children, delinquent: see juvenile delinquency.

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:

Basic characteristics

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):


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 of storytelling 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 tales.

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).

See also




  • 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.

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