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Children's Literature

Children's Literature

Like the concept of childhood, children's literature is very much a cultural construct that continues to evolve over time. Children's literature comprises those texts that have been written specifically for children and those texts that children have selected to read on their own, and the boundaries between children's literature and adult literature are surprisingly fluid. John Rowe Townsend once argued that the only practical definition of a children's book is one that appears on the children's list by a publisher. Contemporary publishers are not making that distinction any easier; for example, Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There (1981) was published as a picture book for both children and adults, and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is available in adult and children's versions with the only difference being the book's cover art. While folk and fairy tales were not originally intended for children, they have become a staple of children's literature since the early nineteenth century. On the other hand, many books written for and widely read by children during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are considered historical children's literature today and are read almost exclusively by adult scholars of children's literature. Children's literature has been written, illustrated, published, marketed, and purchased consistently by adults to be given to children for their edification and entertainment. Generally speaking, it is the intended audience rather than the producers of the texts who define the field. Children's texts written by child or adolescent authors, such as Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters (1919) or Anne Frank's Het Achterhuis (1947; The Diary of a Young Girl, 1952), are exceptions to the rule. Many famous children's authors, such as Louisa May Alcott and Lewis Carroll, produced family magazines as children, and bits of their juvenilia were reworked into published children's books. More often, children's books result from the collaboration or direct inspiration of a specific child or group of children with an adult author. James Barrie's friendship with the Lewelyn Davies boys resulted in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (1904) and the novel Peter and Wendy (1911). The bedtime stories that A.A. Milne told his son Christopher Robin were revised into Winnie-the-Pooh (1926).

Although children's literature is intended primarily for children, it is more accurate to view such texts as having dual audiences of children and adults. Adults, particularly parents, teachers, and librarians, often function as gatekeepers who identify appropriate texts for children. Since children's literature has been marketed and purchased by adults who, in turn, present it to children, authors and publishers have attempted to produce children's texts that appeal to the desires of the actual adult purchaser, if not the child reader of the text. In the picture book and chapter book genres especially, an adult reads to a child or children in a group. It is only with the advent of the paperback book that adolescents, and in some cases younger children, have been able to select their books independent of adult supervision or funds. Prior to the development of public education and free libraries in the late nineteenth century, children's literature tended to be limited to the middle and upper classes. A children's book reflects the ideologies of the culture in which it was written and embodies that period's assumptions about children and appropriate behavior. Consequently, children's literature more often embodies adult concerns and concepts of childhood rather than topics children might choose for themselves. This gap between children's and adult's attitudes toward children's literature is often revealed in the difference between the top-selling children's books, which are frequently series books, and the books chosen annually by the American Library Association as the outstanding picture book (winner of the Caldecott Medal) and the outstanding book of prose (winner of the Newbery Medal).

Early History

In order for a society to produce a substantial body of children's literature it must recognize the existence of children as an important and distinctive category of readers with separate needs and interests. Despite Philippe AriÈs's much debated assertion that childhood was discovered in the seventeenth century, children's texts with limited circulation have been located from earlier periods of history. Manuscripts for religious education and courtesy books intended to teach rules of conduct were circulated among the wealthy in the Middle Ages. Harvey Darton has suggested that there were no children's books in England prior to the seventeenth century; however, he limits children's books to those printed texts that appeared after Johannes Gutenberg's fifteenth-century invention and includes handmade as well as printed texts that were concerned primarily with instruction, thus excluding educational textbooks or religious primers.

The twin purposes of instruction and delight have long been accepted as the primary goals of children's literature. John Newbery, a London bookseller, published at least thirty children's books and is recognized as the first British publisher to make children's books a permanent and profitable branch of the book trade. Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744) is the first significant commercial children's book published in English. Greatly influenced by John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), thefrontispiece of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book features the motto"Delectando Momenus : Instruction with Delight," which Newbery borrowed directly from Locke. Locke modified the concept from Horace's Ars poetica (c. 19 b.ce.; On the Art of Poetry ), which recommended, "He who combines the useful and the pleasing wins out by both instructing and delighting the reader." What Locke theorized, Newbery put into practice. Locke recommended that to encourage reading, a child should be given an "easy pleasant book suited to his capacity." While Locke rejected fairy tales, he felt fables, because they often were coupled with a moral, were appropriate texts for children. He specifically recommended both Reynard the Fox (1481) and Aesop's Fables (1484), noting "If his Aesop has pictures in it, it will entertain him much the better." A Little Pretty Pocket-Book is a compendium, including an illustrated alphabet, a selection of proverbs, and an illustrated group of Aesop's fables.

Darton was too limiting when he excluded didactic books from his definition of children's literature. Townsend considered the material published prior to Newbery as the prehistory of children's literature. These books were not intended for children, but eventually reached them, particularly chapbooks that featured folk tales or the legends of Robin Hood. Educational texts such as The Babees Book (1475), a conduct book for young gentlemen, also contribute to the prehistory of children's literature. William Caxton, the first English printer, published several texts that were not intended specifically for children, but his printings did appeal to them, notably Aesop's Fables, Reynard the Fox, and Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (1485).

An early form of didactic children's literature was the hornbook in which a single sheet of printed text, generally consisting of an alphabet and a prayer, was shared by a group of young scholars. The printed text was attached to a wooden frame and protected by a bit of flatted horn attached to a wooden handle. A later innovation was the battledore, which used parchment or heavy paper instead of wood and therefore allowed for printing on both sides. The Czech theologian and educator Johann Comenius recognized that children learn both visually and verbally. He published Orbissensualium pictus (1658) in Hungary, and the textbook was translated into English by Robert Hoole as Visible World (1659). The first illustrated textbook, Orbis sensualium pictus includes simple captions in Latin and in the common language as well as woodcuts that provide a visual encyclopedia of the world. This integration of visual and verbal elements has remained a significant design feature of children's literature, particularly in information and picture books. Another influential children's textbook was the New England Primer (c. 1689), compiled by Benjamin Harris. (While no copy of

the first edition has been located, a second edition was advertised in 1690 and the earliest surviving American copy is dated 1727.) It also combined significant visual and verbal elements; its most famous section is the illustrated alphabet, which begins "A, In Adam's Fall We Sinned All," linking the teaching of literacy with religious education. The New England Primer became the most frequently used schoolbook in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Puritan children's literature was intended to provide children with religious and moral education. The most extreme example is James Janeway's A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1672) in which multiple deathbed scenes present children who are physically weak but spiritually strong. While the Puritans were one of the first groups to create a large body of children's books, their doctrine of original sin assumed that all children were damned until they were converted to Christianity. A less harsh version of Puritan theology for children is found in John Bunyan's A Book for Boys and Girls (1686), a collection

of poems or divine emblems drawn from nature. Bunyan's religious allegory Pilgrim's Progress (1678) was not written specifically for children but was quickly produced in abridged versions for younger readers along with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). The enduring popularity of Pilgrim's Progress with children can be observed in the March sisters "Playing Pilgrims" in the first half of Alcott's LittleWomen (1868).

Newbery's children's books were less overtly religious than those produced by the Puritans. Instead his children's texts appealed to parents drawn to economic and social advancement. Directly aimed at the emerging urban middle classes, these books showed how literacy led to financial success. The most overt example is The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765), which is thought to have been written by Oliver Goldsmith, who wrote other children's texts for Newbery. The story features the poor but hard working orphan, Margery Meanwell, who becomes a tutoress and eventually impresses and marries a wealthy squire. Newbery's children's books support a middle-class ideology.

Newbery's genius was not as an author or illustrator but as a promoter and marketer of children's books who was skilled at convincing middle-class parents of the value of this new product category. His frequent advertisements in the press and his habit of inserting other titles and specific products into the texts of his children's books is a practice that continues in children's publishing. He also developed the custom of coupling children's books with non-book accessories. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was available at a slightly higher price when accompanied by either a "Ball and Pincushion, the Use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good Boy and Polly a Good girl."

The development of children's literature in England occurred simultaneously with the rise of the English novel. It is worth noting that the first children's novel, The Governess, or Little Female Academy (1749) by Sarah Fielding, was published in the same year as Tom Jones, which was written byher brother Henry Fielding.

The Governess introduced the popular genre of the school story, the most celebrated example being Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days (1857). This enduring fascination with the genre is echoed in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Another major educational theorist to have a profound influence on children's literature was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Émile (1762) was published in France and quickly translated into English. In Émile Rousseau rejected the Puritan concept of original sin and maintained that children were born innocent but were later corrupted by society. Ironically for a text that was to inspire the publication of many children's books, Rousseau thought children should learn by doing rather than by reading. He argued that children should only be taught to read at age twelve and then be limited to the book Robinson Crusoe. The best-known English follower of Rousseau, Thomas Day, wrote History of Sandfordand Merton (17831789), a three-volume comparison between the virtues of Harry Sandford, the poor but virtuous son of a farmer, and Tommy Merton, the spoiled son of a wealthy merchant, who are educated under the constant moralizing of their tutor, Mr. Barlow. Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life (1788), illustrated by William Blake, is a similar story for girls, with the rational Mrs. Mason finding object lessons from nature to inform her two charges, Caroline and Mary. Rousseau's belief in the ability to reason with children rather than using physical punishment is exemplified in Anna Laetitia Barbauld's Lessons for Children books (1778) as well as in Richard Edge-worth's Practical Education (1798), written in collaboration with his daughter, and in Maria Edgeworth's The Parent's Assistant (1796). Maria Edgeworth, daughter of Richard, was one of the finest writers of moral tales, which were those short domestic stories that encouraged children to focus on self-improvement. Such moral tales were one of the dominant forms of children's literature during the eighteenth century.

Fairy and Folk Tales

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, fairy and folk tales were considered inappropriate reading material for children, especially among the middle class. Puritans viewed them as a form of witchcraft, and both Locke and Rousseau warned against their frightening aspects, preferring stories of daily life. Mary Sherwood was the most strict writer of the moral tale and the author of the popular The History of the Fairchild Family (18181847), which was intended to provide the reader with religious education. At one point in the book, after the Fairchild children quarrel, to teach them a lesson their father takes them to a gibbet on which hangs the decaying body of a man who was executed for killing his brother. Sarah Trimmer's Fabulous Histories (1786) is a tale in which a family of robins teaches moral values. Trimmer also edited The Guardian of Education (18021806), a journal for parents and tutors, which was one of the first to evaluate children's books and to attempt a history of children's literature.

Attitudes toward fairy tales as children's literature changed during the nineteenth century when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their two-volume collection Kinderund Hausmärchen (18121815) in Germany. The Grimms were part of the German romantic movement and, with other writers for adultsincluding Ludwig Bechstein, Clemens Brentano, and E. T. A. Hoffmannchampioned the folk tale and the literary fairy tale. The Grimms were attempting to collect and preserve German folklore for other scholars, but when Edgar Taylor translated the tales into English as German Popular Stories (18231826), he revised and redirected the tales for children. George Cruikshank illustrated the volumes, and his humorous designs were praised by John Ruskin. The popularity of the Grimm's fairy tales as children's literature was buttressed by the 1697 publication of Charles Perrault's Histories, ou contes du temps passé,avec des Moralitez (1697). Perrault's artful and moral collection of eight fairy tales was translated as Histories, or Tales of Past Times in 1729 by Robert Samber. The literary fairy tales written by Perrault are often referred to as The Tales of Mother Goose or simply Mother Goose's Tales. The phrase Contes dema mere l'oye appeared in the engraving of an older woman telling stories to a group of children that served as the frontispiece of Perrault's collection; the phrase was translated by Samber as "Mother Goose's Tales."

Fairy tales became fashionable among adults in the French court at the end of the seventeenth century as a result of Perrault's publication and of Marie-Catherine Aulnoy's publication in the same year of Contes de fées (Stories of the fairies). Aulnoy's collection of literary fairy tales was translated into English in 1699 as The History of Tales of the Fairies. Another influential French writer of literary fairy tales was Marie Beaumont, who immigrated to England in 1745, where she published Magasin des enfans (1756), which wastranslated into English as The Young Misses Magazine (1757). The work features the conversations of a governess with her

pupils and includes a number of fairy tales, the best known being her version of "Beauty and the Beast."

Perrault's fairy tales gradually were adopted as children's texts known collectively as tales of Mother Goose. Aulnoy's fairy tales were identified as the tales of Mother Bunch and became the basis for many pantomines, a Victorian family theatrical entertainment.

Henry Cole, under the pseudonym Felix Summerly, edited the influential series of children's books, The Home Treasury (18431847), which helped rehabilitate the reputation of fairy tales as appropriate children's fare. Cole wanted the series to develop imagination in children and also to counteract the attacks on fairy tales by writers such as Trimmer and Sherwood. Moreover, the series was intended as an alternative to the enormously popular information books written by Peter Parley. Parley was the pen name of Samuel Goodrich, a prolific American writer of information books who considered fairy tales and nursery rhymes coarse and vulgar. The Home Treasury, with its numerous fairy tales and works of imaginative literature, was conceived by Cole as anti-Peter Parleyism. The constant battle over fairy tales, an impulse that pits the value of stories of ordinary life against imaginative and fantastical texts, is a debate that regularly appears in the history of children's literature.

With the publication of Hans Christian Andersen's Eventyr, fortalte for bo § rn (Tales, told for children; 1835, 1843, 1858, 1861) into English in 1848, the triumph of the fairy tale as legitimate children's literature was complete. Shortly thereafter, collections of folk tales and literary fairy tales, which were written in the manner of folk tales by a specific author, tended to dominate children's literature until the end of the Victorian period. The most popular literary fairy tale of the Victorian period was Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which was followed by its sequel Through the Looking Glass (1872); both were illustrated by John Tenniel. Carroll's imaginative novels are often credited with changing the emphasis of children's literature from instruction to delight. When compared with the majority of the children's books that preceded the Alice books, Carroll's works are remarkably free of religious or social lessons. Carroll even gently parodied Isaac Watts's poem "Against Idleness and Mischief" from Divine Songs (1715), yet the allusion also confirms the continued popularity of Watts's religious work. Religious lessons, such as those found in George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind (1871), or social lessons, as those emphasized in Christina Rossetti's Speaking Likenesses (1874), remained significant features of children's literature during the Victorian period.

Carroll's Alice books did not single-handedly cause a shift in children's literature. Catherine Sinclair's Holiday House (1839), which describes the frolicsome adventures of Laura and Harry Graham, reintroduced noisy, mischievous children into the world of children's books. Heinrich Hoffmann's Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder (Merry stories and funny pictures) was published in Germany in 1845 but since the third edition, which appeared in 1847, was known as Struwwelpeter. It featured illustrations and poems that mocked the excesses of Puritan cautionary tales for children. Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense (1846) is another celebrated collection of nonsense verse with comic illustrations that rejects the impulse to be morally improving or didactic. Lear specialized in the limerick although he also was skilled at writing longer poems, such as "The Owl and the Pussy-cat" and "The Dong with a Luminous Nose," which are tinged with melancholy. Carroll and Lear are often paired as the two great writers of nonsense literature. Both authors were influenced by those anonymous comic verses known in England as nursery rhymes and in the United States as Mother Goose rhymes. There have been countless publications of collections of Mother Goose rhymes. One of the most notable is Mother Goose's Melodies (1833), published by Munroe and Francis of Boston, in which Mother Goose proudly announces herself to be one of the great poets of all ages and on a first name basis with Billy Shakespeare. James Orchard Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes and Tales of England (1845) provided the respectability for nursery rhymes that fairy tales had already achieved.

Victorian Children's Literature

Victorian children's literature reflected the culture's separate spheres for men and women with different types of books written for girls and boys. Stories for girls were often domestic and celebrated the family life, such as Alcott's Little Women or Kate Douglas Wiggin's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903). Stories for boys, such as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), encouraged boys to have adventures. While Victorian children's literature developed the character of the good and bad boy, female characters were allowed less flexibility. Adventure storiessuch as R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island (1858), Robert Louis Steven-son's Treasure Island (1883), and Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901)became a popular genre for boys. Girls were encouraged to read moralistic and domestic fiction such as Charlotte Yonge's The Daisy Chain (1856) and the extremely popular girls' school stories by L. T. Meade, begun with The World of Girls (1886). Animal tales, such as Anna Sewell's Black Beauty (1877) and Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894) and

Second Jungle Book (1895), were thought to appeal to both sexes. This tradition continued into the twentieth century with Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908), and E. B. White's Charlotte's Web (1952) as some of the most memorable animal stories. Stuffed animals became the characters in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1828), which are illustrated admirably by Ernest Shepard.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw an explosion of children's literature, both in terms of quantity and quality. Children's literature historically has been more open to women as authors and illustrators because it has been considered less significant than adult literature and because publishers have regarded women as more capable of teaching and raising children. Children's literature also began to segment itself in terms of social class as penny dreadfuls, or dime novels, were produced for the working class and more high-minded literature was produced for the middle and upper classes.

The Victorian era is considered a golden age for book illustration and picture books. In the first half of the nineteenth century most children's books were illustrated with woodcuts or printed on wood blocks and then hand-colored, but later innovations in printing allowed for the widespread use of color. By the 1850s the master color printer Edmund Evans worked with some of the most capable picture book illustrators of the ageincluding Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter, and Richard Doyleto produce brilliant picture books and illustrated texts.

Contemporary Children's Literature

Twentieth-century children's literature was marked by increased diversity in both characters and authors. Earlier popular children's bookssuch as Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings (1880); Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899); Hugh Lofting's The Story of Dr. Dolittle (1920); Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant (1931), translated by Merle Haas from the French as The Story of Babar, The Little Elephant (1933); and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) have since been judged racist. Most children's literature prior to the twentieth century embodied a white ideology that was reflected in both the text and illustrations. From the 1920s on, there have been attempts to provide a more multicultural approach to children's literature. W. E. B. Du Bois's The Brownies Book (19201921) was the first African-American children's magazine. It featured stories, poems, and informational essays by authors such as Langston Hughes and Jessie Fauset. Over time publishers became more concerned with multiculturalism and issues of diversity. Notable African-American writerssuch as Arna Bontemps, Lucille Clifton, Mildred Taylor, Virginia Hamilton, and John Steptoeand Asian-American writersincluding Laurence Yep, Allen Say, and Ken Mochizukihave forever changed the once all-white world of children's literature.

On the other hand, children's literature has become more segmented in terms of age appropriateness. In the 1940s Margaret Wise Brown, inspired by the education theories of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the founder of the Bank Street College of Education, began to produce picture books intended for children under age six. Brown's best-known picture books for the very young are The Runaway Bunny (1941) and Goodnight Moon (1947), both illustrated by Clement Hurd. Mitchell also promoted stories that reflected the real world in collections such as her Here and Now Storybook (1921). This newfound interest in age-specific material led to the creation of the widely used Dick and Jane readers (19301965) developed by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp and distributed by Scott Foreman and Company. Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat (1957) was written as a creative alternative to such basal readers, although it was also designed as a controlled vocabulary book.

While Lothar Meggendorfer developed the movable picture book at the end of the nineteenth century with tabs and pullouts, pop-up books, shaped books, and tactile books did not achieve widespread popularity until the twentieth century. The best known of these books is Dorothy Kunhardt's interactive Pat the Bunny (1940). More contemporary texts, such as Jan Pienkowski's pop-up books Haunted House (1979) and Robot (1981), blur the distinctions between book and toy. Board books are available for infants and toddlers; some of the most imaginative are the series of Rosemary Wells's Max books, beginning with Max's Ride (1979), which provide compelling stories for preschoolers.

While many twentieth-century children's texts appealed to and explored the lives of older children, most critics point to Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer (1942) and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951) as the beginning of adolescent literature as a genre separate from children's literature. More recently, middle school literature has emerged as a distinctive category. Texts such as Beverly Cleary's Ramona series, which began with Beezus and Ramona (1955), Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (1964), and Judy Blume's problem novels, such as Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1970), have attracted readers too old for picture books but not ready for the adolescent novel.

Series books remain a larger, but contested, segment of children's literature. Books that follow the same set of characters or repeat an established formula have been an important part of children's literature since the nineteenth century with the publication of Horatio Alger's novels, which feature plucky boys who go from rags to riches, or Martha Finley's series on the pious but popular Elsie Dinsmore. Early in the twentieth century Edward Stratemeyer's syndicate of anonymous writers wrote books for multiple series under various pseudonyms, including the Nancy Drew series as Carolyn Keene, the Hardy Boys series as Franklin W. Dixon, and the Tom Swift series as Victor Appleton. While librarians and critics have tended to dismiss the repetitive nature of series books, some series bookssuch as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, begun with Little House in the Big Woods (1932), and C. S. Lewis's collection Chronicles of Narnia (19501956), which started with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)have been recognized as outstanding works of literature. Nonetheless, most series fictionsuch as L. Frank Baum's Oz series, begun with Wonderful Wizardof Oz (1900); R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series, begun with Welcome to the Dead House (1992); and Anne Martin's Baby-Sitters Club series, begun with Kristy's Great Idea (1986) have been embraced by older children but generally dismissed by adults and critics as insubstantial.

Media adaptation of children's books as films or as television series has become an increasingly important aspect of children's literature. Popular television series have been based on books such as Wilder's Little House series and Marc Brown's Arthur Adventure series, begun with Arthur's Nose (1976). Walt Disney has dominated the field of film adaptation of children's texts into cinema, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first feature-length animated film. Best known for animated films based on fairy tales, Disney has produced a number of live-action films, such as Mary Poppins (1964), based on P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins (1934), as well as animated features based on Carlo Collodi's Le avventure di Pinocchio (1882) and T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone (1939). As is the case with Victor Fleming's film The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel, or Alfonso Cuaron's film A Little Princess (1995), based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1905 novel, film adaptations often change, if not revise, the original text. This complicates the meaning of a children's text when children are more familiar with a text through viewing a media adaptation than through reading the book.

Since the 1960s, an increasing number of well-designed picture books have been produced. Such book illustrators as Maurice Sendak with Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Chris Van Allsburg with Jumanji (1981), and Anthony Browne with Gorilla (1983) have created highly imaginative picture books. Talented graphic designerssuch as Eric Carle with The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), Leo Lionniwith Swimmy (1963), and Lois Ehlert with Color Zoo (1989)have provided bold new approaches to creating picture books.

Despite the recent trend of categorizing children's literature by age, an increasing number of adults have begun reading children's books, blurring the boundaries between children's and adult texts. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, begun with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997), has wide appeal with both child and adult readers. Francesca Lia Block's postmodern fairy tales, such as Weetzie Bat (1989), and the darkly ironic A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket, which began with The Bad Beginning (1999), both have strong adult readership. Picture books have always been a showcase for designers and illustrators to display their talents. Increasingly sophisticated picture bookssuch as David Maccaulay's Black and White (1990) or the postmodern revisions of fairy tales written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales (1992)appeal as much to adults as to children. Contemporary children's literature continues to be a highly innovative and challenging field. As children's literature has become an increasingly financially profitable business, more successful writers who have first established themselves as writers for adults, such as Carl Hiassen (Hoot [2002]) and Michael Chabon (Summerland [2002]), are choosing to write for children.

See also: ABC Books; Comic Books; Juvenile Publishing; Movies .


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Jan Susina

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Children's Literature


Children's literature is any literature that is enjoyed by children. More specifically, children's literature comprises those books written and published for young people who are not yet interested in adult literature or who may not possess the reading skills or developmental understandings necessary for its perusal. In addition to books, children's literature also includes magazines intended for pre-adult audiences.

The age range for children's literature is from infancy through the stage of early adolescence, which roughly coincides with the chronological ages of twelve through fourteen. Between that literature most appropriate for children and that most appropriate for adults lies young adult literature. Usually young adult literature is more mature in content and more complex in literary structure than children's literature.

Most of the literary genres of adult literature appear in children's literature as well. Fiction in its various formscontemporary realism, fantasy and historical fiction, poetry, folk tales, legends, myths, and epicsall have their counterparts in children's literature. Nonfiction for children includes books about the arts and humanities; the social, physical, biological, and earth sciences; and biography and autobiography. In addition, children's books may take the form of picture books in which visual and verbal texts form an interconnected whole. Picture books for children include storybooks, alphabet books, counting books, wordless books, and concept books.


Literature written specifically for an audience of children began to be published on a wide scale in the seventeenth century. Most of the early books for children were didactic rather than artistic, meant to teach letter sounds and words or to improve the child's moral and spiritual life. In the mid-1700s, however, British publisher John Newbery (17131767), influenced by John Locke's ideas that children should enjoy reading, began publishing books for children's amusement. Since that time there has been a gradual transition from the deliberate use of purely didactic literature to inculcate moral, spiritual, and ethical values in children to the provision of literature to entertain and inform. This does not imply that suitable literature for children is either immoral or amoral. On the contrary, suitable literature for today's children is influenced by the cultural and ethical values of its authors. These values are frequently revealed as the literary work unfolds, but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Authors assume a degree of intelligence on the part of their audience that was not assumed in the past. In this respect, children's literature has changed dramatically since its earliest days.

Another dramatic development in children's literature in the twentieth century has been the picture book. Presenting an idea or story in which pictures and words work together to create an aesthetic whole, the picture book traces its origin to the nineteenth century, when such outstanding artists as Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, and Walter Crane were at work. In the 1930s and 1940s such great illustrators as Wanda Gag, Marguerite de Angeli, James Daugherty, Robert Lawson, Dorothy Lathrop, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maud and Miska Petersham, and Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire began their work. Many of these and other equally illustrious artists helped to bring picture books to their present position of prominence. Since 1945 many highly talented illustrators have entered this field.

With the advent of computer-based reproduction techniques in the latter part of the twentieth century, the once tedious and expensive process of full color reproduction was revolutionized, and now almost any original media can be successfully translated into picture book form. Although many artists continue to work with traditional media such as printmaking, pen and ink, photography, and paint, they have been joined by artists who work with paper sculpture, mixed media constructions, and computer graphics.

The changes in literature for older children have been equally important. Among the early and lasting contributions to literature for children were works by Jack London, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Hans Christian Andersen. These writers, however, considered adults their major audience; therefore, they directed only some of their literary efforts toward young readers. Today, large numbers of highly talented authors have turned to younger readers for an audience and direct most, if not all, of their writings to them.

Another major change in publishing for children has been the rise in multicultural children's literature. Prior to the mid-twentieth century the world depicted in children's books was largely a white world. If characters from a nonwhite culture appeared in children's books they were almost always badly stereotyped. The civil rights movement alerted publishers and the reading public to the need for books that depicted the America of all children, not just a white majority. Although the percentage of children's books by and about people of color does not equate with their actual population numbers, authors of color such as Virginia Hamilton, Mildred Taylor, Alma Flor Ada, Walter Dean Myers, Gary Soto, and Laurence Yep, and illustrators such as Allen Say, Ed Young, John Steptoe, Jerry Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney have made major contributions to a more multiculturally balanced world of children's books.

Not only are there larger numbers of talented writers and artists from many cultures at work for children, but the range of subject matter discussed in children's fiction has also been extended remarkably. Topics that were considered taboo only a short time ago are being presented in good taste. Young readers from ten to fourteen can read well-written fiction that deals with death, child abuse, economic deprivation, alternative life styles, illegitimate pregnancy, juvenile gang warfare, and rejected children. By the early twenty-first century it had become more nearly true than ever before that children may explore life through literature.

Literature in the Lives of Children

Literature serves children in four major ways: it helps them to better understand themselves, others, their world, and the aesthetic values of written language. When children read fiction, narrative poetry, or biography, they often assume the role of one of the characters. Through that character's thoughts, words, and actions the child develops insight into his or her own character and values. Frequently, because of experiences with literature, the child's modes of behavior and value structures are changed, modified, or extended.

When children assume the role of a book's character as they read, they interact vicariously with the other characters portrayed in that particular selection. In the process they learn something about the nature of behavior and the consequences of personal interaction. In one sense they become aware of the similarities and differences among people.

Because literature is not subject to temporal or spatial limitations, books can figuratively transport readers across time and space. Other places in times past, present, or future invite children's exploration. Because of that exploration, children come to better understand the world in which they live and their own relationship to it.

Written language in its literary uses is an instrument of artistic expression. Through prose and poetry children explore the versatility of the written word and learn to master its depth of meaning. Through literature, too, children can move beyond the outer edges of reality and place themselves in worlds of make-believe, unfettered by the constraints of everyday life.


The three principal settings in which children's literature functions are the home, the public library, and the school. In each of these settings, the functions of literature are somewhat different, but each function supports the others and interacts with them.

Home. Irrefutable evidence indicates that those children who have had an early and continuing chance to interact with good literature are more apt to succeed in school than those who have not. Parents who begin to read aloud to their children, often from birth, are communicating the importance of literature by providing an enjoyable experience. The young child makes a lasting connection between books, which provide pleasure, and the undisputed attention from the parent who takes time to do the reading. During the preschool years, books contribute to children's language structures and to their vocabulary. Children acquire a sense of language pattern and rhythm from the literary usage of language that is not found in everyday conversational speech. Then, too, children discover that print has meaning, and as they acquire the ability to read print as well as understand pictures, children find further pleasure in books. In finding that reading has its own intrinsic reward, children acquire the most important motivation for learning to master reading skills.

Public library. Public libraries have taken on an increasingly important role in serving children. Children's rooms, which were once the domain of a few select children, are inviting places for all children, whether or not they are inveterate readers. Libraries organize story hours, present films, and provide computers and quiet places to do homework as well as present special book-related events and sponsor book clubs and summer reading programs. Children's librarians guide the reading interests of children and act as consultants to parents. Full exploitation of the public library in the broader education of children has not yet been achieved, but growing acceptance by the public of the library as a community necessity rather than a luxury will help it to continue to play an increasingly important role in the lives of children.

School. Literature did not begin to make broad inroads into the reading curriculum until the 1950s. Before that time many schools had no library, and a good number of these schools did not even feel the need for one. Many schools relied almost exclusively on textbooks for instruction. By the end of the twentieth century, however, nearly every curriculum authority had come to recognize the importance of trade books (books other than textbooks) in the in-school education of children. In the early twenty-first century most schools have central libraries staffed by trained librarians and some schools provide financial support for classroom libraries as well. When this is not the case, teachers, recognizing the value of good literature, often reach into their own pockets to provide trade books for their classrooms. A 1998 survey of school library media programs by the Center of Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education found a mean of twenty-eight volumes per elementary school child in both public and private schools.

Function in the school curriculum. Literature plays an increasingly large role in the formal education of children in three related but rather discrete areas: the instructional reading program, the subject matter areas, and the literature program.

Most instructional reading programs recognize the importance of literature. Basal reading textbook programs generally recommend that trade books be used from the beginning of formal reading instruction in order to motivate readers through the long, and sometimes frustrating, efforts that learning to read usually demands. Through trade books the reader finds those efforts are rewarded by the pleasure gained from reading. In many schools the teaching of reading has been centered on trade books rather than textbooks. But in literature-based programs, teachers plan instruction around experiences with "real" books, experiences that include helping students make their own reading choices and giving children time to share responses to reading with their peer group. Schools with such literature-based programs recognize the importance of creating a classroom community of readers that will not only help children learn how to read but will also encourage them to become lifelong readers.

Subject matter areas, such as social studies and the sciences, have depended to a large extent upon textbooks to provide common learning for entire classes. However, there are limitations inherent in the nature of textbooks that require supplementation by trade books. Because textbooks survey broad areas of knowledge, space limitations prevent in-depth explorations of particular topics. Recent discoveries and events cannot always be included because textbook series require long periods of preparation. Content area textbooks are often subject to review by state committees that limit potentially controversial material. Trade books are widely used to offset these limitations. Nonfiction books provide opportunities for in-depth consideration of particular topics. Furthermore, the comparatively short time needed for the preparation and publication of trade books makes recent discoveries and occurrences available to the reader.

Elementary school literature programs vary widely. As state and national standards and testing drive curriculum some schools reflect the attitude that literature is a luxury, if not an undesirable frill.

In such schools little, if any, in-school time is devoted either to reading for pleasure or to the formal study of literature. Most schools, however, recognize children's need for some pleasurable experiences with literature that enable them to return to books to think more deeply about the characters, themes, and other literary elements. In such schools the study of literature is grounded in reader response theory that grew out of Louise Rosenblatt's contention in Literature as Exploration that "the literary work exists in a live circuit set up between reader and text" (p. 25). Thus the reader is seen as a coconstructor of meaning with the author. Any plan for the direct study of literary form, structure, and content as a means of heightening the pleasure of reading includes, at a minimum, teachers reading aloud from works of literature, and the formation of book circles where small groups of students regularly meet together to discuss books. In addition teachers should plan time for children to respond to books through writing, creative dramatics, and other art forms.


There are a number of awards made to authors and illustrators of children's books, and these awards frequently aid readers in the selection of books. The most prestigious American awards are the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. The Newbery Medal is presented each year to the author of the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" published in the previous year. To be eligible for the award, the author must be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident of the United States. The winner is chosen by a committee of the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) of the American Library Association (ALA). The Caldecott Medal is given each year to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." The winner is selected by the same committee that chooses the Newbery winner. In addition to the Newbery and Caldecott medals, other prominent awards given under the auspices of the ALSC include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which is given to an author or illustrator who has "made a substantial contribution to literature for children" over a period of years; the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, which honors the author whose work of nonfiction has made a significant contribution to the field of children's literature in a given year; and the Batchelder Award, given to the publisher of the most outstanding book of the year that is a translation, published in the United States, of a book that was first published in another country. Other notable American book awards include the Coretta Scott King Awards given by the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association to an African-American author and an African-American illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions to literature for children, and the Pura Belpré Award, which is sponsored by ALSC and REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library Service to the Spanish Speaking). This award is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding book for children. The Hans Christian Andersen prize, the first international children's book award, was established in 1956 by the International Board on Books for Young People. Given every two years, the award was expanded in 1966 to honor an illustrator as well as an author. A committee composed of members from different countries judges the selections recommended by the board or library associations in each country.

The following list of outstanding children's books was selected from award winners of the twentieth century and is meant to mark important milestones in children's literature.

Aardema, Verna. 1975. Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears. Illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon. New York: Dial.

Alexander, Lloyd. 1968. The High King. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Atwater, Richard, and Florence Atwater. 1938. Mr. Popper's Penguins. Boston: Little, Brown.

Bailey, Carolyn Sherwin. 1946. Miss Hickory. Illustrated by Ruth Gannett. New York: Viking.

Bang, Molly. 1999. When Sophie Gets AngryReally, Really Angry. New York: Scholastic.

Bemelmans, Ludwig. 1939. Madeline. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Bontemps, Arna. 1948. Story of the Negro. New York: Knopf.

Brink, Carol Ryrie. 1935. Caddie Woodlawn. Illustrated by Kate Seredy. New York: Macmillan.

Brown, Marcia. 1947. Stone Soup. New York: Scribner's.

Brown, Marcia. 1961. Once a Mouse. New York: Scribner's.

Burton, Virginia Lee. 1942. The Little House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Clark, Ann Nolan. 1952. Secret of the Andes. Illustrated by Jean Charlot. New York: Viking.

Cleary, Beverly. 1977. Ramona and Her Father. New York: Morrow.

Cleary, Beverly. 1984. Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York: Morrow.

Collier, James, and Collier, Christopher. 1974. My Brother Sam Is Dead. New York: Four Winds.

Cooney, Barbara, ed. and illus. 1958. The Chanticleer and the Fox, by Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Crowell.

Cooper, Susan. 1973. The Dark Is Rising. New York: Atheneum.

Cooper, Susan. 1975. The Grey King. New York: Atheneum.

Creech, Sharon. 1994. Walk Two Moons. New York: Harper Collins.

Crews, Donald. 1978. Freight Train. New York: Greenwillow.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. Bud, Not Budd. New York: Delacorte.

Cushman, Karen. 1995. The Midwife's Apprentice. New York: Clarion.

de Angeli, Marguerite. 1949. The Door in the Wall. New York: Doubleday.

de Paola, Tomie. 1975. Strega Nona. New York: Simon and Schuster.

de Regniers, Beatrice Schenk. 1964. May I Bring a Friend? New York: Atheneum.

Emberley, Barbara. 1967. Drummer Hoff. Illustrated by Ed Emberley. New York: Prentice Hall.

Estes, Eleanor. 1944. The Hundred Dresses. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.

Feelings, Muriel. 1971. Moja Means One: A Swahili Counting Book. Illustrated by Tom Feelings. New York: Dial.

Field, Rachel. 1929. Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop. New York: Macmillan.

Fleischman, Paul. 1988. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. New York: Harper and Row.

Forbes, Esther. 1943. Johnny Tremain. Illustrated by Lynd Ward. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Fox, Paula. 1973. The Slave Dancer. New York: Bradbury.

Freedman, Russell. 1987. Lincoln: A Photobiography. New York: Clarion.

Gág, Wanda. 1928. Millions of Cats. New York: Coward-McCann.

Gates, Doris. 1940. Blue Willow. New York: Viking.

Geisel, Theodor S. [Dr. Seuss]. 1951. If I Ran the Zoo. New York: Random House.

George, Jean. 1972. Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper and Row.

Goble, Paul. 1978. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. New York: Bradbury.

Haley, Gail E. 1970. A Story, A Story. New York: Atheneum.

Hall, Donald. 1979. Ox-Cart Man. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. New York: Viking.

Hamilton, Virginia. 1974. M.C. Higgins the Great. New York: Macmillan.

Henry, Marguerite. 1948. King of the Wind. Illustrated by Wesley Dennis. New York: Rand McNally.

Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic.

Hodges, Margaret. 1984. Saint George and the Dragon. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Boston: Little, Brown.

Hogrogian, Nonny. 1971. One Fine Day. New York: Macmillan.

Keats, Ezra Jack. 1962. The Snowy Day. New York: Viking.

Konigsburg, E. L. 1967. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum.

Konigsburg, E. L. 1996. The View from Saturday. New York: Atheneum.

Langstaff, John. 1955. Frog Went A-Courtin'. Illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.

Lawson, Robert. 1944. Rabbit Hill. New York: Viking.

L'Engle, Madeleine. 1962. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus.

Lenski, Lois. 1945. Strawberry Girl. New York: Lippincott.

Lester, Julius. 1968. To Be a Slave. New York: Dial.

Lionni, Leo. 1963. Swimmy. New York: Pantheon.

Lobel, Arnold. 1972. Frog and Toad Together. New York: Harper and Row.

Lobel, Arnold. 1980. The Giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lowry, Lois. 1989. Number the Stars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Macaulay, David. 1973. Cathedral. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Macaulay, David. 1990. Black and White. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

MacDonald, Golden. 1946. The Little Island. Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. New York: Doubleday.

MacLachlan, Patricia. 1985. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper and Row.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. 1998. Snowflake Bentley. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Mathis, Sharon. The Hundred Penny Box. New York: Viking.

McCloskey, Robert. 1941. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: Viking.

McCloskey, Robert. 1948. Blueberries for Sal. New York: Viking.

McCully, Emily Arnold. 1992. Mirette on the High Wire. New York: Putnam.

McKissack, Patricia. 1988. Mirandy and Brother Wind. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Harper and Row.

Means, Florence Crannell. 1945. The Moved-Outers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Milhous, Katherine. 1950. The Egg Tree. New York: Scribner's.

Minarik, Else. 1961. Little Bear's Visit. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. New York: Harper and Row.

Murphy, Jim. 1995. The Great Fire. New York: Scholastic.

Musgrove, Margaret. 1976. Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions. Illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon. New York: Dial.

Myers, Walter Dean. 1988. Scorpions. New York: Harper and Row.

Myers, Walter Dean. 1997. Harlem. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. New York: Scholastic.

O'Dell, Scott. 1960. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Paterson, Katherine. 1977. Bridge to Terabithia. New York: Crowell.

Paterson, Katherine. 1980. Jacob Have I Loved. New York: Crowell.

Peck, Richard. 2000. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Dial.

Perrault, Charles. 1954. Cinderella. Illustrated by Marcia Brown. New York: Harper and Row.

Pinkney, Andrea. 1997. Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. New York: Hyperion.

Politi, Leo. 1949. Song of the Swallows. New York: Scribner's.

Ransome, Arthur. 1968. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz. New York: Farrar, Straus.

Raschka, Chris. 1993. Yo! Yes? New York: Orchard.

Raskin, Ellen. 1978. The Westing Game. New York: Dutton.

Rathman, Peggy. 1995. Officer Buckle and Gloria. New York: Putnam.

Ringgold, Faith. 1991. Tar Beach. New York: Crown.

Rylant, Cynthia. 1992. Missing May. New York: Jackson/Orchard.

Sachar, Louis. 1998. Holes. New York: Delacorte.

San Souci, Robert D. 1989. The Talking Eggs. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Dial.

Sauer, Julia L. 1943. Fog Magic. New York: Viking.

Sawyer, Ruth. 1936. Roller Skates. Illustrated by Valenti Angelo. New York: Viking.

Sawyer, Ruth. 1953. Journey Cake, Ho! Illustrated by Robert McClosky. New York: Viking.

Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Scieszka, Jon. 1992. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Illustrated by Lane Smith. New York: Viking.

Sendak, Maurice. 1963. Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper and Row.

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. 1968. When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus.

Speare, Elizabeth George. 1958. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sperry, Armstrong. 1940. Call It Courage. New York: Macmillan.

Spinelli, Jerry. 1990. Maniac Magee. Boston: Little, Brown.

Steig, William. 1969. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. New York: Windmill/Simon and Schuster.

Steig, William. 1976. Abel's Island. New York: Farrar, Straus.

Steptoe, John. 1987. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Story. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard.

St. George, Judith. 2000. So You Want to Be President. Illustrated by David Small. New York: Philomel.

Taback, Sims. 1999. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York: Viking.

Taro, Yashima. 1955. Crow Boy. New York: Viking.

Taylor, Mildred D. 1976. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York: Dial.

Thurber, James. 1943. Many Moons. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.

Tresselt, Alvin. 1947. White Snow, Bright Snow. Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. New York: Lothrop.

Udry, Janice May. 1956. A Tree Is Nice. Illustrated by Marc Simont. New York: Harper and Row.

Van Allsburg, Chris. 1981. Jumanji. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Van Allsburg, Chris. 1985. The Polar Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Voigt, Cynthia. 1981. Dicey's Song. New York: Atheneum.

Ward, Lynd. 1952. The Biggest Bear. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

White, E. B. 1952. Charlotte's Web. New York: Harper and Row.

Wiesner, David. 1991. Tuesday. New York: Clarion.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. 1937. On the Banks of Plum Creek. New York: Harper and Row.

Williams, Vera B. 1982. A Chair for My Mother. New York: Morrow.

Wisniewski, David. 1996. Golem. New York: Clarion.

Yep, Laurence. 1975. Dragonwings. New York: Harper and Row.

Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. New York: Philomel.

Young, Ed. 1989. Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China. New York: Philomel.

Zelinsky, Paul O. 1997. Rapunzel. New York: Dutton.

Zemach, Harve. 1973. Duffy and the Devil. Illustrated by Margot Zemach. New York: Farrar, Straus.

See also: English Education, subentry on Teaching of; Language Arts, Teaching of; Reading.


Applebee, Arthur. 1978. The Child's Concept of Story: Ages Two to Seventeen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Prichard, Mari, eds. 1984. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Egoff, Sheila; Stubbs, Gordon; Ashley, Ralph; and Sutton, Wendy, eds. 1996. Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Harris, Violet J., ed. 1997. Using Multicultural Literature in the K8 Classroom. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Horning, Kathleen T. 1997. From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books. New York: Harper Collins.

Huck, Charlotte; Hepler, Susan; Hickman, Janet; and Kiefer, Barbara. 2001. Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 7th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hunt, Peter. 1999. Criticism, Theory, and Children's Literature. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

Jackson, Mary V. 1990. Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Lehr, Susan. 1991. The Child's Developing Sense of Theme: Responses to Literature. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lukens, Rebecca J. 1999. A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature, 6th edition. New York: Longman.

Lurie, Alison. 1990. Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: Subversive Children's Literature. Boston: Little, Brown.

Murry, Gail S. 1998. American Children's Literature and the Construction of Childhood. New York: Twayne Publishers.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. 1994. The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. 1996. Literature as Exploration, 5th edition. New York: Modern Language Association.

Roser, Nancy L., and Martinez, Miriam, eds. 1995. Book Talk and Beyond: Children and Teachers Respond to Literature. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Silvey, Anita, ed. 1995. Children's Books and Their Creators. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sutherland, Zena. 1996. Children and Books. 9th ed. New York: Addison Wesley.

Townsend, John Rowe. 1990. Written for Children: An Outline of English Children's Literature, 4th edition. New York: Harper Collins.

Shelton L. Root Jr.

Revised by

Barbara Z. Kiefer

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children's literature

children's literature, writing whose primary audience is children.

See also children's book illustration.

The Beginnings of Children's Literature

The earliest of what came to be regarded as children's literature was first meant for adults. Among this ancient body of oral literature were myths and legends created to explain the natural phenomena of night and day and the changing seasons. Ballads, sagas, and epic tales were told by the fireside or in courts to an audience of adults and children eager to hear of the adventures of heroes. Many of these tales were later written down and are enjoyed by children today.

The first literature written specifically for children was intended to instruct them. During the Middle Ages the Venerable Bede, Aelfric, St. Aldhelm, and St. Anselm all wrote school texts in Latin, some of which were later used in schools in England and colonial America. More enjoyable and enduring fare came later when William Caxton, England's first printer, published Aesop's Fables (1484) and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (1485). The hornbook, invented at the end of the 15th cent., taught children the alphabet, numerals, and the Lord's Prayer. Alphabet books were popular in battledore and in chapbook form. The New England Primer (1689), the first children's book published in the American colonies, taught the alphabet along with prayers and religious exhortations.

The first distinctly juvenile literature in England and the United States consisted of gloomy and pious tales—mostly recounting the deaths of sanctimonious children—written for the edification of Puritan boys and girls. Out of this period came one classic for both children and adults, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678). Later works written for adults but adapted for children were Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726).

In 1729 the English translation of Charles Perrault's Tales of Mother Goose became popular in England. A collection of Mother Goose rhymes was published in 1765 by John Newbery, an English author and bookseller. Newbery was the first publisher to devote himself seriously to publishing for children. Among his publications were A Pretty Little Pocket Book (1744) and The Renowned History of Little Goody Two Shoes (1765). Pirated editions of Newbery's works were soon published in the United States by Isaiah Thomas and others.

By the end of the 18th cent., juvenile literature, partly under the influence of Locke and Rousseau, had again become didactic. This time the didacticism was of an intellectual and moralistic variety, as evidenced in the sober, uplifting books of such authors as Thomas Day, Mary Sherwood, and Maria Edgeworth in England and in the United States by Samuel Goodrich (pseud. Peter Parley) and Martha Finley (pseud. Martha Farquarson), who wrote the famous Elsie Dinsmore series.

A Flowering of Children's Literature

Contrasting with the didactic movement was 19th-century romanticism, which produced a body of literature that genuinely belonged to children. For the first time children's books contained fantasy and realism, fun and adventure, and many of the books written at that time are still popular today. Folk tales collected in Germany by the brothers Grimm were translated into English in 1823. The fairy stories of Hans Christian Andersen appeared in England in 1846. At the end of the 19th cent. Joseph Jacobs compiled English folk tales. Andrew Lang, a folklorist, began a series of fairy tales. Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense (1846) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses (1885) set the style for much of the poetry written for children today. Lewis Carroll's twin masterpieces Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) combine lunacy and fantasy with satire and word games.

Victorian family life is realistically depicted in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868), whereas Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1880) emphasize adventure; all three books present fully developed characters. At the turn of the century several children's magazines were being published, the most important being the St. Nicholas Magazine (1887–1943).

Meanwhile, translations widened the world of the English-speaking child from the 19th cent. on; popular translated works include J. D. Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson (tr. from the German, 1814); Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio (tr. from the Italian, 1892); Felix Salten's Bambi (tr. from the German, 1928); Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince (tr. from the French, 1943); Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking (tr. from the Swedish, 1950); and Herta von Gebhardt's The Girl from Nowhere (tr. from the German, 1959).

The Twentieth Century

The contributions and innovations of the 19th cent. continued into the 20th cent., achieving a distinct place in literature for children's books, and spawning innumerable genres of children's literature. Fantasy written for children includes L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (1927), P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins (1934), J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937), C. S. Lewis's "Narnia" series, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web (1952) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), Madeleine L'Engle's science-fiction A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three (1964), Brian Jacques's Redwall series (1987–), and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books (7 vol., 1997–2007). Among the most popular and influential books in the last half of the 20th cent. are the many novels of Beverly Cleary, which portray the lives of ordinary children. Popular collections of humorous verse include Laura Richards's Tirra Lirra (1932), Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses (1941), John Ciardi's Reason for the Pelican (1959), and Arnold Spilka's Rumbudgin of Nonsense (1970).

Adventure and mystery are found in such works as Armstrong Sperry's Call It Courage (1941) and E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968). The novel for children now includes many of the literary, psychological, and social elements found in its adult counterpart. Books with sophisticated emphasis on plot, mood, characterization, or setting are Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows (1908), Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain (1944), Joseph Krumgold's And Now Miguel (1953), and Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins (1961). Mature treatment of the emotions of growing up characterizes Irene Hunt's Up a Road Slowly (1966), whereas William Armstrong's Sounder (1970) realistically portrays the experiences of a black sharecropper and his family.

From the 1960s through the 90s "socially relevant" children's books have appeared, treating subjects like death, drugs, sex, urban crisis, discrimination, the environment, and women's liberation. S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1980) and Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese (1977) are two novels that offer vivid portrayals of the sometimes unpleasant aspects of maturing. These books also reveal the trend toward a growing literature for teenagers. Other novelists that write convincingly of growing up in contemporary society include Ellen Raskin, Judy Blume, and Cynthia Voigt. Some critics consider these books as didactic as the children's books of the 17th and early 19th cent.

Another trend has been books written by children, especially poetry, such as Richard Lewis's Miracles (1966), a collection of poems written by children of many countries. During the 20th cent. in particular, new collections of tales that reach back to the oral roots of literature have come from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. International folktales have also received increasing attention. Among the many authors pursuing these themes, Verna Aardema compiles African folktales and Yoko Kawashima Watkins studies Asian oral traditions. During the 1980s and 90s in particular, multicultural concerns became an important aspect of the new realistic tradition in children's literature, as in Allen Say's tales of the Japanese-American immigrant experience.

The Newbery Medal, an award for the most distinguished work of literature for children, was established by Frederic Melcher in 1922; in 1938 he established a second award, the Caldecott Medal, for the best picture book of the year. An international children's book award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, was given in 1970 for the first time to an American, Maurice Sendak, in recognition of his contribution to children's literature. His Where the Wild Things Are (1963) won him international acclaim and was followed by two sequels, In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981).

Magazines that review and discuss children's literature include The Horn Book,The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and the School Library Journal in the United States and The Junior Bookshelf in Great Britain.


See B. Hürlimann, Three Centuries of Children's Books in Europe (1967); S. Egoff et al., Only Connect (1969); C. Meigs, A Critical History of Children's Literature (rev. ed. 1969); J. Karl, From Childhood to Childhood (1970); M. Lystad, From Dr. Mather to Dr. Seuss (1980); S. Egoff, Thursday's Child: Trends and Patterns in Contemporary Children's Literature (1981) and World Within: Children's Fantasy from the Middle Ages to Today (1988); D. E. Norton, Through the Eyes of a Child (1983); F. Butler and R. W. Robert, ed., Reflections on Literature for Children (1984); C. Frey and J. Griffith, The Literary Heritage of Childhood (1987); M. West, Before Oz: Juvenile Fantasy Stories from 19th-Century America (1989); M. H. Arbuthnot et al., Children and Books (8th ed. 1991); J. Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne (1995); J. Goldthwaite, The Natural History of Make-Believe: Tracing the Literature of Imagination for Children (1996); J. Zipes et al., The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature (2005); L. S. Marcus, Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepeneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature (2008); S. Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History (2008).

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