Children's literature is an age category of literature written for, published for, or marketed to children, roughly through age 12. Children's literature spans various literary genres of interest to children.
Boundaries between children's, young-adult, and adult literature
The distinctions between children's literature
, young-adult literature, and adult literature
are often flexible and loosely defined. Nancy Anderson has delineated six major categories of children's literature, with some significant subgenres:
Though not every book will fit neatly into only one genre, There is some debate on what constitutes children's literature. Most broadly, the term applies to books that are actually selected and read by children. Conversely, the term is often restricted to books various authories determine are "appropriate" for children, such as teachers, professional reviewers, literary scholars, parents, publishers, librarians, bookstore personnel, and the various book-award committees. Anderson defines children's literature as all books written for children, "excluding works such as comic books, joke books, cartoon books, and nonfiction works that are not intended to be read from front to back, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference material".
In addition to genres, books can also be categorized by their various formats, such as picture books, easy-to-read books, illustrated books, chapter books, hardcover books, paperback books, grocery store books, and series books. There is considerable controversy on whether grocery store (particularly merchandise) books are considered literature. Included in this debate are comic books and graphic novels.
While most children's literature is specifically written for children, many classic books that were originally intended for adults are now commonly thought of as works for children, including Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conversely, some works of fiction originally written or marketed for children are also read and enjoyed by adults, such as Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, both of which received the Whitbread Awards, which are typically awarded to adult novels. Also included are the works of J. K. Rowling and Shel Silverstein. Additionally, the Nobel prize for literature has also been given to authors who made great contributions to children's literature, such as Selma Lagerlöf and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Often no consensus is reached whether a given work is best categorized as adult or children's literature, and many books are marketed in adult, children's, and young adult editions.
There are a number of problems inherent in defining a class of books as "children’s literature": For example, much of what is commonly regarded as "classic" children's literature speaks on multiple levels, and as such is able to be enjoyed by both adults and children. For example, many people will reread Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows as adults and appreciate aspects of each that they failed to notice when they read the books as children. Many critics regard such multiplicity as having drawbacks, however; an adult may see the darker themes of a book and deem it unsuitable for children, despite the fact that such themes will likely be lost on younger readers.
One example of this is Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, throughout which the word "nigger" is used liberally. Many people feel that the word's racist and discriminatory connotations make it unacceptable to use anywhere, and particularly in a book aimed at children. Others, however, claim that to call the book racist because of this usage is to miss its point; Huckleberry Finn shows an admirable black character who becomes the voice of reason for a cast-off urchin and a middle- class white boy. Peter Hollindale, the educator and literary critic, applauded the book as "one of the greatest anti-racist texts of all time and T. S. Eliot called it a "masterpiece".
Parents wishing to protect their children from the unhappier aspects of life often find the traditional fairy tales, nursery rhymes and other voyages of discovery problematical, because often the first thing a story does is remove the adult influence, leaving the central character to learn to cope on his or her own: prominent examples of this include Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Bambi and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Many regard this as necessary to the story; after all, in most cases the whole point of the story is the characters' transition into adulthood.
Many authors specialize in books for children. Other authors are more known for their writing for adults, but have also written books for children, such as Alexey Tolstoy's The Adventures of Burratino, and Carl Sandburg's "Rootabaga Stories". In some cases, books intended for adults, such as Swift's Gulliver's Travels have been edited (or bowdlerized) somewhat, to make them more appropriate for children.
Another type of children's literature is work written by children, such as The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford (aged 9) or the juvenilia of Jane Austen or Lewis Carroll, written to amuse brothers and sisters.
An attempt to identify the characteristics shared by works called "children's literature" leads to some good general guidelines that are generally accepted by experts in the field. No one rule is perfect, however, and for every identifying feature there are many exceptions, as well as many adult books that share the characteristic. (For further discussion, see Hunt 1991: 42-64, Lesnik-Oberstein 1996, Huck 2001: 4-5.)
Publishers have attempted to further break down children's literature into subdivisions appropriate for different ages. In the United States, current practice within the field of children's books publishing is to break children's literature into pre-readers, early readers, chapter books, and young adults. This is roughly equivalent to the age groups 0-5, 5-7, 7-11 (sometimes broken down further into 7-9 and pre-teens), and books for teenagers. However, the criteria for these divisions are just as vague and problematic as the criteria for defining children's books as a whole. One obvious distinction is that books for younger children tend to contain illustrations, but picture books which feature art as an integral part of the overall work also cross all genres and age levels (as can be seen with the Caldecott Honor Book Tibet: Through the Red Box, by Peter Sis, which has an adult implied reader). As a general rule the implied reader of a children's or young adult book is 1-3 years younger than the protagonist. (Counter example: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, not necessarily written for children, but co-opted by a child and young-adult audience.)
Anderson suggests that literary elements should be found throughout all of children's literature. These important elements include characters, point of view, setting, plot, theme, style, and tone.
Anderson also suggests that every teacher should have at least 300 books in their classroom library.
Anderson states that there are "several common themes in traditional literature" they follow along the lines of "Triumph of good over evil, trickery, hero's quest, reversal of fortune, and small outwitting the big," "Because one of the purposesof folklore was to transmit cultural values and beliefs, the theme is uaually quite apparent.
Authors and artists
Children's books are often illustrated, sometimes lavishly, in a way that is rarely used for adult literature. As a rule of thumb, the younger the intended reader (or commonly pre-literate children), the more attention is paid to the artwork. Many authors work with a preferred artist who illustrates their words; others create books together, achieving "a marriage of words and pictures."
Many authors and illustrators belong to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
According to Anderson, "Even after children learn to read, illustrations continue to aid to their comprehension. Among the many components of a child's visual world, book illustrations are a beautiful medium through which to learn about their world". Children's picture books can be a cognitively accessible source of high quality Art for young children. You can help children appreciate the artwork in children's literature by calling attention to the techniques that artists use, such as space, line, shape, color, texture, scale and dimension, and composition.
Watercolor is the most popular medium for picture book illustrations.
Popular contributions to children's literature
(In chronological order
- John Amos Comenius (1592–1670): Czech author of Orbis Pictus, considered to be the first picture book specifically for children.
- Charles Perrault (1628–1703): a French author who laid the foundations of the fairy tale. His stories include Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella.
- The Brothers Grimm (Jacob Grimm, 1785–1863, and Wilhelm Grimm, 1786–1859): German academics, best known for collections of folk tales and fairy tales. They retold such stories as Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel.
- Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875): a Danish author and poet, best known for his fairy tales, such as The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling.
- Carlo Collodi (1826–1890): the Italian author of Pinocchio, initially published in serial form in Il Giornale dei Bambini (the first Italian newspaper for children).
- Johanna Spyri (1827–1901): a Swiss children's author, best known for Heidi.
- Lewis Carroll (1832–1898), real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: English clergyman and children's author, world-famous for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. He also wrote other books, such as the long poem The Hunting of the Snark.
- Oscar Wilde (1854–1900): an Irish author, whose work for children includes The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888).
- L. Frank Baum (1856–1919): American author, best known for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels.
- E. Nesbit (Edith Nesbit, 1858–1924): an English author and poet whose children's books include The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1898), Five Children and It (1902), The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) and The Railway Children (1906).
- Beatrix Potter (1866–1943): British author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit who used her love of nature and the English Lake District countryside to give life to her anthropomorphic animals in her series of 23 little Tales.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957): an American author, who wrote the Little House series of children's books based on her childhood in a Western-pioneering family. She wrote the first installment, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 years old. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, awarded by the American Library Association, was named after her (and she was the first recipient of the award, in 1954.)
- Arthur Ransome (1884–1967): a British author whose Swallows and Amazons series of children's books tell of adventures in the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads and at sea, sailing, fishing and camping. The books still fuel a tourist industry in the English Lake District. Swallows and Amazons was followed by Swallowdale, Peter Duck, Winter Holiday, Coot Club, Pigeon Post, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, Secret Water, The Big Six, Missee Lee, The Picts And The Martyrs, and Great Northern?.
- Hugh Lofting (1886–1947): a British author, trained as a civil engineer, who created Doctor Dolittle.
- Dodie Smith (1896–1990): a British author and creator of The Hundred and One Dalmatians
- Enid Blyton (1897–1968): British author of such children's books as The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Magic Faraway Tree. She is claimed to be the best-selling author in the history of children's literature. Her books have been translated into ninety different languages and have sold over 400 million copies.
- C. S. Lewis (1898–1963): 95 million copies of his Chronicles of Narnia series have been published worldwide since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe debuted in 1950.
- Jean de Brunhoff (1899–1937) and *Cecile de Brunhoff (1903–2003): Jean de Brunhoff was a French writer and illustrator best known for Babar the Elephant, who first appeared in 1931. The stories were originally told to their son by his wife Cecile. Jean died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-seven, but his widow lived to be ninety-nine.
- Erich Kästner (1899–1974): German author and satirist. His books for children include Emil and the Detectives, The Flying Classroom and The 35th of May, or Conrad's Ride to the South Seas.
- E. B. White (1899–1985): American author whose three children's stories, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, have been considered some of the most influential of the twentieth century.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900–1944): a French writer and aviator whose books include The Little Prince. He disappeared during the Second World War while flying over German lines.
- Dr. Seuss (1904–1991): American author who revolutionised beginning reading primers with The Cat in the Hat, a rhymed nonsense story. Seuss also wrote Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.
- Robert L. May (1905–1976): American author of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- Hergé (1907–1983): was Georges Prosper Remi, a Belgian children's author and illustrator who created the comic strip book series The Adventures of Tintin. The best-known titles include King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Secret of the Unicorn, Prisoners of the Sun, and The Calculus Affair.
- Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002): Swedish children's book author, whose many titles, including the Pippi Longstocking books, were translated into 85 languages and published in more than 100 countries.
- Leo Lionni (1910–1999): Children's author and illustrator whose books include Fish is Fish, Nicolas, Where Have You Been?, The Alphabet Tree, A Color of his Own, and Matthew's Dream. Lionni received the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal and was a four-time Caldecott Honor Winner for Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.
- Roald Dahl (1916–1990): British author (of Norwegian origins) of The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox. His books have won notable awards such as the Children's Book Award for Matilda and The BFG. His books have sold over 90 million copies to date, including 1 million books sold annually in the UK.
- Beverly Cleary (born 1916): American author, has over thirty books published in fourteen languages. Her best known characters include Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Beatrice (Beezus) and her sister Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse.
- Shel Silverstein (1930–1999): An American author, whose works include collections of poems for children like Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, and Where the Sidewalk Ends.
- Lois Lowry (born 1937): American author who has earned numerous literary honors, and has been awarded the Newbery Medal twice; in 1990 for Number the Stars, and in 1994 for The Giver.
- Judy Blume (born 1938): American author of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and the Superfudge series.
- Jane Yolen (born 1939): A respected and well-known American author, Jane Yolen is one of the most prolific children's writers today. Her books are frequently translated and have won many awards.
- Sharon Creech (born 1945): Award-winning American author of Walk Two Moons and The Wanderer.
- Jacqueline Wilson (born 1945): author of the much-loved Tracy Beaker series, Jacqueline Wilson is one of the best-known children's authors in the UK. In 2004 she replaced Catherine Cookson as the most borrowed author in Britain's libraries, a position she retained the following year. Her books have won a range of prestigious awards and nearly 20 million copies have been sold.
- Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) (born 1946): American poet and children's author of more than 5,000 poems and 40 award-winning books. His poems appear in hundreds of magazines for children and adults ranging from Highlights for Children and Cricket to Harper's and The New Yorker.
- Philip Pullman (born 1946): a British author best known for the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, as well as a number of other books including the Sally Lockhart series.
- Laura Numeroff (born 1953): She is widely known for her If you give a... series including If you give a mouse a cookie, If you give a moose a muffin, and If you give a pig a pancake.
- Christopher Paul Curtis (born 1954): An award winning African-American author. He has received the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Medal for his books. His popular titles include Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963.
- Rene Villanueva (born 1954): award-winning Filipino writer, who has written books and plays for children. He is the only Philippine nominee to the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
- Kate DiCamillo (born 1964): winner of the Newbery Honor for Because of Winn Dixie and the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux.
- J. K. Rowling (born 1965): British author, J.K. Rowling is probably the best-known children's author today and also the most successful. Being the author of the extremely successful Harry Potter series, her books have been sold in more than 300 million copies worldwide and are translated into more than 63 languages. She is also the first billionaire-author (in terms of US-dollars).
- Eoin Colfer (born 1965): Irish author renowned worldwide for the New York Times Best Selling series Artemis Fowl. Also famous for the books The Wish List, The Supernaturalist and the Legend of...series.
- Lemony Snicket (born 1970): American author whose real name is *Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, a popular children's series.
Because of the difficulty in defining children's literature, it is also difficult to trace its history to a precise starting point. In 1658 Jan Ámos Komenský
published the illustrated informational book Orbis Pictus
; it's considered to be the first picture book published specifically for children. John Newbery
's 1744 publication of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book
, sold with a ball for boys or a pincushion for girls, is considered a landmark for the beginning of pleasure reading marketed specifically to children. As far as folktales are concerned the Brothers Grimm
; Jakob and Wilhem of the early nineteenth century were responsible for the writing down and preserving of the oral tradition. Previous to Newbery, literature marketed for children was intended to instruct the young, though there was a rich oral tradition
for children and adults; and many tales later considered to be inappropriate for children, such as the fairy tales
of Charles Perrault
, may have been considered family fare. Additionally, some literature not written with children in mind was given to children by adults. Among the earliest examples found in English of this co-opted adult fiction are Thomas Malory
's Morte d'Arthur
and the Robin Hood
Series and genres
There are many different genres that make up the literature canon. One of these genres is called traditional literature. There are ten characteristics of traditional literature. The characteristics are unknown authorship, conventional introductions and conclusions, vague settings, stereotyped characters, anthropomorphism, cause and effect, happy ending for the hero, magic accepted as normal, brief stories with simple and direct plots, and repetition of action and verbal patterns.
The bulk of traditional Literature consists of folktales, which conveys the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in past times. This large genre can be further broken down into subgenres. The subgenres of folktales are myths, fables, ballads and songs, legends, tall tales, and fairy tales.
The success of a book for children often prompts the author to continue the story in a sequel, or even to launch into an entire series of books. Some works are originally conceived as series: J. K. Rowling has always stated in interviews that her original plan was to write no fewer than seven books about Harry Potter, and some authors, such as the prolific Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine, have specialized in open-ended series. In several cases, series have outlived their authors, whether publishers openly hired new authors to continue after the death of the original creator of the series (such was the case when Reilly and Lee hired Ruth Plumly Thompson to continue The Oz series after L. Frank Baum's death), or whether the pen name of the original author was retained as a brand-nom-de-plume for the series (as with Franklin W. Dixon and the Hardy Boys series, Harry G. Allard's Miss Nelson series, Carolyn Keene and the Nancy Drew series, and V. C. Andrews and the Flowers in the Attic series). Sequels and series are of course also popular in adult writing, where they are most common in genre novels such as crime fiction, thrillers, and so on. Genres in children's literature include pony stories (including the works of the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Pat Smythe) and school stories (e.g. Rudyard Kipling's Stalky and Co. and Angela Brazil's oeuvre). More genres would include modern fantasy, contemporary realistic fiction, historical fiction, picture books, picture story books and traditional literature. However, each genre has many sub-genres as well. For example traditional literature includes folktales, fables, myths and legends. Genres can also be classified by two organizational methods which are length and complexity as well as content.
In recent years, scholarship in children's literature has gained in respectability. There are an increasing number of literary criticism
analyses in the field of children's literature criticism
. Additionally, there are a number of scholarly associations in the field, including the Children's Literature Association
, the International Research Society for Children's Literature
, the Library Association Youth Libraries Group
, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
the Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature
, IBBY Canada
and Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media
(CIRCL), and National Centre for Research in Children's Literature
Multidisciplinary scholarship has examined gender and culture within children's literatures.
Courses on children's literature are often required in initial and advanced (early childhood/elementary) teacher training in the United States.
Some noted awards
for children's literature are:
- Australia: the Children's Book Council of Australia runs a number of annual CBCA book awards
- Canada: the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature and Illustration (English and French). A number of the provinces' school boards and library associations also run popular "children's choice" awards where candidate books are read and championed by individual schools and classrooms. These include the Blue Spruce (grades K-2) Silver Birch Express (grades 3-4), Silver Birch (grades 5-6) Red Maple (grades 7-8) and White Pine (High School) in Ontario. Programs in other provinces include The Red Cedar and Stellar Awards in B.C., the Willow Awards in Saskatchewan, and the Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards. IBBY Canada offers a number of annual awards.
- The Philippines: The Carlos Palanca Memorial Award Medallion for Literature for Short Story for Children in English and Filipino Language (Maikling Kathang Pambata)since 1989. The Pilar Perez Medallion for Young Adult Literature (2001 and 2002). The major awards are given by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. They include the PBBY-Salanga Writer's Prize for excellence in writing and the PBBY-Alcala Illustrator's Prize for excellence in illustration. The Ceres Alabado Award for Outstanding Contribution in Children's Literature; the Gintong Aklat Award (Golden Book Award); The Gawad Komisyon para sa Kuwentong Pambata (Commission Award for Children's Literature in Fiipino) and the National Book Award (given by the Manila Critics' Circle) for Outstanding Production in Children's Books and Young Adult Literature.
- United States: the major awards are given by the American Library Association Association for Library Service to Children. They include the Newbery Medal for writing, Caldecott Medal for illustration, Golden Kite Award in various categories from the SCBWI, Sibert Medal for informational, Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning readers, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for impact over time, Batchelder Award for works in translation, Coretta Scott King Award for work by an African-American writer, and the Belpre Medal for work by a Latino writer.
- United Kingdom and Commonwealth: the Carnegie Medal for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration; the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize; and the Guardian Award.
- Internationally: the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Ilustrarte Bienale for children's book illustration (Barreiro, Portugal).
- Anderson, Nancy (2006). Elementary Children's Literature. Boston: Pearson Education. ISBN 0205452299.
- Chapleau, Sebastien (2004). New Voices in Children's Literature Criticism. Lichfield: Pied Piper Publishing. ISBN 9780954638443.
- Huck, Charlotte (2001). Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 7th ed.. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0072322284.
- Hunt, Peter (1991). Criticism, Theory, and Children's Literature. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631162313.
- Hunt, Peter (1996). International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415088569.
- Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin (1996). International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415088569.
- Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin (1994). Children's Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198119984.
- Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin (2004). Children's Literature: New Approaches. Basingstoke: Palgrave. ISBN 1403917388.
- Rose, Jacqueline (1993, orig. pub. 1984). The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812214358.