr.
Work as a historian
Surprisingly, although Sale's training and life's work focused on English literature, he is today perhaps best known as the author of a book of history -- specifically Seattle: Past to Present.
- On Writing, 1970
- Modern Heroism: Essays on D. H. Lawrence, William Empson and J.R.R. Tolkien, 1973
- On Not Being Good Enough: Writings of a Working Critic, 1979
- Closer to Home: Writers and Places in England, 1780-1830, 1986
- Roger Sale, Fairy Tales and After: from Snow White to E.B. White" Harvard Univ. Press, 1978. ISBN 0-674-29157-3