+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

practice close reading and analysis. Use a primary source (

The House at Pooh Corner link


if this does not work use this


or this



and a secondary source attached as (

Reading Children’s Literature.pdf file attached


If a fantasy story (

The House at Pooh Corner)

were to be turned into a realistic story, what elements would the author need to remove? How much of the story – and its meaning – would be lost? What would the author need to add?

Outline your essay, listing your main points and the evidence you plan to use from the story (

The House at Pooh Corner )

and from the Reading Children’s Literature. separate document outline page.

Close reading

is all about finding specific little details and then thinking about how they fit together into a pattern. You have to find the details first, or your analysis will seem too general, and you have to find a pattern, or your interpretation will seem more like a description than analysis.

write 4 double-spaced pages (approximately 1000-1200 words), including an introduction, 3-5 body paragraphs (each paragraph with 1-2 short direct quotations), a conclusion, and a Works Cited list with MLA entries for the book(s) you’re using.

Focus on the story itself (The house at pooh corner) rather than the secondary source (

Reading Children’s Literature.pdf file attached


Carrie Hintz
and Eric L. Tribunella
BROADVIEW PRESS – www.broadviewpress.com
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Founded in 1985, Broadview Press remains a wholly independent publishing
house. Broadview’s focus is on academic publishing; our titles are accessible to
university and college students as well as scholars and general readers. With over
600 titles in print, Broadview has become a leading international publisher in the
humanities, with world-wide distribution. Broadview is committed to
environmentally responsible publishing and fair business practices.
© 2019 Carrie Hintz and Eric L. Tribunella
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, kept in an
information storage and retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
except as expressly permitted by the applicable copyright laws or through written
permission from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Hintz, Carrie, 1970-, author
Reading children’s literature : a critical introduction / Carrie Hintz and Eric L.
Tribunella. — Second edition.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-55481-443-5 (softcover)
1. Children’s literature—History and criticism. I. Tribunella, Eric L., author II.
PN1009.A1H56 2019
Broadview Press handles its own distribution in North America:
PO Box 1243, Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7H5, Canada
555 Riverwalk Parkway, Tonawanda, NY 14150, USA
Tel: (705) 743-8990; Fax: (705) 743-8353
email: customerservice@broadviewpress.com
Distribution is handled by Eurospan Group in the UK, Europe, Central Asia,
Middle East, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, and
the Caribbean. Distribution is handled by Footprint Books in Australia and New
Broadview Press acknowledges the nancial support of
the Government of Canada for our publishing activities.
Copy-edited by Juliet Sutcli e
Book Design by George Kirkpatrick
Frontispiece: Cover image by Scott McKowen, Reading Children’s Literature, rst edition.
What Distinguishes this Book?
How this Book Is Organized
What’s New
Common Assumptions about Children’s Literature
What It Means to Read Critically
Reading Closely
Considering Literary History and Forms
Examining Historical and Cultural Contexts
Using Critical and Theoretical Concepts and Approaches
Why Read Children’s Literature Critically?
Dual Address and Complexity
Linguistic and Narrative Complexity
Didacticism and the Lessons of Children’s Literature
The Transmission of Cultural Values
Subversive or Hegemonic?
Pleasure and Unpleasure
Historical Models of Childhood
The Romantic Child
The Sinful Child
The Working Child
The Sacred Child
The Child as Radically Other
The Developing Child
The Child as Miniature Adult
Using Models of Childhood to Read Critically
The Uncertain Boundaries of Childhood
Child Crime
Child Sex
Child Soldiers
Child Embodiment and Disability
Child Privilege and Race
Children’s Literature and the History of Childhood
Reading Critically: The History of Childhood
Anne of Green Gables
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Anne of Green Gables
Questions of De nition
De ning Literature
De ning Children’s Literature
Children’s Literature as Genre
The “Birth” of Children’s Literature?
John Newbery
Newbery’s Contemporaries: Thomas Boreman and Mary Cooper
Sarah Fielding and the First Children’s Novel?
General-Audience and Crossover Works
Aesop’s Fables
Folk and Fairy Tales
Mixed-Age Works as Children’s Classics
Instructional Works and Didactic Literature
Religious Works
The Sunday School and Evangelical Movements
The Rational Moralists
Didactic Poetry and Fiction
The Golden Age
The Growth of the Children’s Literature Industry
The Crossover Appeal of Golden Age Books
The Tensions that De ne Children’s Literature
The Second Golden Age
Reading Critically: The History of Children’s Literature
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Nursery Rhymes, Verse, and Poetry
A History of Poetry for Children
Bunyan and Watts
Mother Goose
The Romantic Poets and Nineteenth-Century Children’s Poetry
Forgotten Children’s Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Nineteenth-Century Humorous and Nonsense Poetry
Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Poetry
Contemporary Poetry as a Re ection on Self and Other
An Expanded Canon
Poetry Picturebooks, Concrete Poetry, and Verse Novels
Children’s Popular Culture and Poetry
Poetry Written by Children
The Separate Tradition of Poetry for Children
Questions to Ask When Approaching a Poem for Children
Common Figures of Speech
Typical Patterned Poetry for Children
Typical Metrical Forms for Poetry in English
Reading Critically: Poetry
“Escape at Bedtime” from A Child’s Garden of Verses
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching “Escape at Bedtime”
De nition of the Fairy Tale
Fairy Tales and Revision
Fairy Tales Worldwide
Fairy Tales and Ancient Myth
A History of the Literary Fairy Tale in the Western World
The Early Modern Roots of the Literary Fairy Tale
Fairy Tales in the Nineteenth Century
Oral Tales versus Literary Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales: Mass Media and Film
The Social Function of Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales and Unhappy Endings
Interpreting Fairy Tales
Psychoanalytical Approaches
Sociohistorical Approaches
Feminist Responses to Fairy Tales
Fairy-Tale Revision as Critical Practice
Queer Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales and Disability
Race in Disney’s Fairy Tale Films and Television
Race in Fairy Tales and Folk Tales
Reading Critically: Fairy Tales
Trina Schart Hyman’s Retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood”
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching “Little Red Riding Hood”
De ning the Picturebook
A History of Picturebooks
Precursors to Picturebooks
The Picturebook as a Commercial Form
Twentieth-Century Picturebooks
How Words and Images Relate
Wordless Picturebooks
The Relationship of Authors and Illustrators
Artistic Choices in the Production of Picturebooks
The Size of the Book
The Size of the Picture against the Page
The Composition of Objects on the Page
The Use, Amount, and Quality of Color
The Strength of Line
The Medium Used
Some Media Used in the Production of Picturebooks
Mixed Media
Text within the Pictures
Concerns about Picturebooks
Availability and Cost of Picturebooks
Books as Toys
New Frontiers for Visual Texts
Reinventing the Concept Book
Graphic Novels
A Brief History of the Graphic Novel
Graphic Narratives and the Child and YA Reader
Reading Graphic Novels Critically
Terms for the Analysis of Graphic Novels
Digital Media for Children
Forking Path Storylines
Print and Online Combinations and Relationships
Reading Critically: Picturebooks
There Is a Bird on Your Head!
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching There Is a Bird on Your Head!
De ning Domesticity and Adventure
Domestic Fiction for Children
Realism and Everyday Life
The Home as a Dangerous Place
Illness and Disease
Power Relations
Social Class
Psychological Complexity
Adventure Fiction for Children
Power Relations and Superheroics
Escaping Civilization or Home
Colonialism and Imperialism
Hybridity: Domestic Adventures and Adventurous Domesticity
Questions of Audience: Boy and Girl Readers of Domestic Fiction
and Adventure
Contemporary Domestic and Adventure Stories
Contemporary Examples
Reimagining Adventure and Domestic Fiction
Adventure and Domesticity in Picturebooks
Reading Critically: Domesticity and Adventure
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Holes
De ning the Historical Novel
Common Moments or Events in Historical Fiction for Children
The Use of Historical Settings in Children’s Literature
Trauma and Historical Children’s Fiction
Nostalgia and Nationalism
Popular Culture and Series Books
Awards for Historical Children’s Literature
Fiction versus History
Rethinking the Writing of History
The Strengths of Historical Fiction
Problems with Representing the Past
Artistic Freedom and Historical Responsibility
Controversy and Historical Fiction
The Use of Afterwords, Authors’ Notes, and Epilogues
Time-Travel and Time-Slip Narratives
Reading Critically: Historical Fiction
Johnny Tremain and My Brother Sam Is Dead
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Johnny Tremain
Non ction and Informational Books: Some Distinctions
Conduct Literature
Nineteenth-Century Conduct Books
Reinventing the Boy’s Own Book and Girl’s Own Book Tradition
Contemporary Health and Sexual Education Books
Life Writing: Biography, Autobiography, Memoir, Diaries
Life Writing for Children
Autobiographies, Memoirs, and Diaries
Picturebook and Graphic Autobiographies, Biographies, and
History Writing
Exploring the Past in Non ction
Innovative Approaches to Historical Non ction
Science and Discovery
Early Science Books: A Sense of Wonder
Contemporary Science Books
Experimentation in Science Writing for Children
Critical Issues in Non ction
Fictional Stories in Non ction
Simpli cation and Complexity
Accuracy and New Research
Reading Critically: Non ction
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching We Are the Ship
Some Fiction–Non ction Pairs and Groups
Historical Fiction and Non ction
World War II Books
Science, the Natural World, and Technology Books
Additional Resources
Genre as a Guide for Readers
Early Roots of Fantasy
Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Fantasy
Postwar Twentieth-Century Fantasy
Recent Children’s and YA Fantasy
Types of the Fantastic
Anthropomorphic Fantasy
Secondary Worlds and High Fantasy
Fantasy that Inhabits Our World
Experiencing the Fantastic
Fantasy as a Reversal of Expectations
Fantasy Literature and Responsibility
The Fantastic and the Natural World
De ning Realism and the “New Realism”
Early New Realism and the Problem Novel
Contemporary New Realism
Diversity in New Realist Fiction
New Realism and Series Books
New Realism and Trauma
Fantasy and Realism in Picturebooks
Authors Working in Both Fantasy and Realism
Literary Genres as a Response to Children’s Needs
Fantasy Elements in Realistic Texts, Realistic Elements in Fantasy
Magical Realism
Reading Critically: Fantasy and Realism
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Shadowshaper
The History of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Children’s
The Early History of Racial Representation in Children’s
African American Children’s Literature
Jewish Children’s Literature
Latinx Children’s Literature
Asian American Children’s Literature
Native Americans and First Nations in Children’s Literature
A Word about Ethnicity and Culture
The Need for Diverse Books
Key Terms and Controversies
Authorship and Ownership
Authenticity and Accuracy
Artistic Freedom and Ethical Responsibility
Reading Critically: Race in Children’s Literature
The Snowy Day
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching The Snowy Day
The Signi cance of Gender and Sexuality in Children’s Culture
Gender and Sexuality in Childhood
Toys, Clothes, and Bathrooms
Gender and Sexuality in Children’s Literature
De ning Sex/Gender
Sex and Gender
Gender as Performance
Gender as Identity
Gender and Class
Childhood Gender
Boys and Girls
Tomboys and Sissies
Boys and Boyhood in Children’s Literature
The Boys’ School Story
Boys’ Adventure Fiction
The Bad-Boy Book
The Feral Tale
The Unconventional Boy in Children’s Literature
Boys and Popular Literature
Girls and Girlhood in Children’s Literature
The Girls’ School Story
Domestic and Family Stories
Girls’ Adventure Fiction
Orphans and Good Girls
Realist Fiction and Problem Novels for and about Girls
Girls’ Contemporary Series Fiction
The Diverse Girlhoods of Children’s Literature
Sexuality in Children’s Literature
De ning Sexuality
The Sexuality of Children
Queering the Classics of Children’s Literature
LGBT Representation in Picturebooks and Fiction for Younger
LGBT Representation in Young Adult Literature
Awards for LGBT Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Reading Critically: Gender and Sexuality in Children’s Literature
A Little Princess
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching A Little Princess
Censorship: De nitions and Key Terms
Prizing and Censorship
The First Amendment and Freedom of Speech
Children’s Vulnerability versus Children’s Resilience
Key Moments in the Censorship of Children’s Literature
Speci c Reasons for Censorship
Self-Censorship/Subtle Censorship
Individuals versus Groups
Selection and a Parent’s Rights
Critical Reading as Anti-Censorship Activity
Reading Critically: Censorship and Selection
The Harry Potter Series
Re ect
Suggested Readings
Approaches to Teaching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Popular Culture
De ning Popular Culture
Popular Culture, Ideology, and the Culture Industry
Popular Genres and Genre Fiction
Science Fiction
Utopian and Dystopian Fiction
Detective and Mystery Fiction
Horror Fiction
Romance Fiction
Formula Fiction
Adaptations of Children’s Literature as Popular Culture
Children’s Literature as Inspiration
Stage Adaptations
Film Adaptations
Race in Children’s Adaptations
Children’s Television Adaptations
Theorizing Adaptation and Transformation
De ning Adaptation
Transformation and Intertextuality
Fan ction: The Pleasures and Possibilities of Adaptation and
Subversive Repetition
Analyzing Children’s Film
The Gaze
The Semiotics of Film
Common Terms for Film Analysis
Reading Critically: Children’s Literature and Popular Culture
The Fault in Our Stars
Re ect
Suggested Readings and Viewings
Approaches to Teaching The Fault in Our Stars
The Caldecott Medal (since 1970)
The Newbery Medal (since 1970)
Phoenix Award
Phoenix Picture Book Award
Reading Children’s Literature: A Critical Introduction emerged out of
our experiences teaching introductory children’s literature courses
to undergraduates. In most literature classes at the college level,
students enter the course with few preconceptions about the
material they are about to study. In our children’s literature courses,
however, we found that students were familiar with many of the
titles, typically ltered through lm adaptations, and often held
assumptions about both children and children’s books that
interfered with their ability to think critically about either. These
conditions required special care in designing our courses. Moreover,
given the signi cance of audience to the study of children’s
literature and the fact that children’s literature is almost entirely
omitted from other literature courses, including both broad surveys
and courses on literary analysis, we found ourselves with the added
tasks of introducing students to the histories of childhood and
children’s literature and to the unique problems involved with
analyzing works written by adults for children. Reading Children’s
Literature: A Critical Introduction seeks to lay the groundwork needed
for productive discussions about literary works for children.
Readers of this book have come to a children’s literature course at
an exciting time, when studying this literature rigorously is
especially important. Books for children and young adults are
currently among the most widely read and discussed both inside and
outside the academy, and many highly honored literary works for
youth have been published or revisited in recent years. In addition,
education, literacy, the importance of the creative arts, and the
content of children’s culture are among the most charged and
important social issues today. While scholars have a solid
foundation from which to investigate children’s literature, the eld
remains wide open to important new discoveries and projects.
This book re ects both the history of children’s literature studies
and its more recent developments. Francelia Butler founded
Children’s Literature, the rst scholarly journal devoted to the
subject, in 1972; Anne Devereaux Jordan helped establish the
Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) in 1973; and the rst
annual ChLA convention was held the following year. Since those
beginnings, the study of children’s literature has responded to the
changing currents of literary studies and has been in uenced by
both critical theory and historicist approaches to literature and
culture. Reading Children’s Literature recognizes the
establishment of children’s literature as a vibrant and serious eld of
scholarly inquiry, integrating theoretical, historical, and political
approaches to literary study. Rather than simply describing di erent
genres of children’s literature or providing an encyclopedic catalog
of children’s works, Reading Children’s Literature invites readers to
participate in the critical and cultural conversations involving
children’s literature and demonstrates methods for reading
children’s literature analytically. By combining an introduction to
key concepts and genres with explicit discussion about how to
analyze literary texts written for children and young adults, our
book re ects the sophisticated scholarly work undertaken over the
past forty- ve years and encourages students to participate actively
in the ongoing critical dialogue. It demonstrates how to think and
write about children’s literature and provides the conceptual tools
for doing so.
Several features of the book distinguish it from other children’s
literature textbooks. The rst is our attention to history. We
understand the study of children’s literature as inseparable from the
study of the history of childhood, and we see children’s literature as
both re ecting and a ecting that history. Because we recognize that
historicist approaches to literature are now central to literary
studies, Reading Children’s Literature pays careful attention to both
historical context and literary history, providing instructors and
students with the tools needed to analyze literature and history
The second feature that distinguishes this book from other
introductions is our foregrounding of close critical analysis to make
sense of literary works by actively modeling close reading and
analysis. Sometimes the apparent simplicity or familiarity of
children’s literature makes it di cult for students to read critically,
so we introduce critical and theoretical concepts and then
demonstrate how to use them to read and analyze children’s
The third feature is our book’s integration of contemporary
approaches to the literary study of children’s books, including
unique chapters on race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality,
censorship and selection, and popular culture. We address directly
the critical and cultural controversies involved with these topics.
Thus, Reading Children’s Literature provides a thorough and up-todate introduction to the eld of children’s literature studies.
Finally, our book includes 85 images from works of children’s
literature—reminding readers how vital illustrations are to works
written for children.
We designed Reading Children’s Literature to be used alongside the
ction, poetry, drama, or literary non ction assigned in English,
education, or library science courses. The book is divided into an
introduction that explores what it means to read children’s literature
critically and thirteen chapters on a variety of concepts and issues.
Each chapter includes:
• An introduction to key concepts and questions foundational to
the chapter topic and a review of the critical and cultural
conversations or controversies surrounding it.
• A Reading Critically section that demonstrates how to read a
literary work in light of the critical issues and debates discussed in
the chapter.
• Useful review and re ection questions for use in class, and
suggested investigations that students can complete outside of
• An annotated list of suggested literary works to be used in
conjunction with the chapte
• An Approaches to Teaching section that o ers a set of activities
that teachers can use with primary- or secondary-school students
to help connect the scholarly study of children’s literature with its
educational applications.
We intend the book to provide exible support to instructors, who
can assign all of the chapters or chapter sections or select those that
are most relevant to his or her course. The early chapters address
important foundations, such as the history of childhood and the
early history of children’s literature, as well as literary forms with
longer histories, such as poetry and fairy tales. The middle chapters
provide a survey of important forms and genres in children’s
literature like picturebooks, historical
ction, domestic and
adventure novels, and realism and fantasy. The later chapters
address contemporary critical issues such as race, gender,
censorship, and popular culture. However, the book is designed so
that chapters can be taught in the order of the instructor’s
preference and do not need to be read in the order they are
presented. The chapters are as follows:
• Introduction for Students considers common assumptions about
children’s literature and explains what it means to read critically.
It introduces fundamental concepts important to the study of
children’s literature.
• Chapter 1: Historicizing Childhood, investigates the history and
construction of childhood and adolescence and discusses how
young people have been thought about at di erent moments in
history. It examines how this history bears upon the reading of
children’s literature.
• Chapter 2: The Early History of Children’s Literature, provides
an overview of the earliest literature written for children and the
central problems or tensions that have dominated and shaped its
history, including the opposition between didacticism and
pleasure, the question of what counts as children’s literature, and
the role of key gures in its conception and history.
• Chapter 3: Poetry, looks at poetry both as a means of serious
personal and political inquiry for young readers and as an
extension of childhood play, especially in the form of nonsense
verse. It reviews important formal qualities of poetry and of
children’s poetry in particular.
• Chapter 4: Fairy Tales, examines the importance of fairy tales to
the history of children’s literature and their ongoing cultural use
and appeal. It also addresses some of the key questions about the
fairy tale form: issues of audience, orality, and literacy, and the
practice of retelling and updating tales.
• Chapter 5: Picturebooks, Graphic Novels, and Digital Texts,
explores the conventions of the picturebook form and the
importance of visual media, including graphic novels, in children’s
culture. It also o ers techniques for interpreting picturebooks and
visual media and for understanding the relationship between text
and image.
• Chapter 6: Domesticity and Adventure, studies domesticity and
adventure as key concepts in children’s literature and as key
genres that re ect the concerns of, and ideas about, children and
childhood, for which home and venturing away from home are
central concerns.
• Chapter 7: Historical Fiction, considers the uses and limits of the
genre for educating children, and how the genre constructs history
and deals with the relationship between literature and history.
• Chapter 8: Non ction—History, Science, Life Writing, discusses
the narrative and aesthetic qualities of non ction texts, their use
by children and for teaching children, and questions of
perspective, simpli cation, and datedness in non ction works for
• Chapter 9: Fantasy and Realism, reviews the distinction between
realistic and fantastic literature for children and analyzes how the
permeable or overlapping boundaries between genres have helped
shape children’s literature. We also look at some of the social and
political functions of both fantasy and realism.
• Chapter 10: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture, explores the ways
children’s literature has constructed racial and ethnic di erence as
well as how it has been imagined as a useful vehicle for
multicultural education.
• Chapter 11: Genders and Sexualities, examines the prominence
of gender and sexuality as themes in children’s literature and
culture and the ways in which the child audience is imagined as
composed of gendered boys and girls. The chapter emphasizes
more generally the socializing and constructive functions of
children’s literature and culture while exploring the range of
genders and sexualities represented and constructed by literature
for youth.
• Chapter 12: Censorship and Selection, addresses issues of
censorship in children’s literature, distinctions between censorship
and selection, how and why books are challenged, ways of
understanding what these controversies suggest about children’s
literature and the broader cultural context, and how educators and
children themselves can respond to controversy.
• Chapter 13: Children’s Literature and Popular Culture, surveys
di erent meanings of “popular” and “popular culture” and
introduces cultural studies as a theoretical approach to children’s
literature. The chapter also o ers an overview of several genres
and subgenres of popular children’s literature—such as
utopian/dystopian ction, science ction, horror, and romance—
and provides a history of children’s theatre, television, and lm. It
reviews theories of adaptation, transformation, and intertexuality
and de nes important terms in lm studies.
Chapter 13: Children’s Literature and Popular Culture
The second edition of Reading Children’s Literature includes several
new features. First, we have added a new chapter on children’s
literature and popular culture. The chapter introduction explores
con icted meanings of popularity as well as critical theories that
understand popular culture in terms of political engagement and a
means of exercising power or resisting control. The chapter then
considers two focal points for popular culture in literary studies: 1)
formula and genre ction whose literary merit is sometimes
questioned and 2) the relationship between literature and other
forms of mass media like television and lm. The rst of these two
sections, parts of which originally appeared in Chapter 9, has been
expanded and placed in the context of Chapter 13’s discussion of
common approaches to popular culture. We then review brie y the
history of children’s theatre, television, and lm and survey theories
of adaptation, transformation, and intertextuality. The chapter
provides tools for moving beyond the delity model of adaptation
and for reading children’s popular culture critically. We o er
de nitions of common terms used in lm studies, and we explore
the world of fan ction as a form of adaptation and popular
engagement with literary texts. The Reading Critically section
demonstrates how to analyze a lm adaptation by focusing on John
Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, an enormously popular novel, which
has also been adapted into a lm, that provides an excellent case
study of a cultural phenomenon involving a passionate fandom and
questions of genre. The annotated list of suggested works includes a
selection of notable lm adaptations of children’s literature and
examples of pedagogically useful genre ction.
Using Models of Childhood to Read Critically
A new table in Chapter 1 (Historicizing Childhood) o ers
suggestions for how to use the di erent models of childhood to read
children’s literature critically. Designed to encourage students to
move beyond simply identifying models of childhood in the books
they read, the table suggests how to think about the implications of
each model in analyzing texts.
Disability in Children’s Literature
The second edition of Reading Children’s Literature includes a new
section in Chapter 1 on the body and disability in the history of
childhood, titled “Child Embodiment and Disability.” We have
included additional references throughout the book to works that
depict disabilities, including in Chapter 4 (Fairy Tales), in the
section on New Realist texts in Chapter 9 (Fantasy and Realism),
and elsewhere.
Race in Children’s Literature
The issue of diversity in children’s literature continues to be an
important one among readers, civil rights activists, publishers, and
scholars. Several new sections appear throughout the book,
including ones on race and privilege in the history of childhood in
Chapter 1, on race in fairy and folk tales in Chapter 4, and on the
We Need Diverse Books movement in Chapter 10 (Race, Ethnicity,
and Culture).
New Critical Reading Sections
We have added two new Reading Critically sections: one in Chapter
3 (Poetry) for Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Escape at Bedtime”
and the other in Chapter 9 (Fantasy and Realism) on Daniel José
Older’s urban fantasy novel Shadowshaper (2015).
Expanded Section on Verse Novels
In Chapter 3, we include an expanded section on verse novels, also
known as the “novel-in-verse.” A novel-in-verse straddles the
boundary of ction and poetry, as a book-length narrative recounted
in free verse. Engaging with recent literary criticism about the verse
novel, we discuss some recent examples and brie y consider the role
that verse novels can play in reaching out to reluctant readers.
Expanded and Updated Section on Digital Literature
We have expanded and updated our section on digital literature in
Chapter 5 (Picture-books, Graphic Novels, and Digital Texts).
Drawing on recent scholarship in the eld of digital literature, we
discuss recent examples of digital literature for children and young
adults, including narrative tablet apps and concept books. We also
contextualize current digital books within the tradition of print
picturebooks and pre-digital interactive texts.
Expanded Section on Graphic Novels
Responding to readers who wanted even more discussion of graphic
novels, we expanded the section on comics art and graphic ction in
Chapter 5 to consider why graphic novels have been associated with
children’s culture, to provide a list of key terms for reading graphic
ction, and to describe how to read graphic novels critically. We
discuss additional examples of popular and critically acclaimed
graphic ction that might be read in conjunction with this chapter.
Fiction–Non ction Pairings
In Chapter 8 (Non ction—History, Science, Life Writing), we have
added a chart that lists and describes ideal ction–non ction
pairings. We hope that literature and language arts teachers nd
these pairings helpful when incorporating non ction in the English
literature classroom.
The Explorations section of each chapter has been revised and
updated to include a new set of review questions that will allow
students to go over many of the central ideas of each chapter.
Re ection questions are designed to inspire class discussions, and
“investigate” questions suggest activities or essay topics that could
be completed out of class.
Updated Reading Lists and Examples
We have updated the Suggested Readings list for each chapter to
re ect important works published since the rst edition of Reading
Children’s Literature that we or others have found useful in the
classroom. Our references to literary and scholarly works
throughout the book also re ect new publications of important
works for children and young adults and new research or critical
controversies in the eld.
Key terms are placed in bold in each of the chapters, and readers
can now ip to the back of the book to nd brief de nitions of these
important terms and concepts for reading children’s literature
When a blunt old sheep breaks the news to Wilbur, a pig, that he’s
being fattened for slaughter, the distraught Wilbur tears through the
barn crying that he does not want to die. Charlotte, a kindly
maternal spider, agrees to help him, and days later the farm
awakens to nd a magni cent web with letters spelling “Some Pig!”
woven into it. This scene embodies the magic and fantasy of E.B.
White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952), which depicts the extraordinary
friendship between a pig and a spider while confronting child
readers directly with the realities of life and death.
Children’s books are full of iconic moments such as this. Think of
Alice’s falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland while chasing
the White Rabbit, Tom Sawyer’s tricking the neighborhood boys into
whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence, and Dorothy’s walking down the
yellow brick road to Oz. We can begin to understand what makes
them memorable, and what makes such classics so important and
well loved, by learning to read children’s literature critically. While
“critically” may suggest a hostile, fault- nding approach, we mean
it in the sense of “critical analysis,” the close reading of texts that
brings our own and others’ perspectives and contexts to bear on
them. By reading children’s literature critically, we can learn much
about ourselves, our society, and indeed, our culture, past and
A number of common assumptions about children’s literature can
interfere with reading it critically. For example, some readers might
assume that children’s literature is so simple and obvious that it
does not require analysis, or that all children’s books are like
Charlotte’s Web: fairly short, using simple language, and including
fantastical elements. Others might think that children’s literature is
simply meant to be enjoyed and that treating it seriously is silly or
interferes with enjoyment. Still others think they know exactly what
children are like, and have not considered that what it means to be
a child has changed dramatically over time, a ecting how children’s
literature is written. Other assumptions about children’s literature
contribute to dismissive attitudes about it, but the following are
perhaps the most common:
“Children’s literature is too simple and obvious to be read
critically.” Elizabeth Law, a children’s book editor at Viking, notes:
“Many writers assume that because children are smaller, and their
books are smaller, that children are less complex, easier to please—
and therefore easier to write for” (17). She rejects this assumption:
for an adult to write for children, which usually involves writing
simultaneously for adults, requires the kind of intellectual and
creative gymnastics that cannot be described as “easy.” Francelia
Butler, who helped establish the rst scholarly journal devoted to
children’s literature, wrote about resistance to studying it critically:
“Many arguments are advanced to justify this situation. The oftrepeated one is, ‘Children’s literature is so simple and obvious that
any fool can understand it. It doesn’t need study’” (8). If children’s
literature is simple, the argument goes, no special preparation or
tools are needed to understand it, and a course or book on children’s
literature is unnecessary. For some, the very familiarity of children’s
stories, as represented by the iconic moments listed above, might
create the impression of simplicity. However, as we explain
throughout this book, children’s literature can be linguistically,
thematically, and formally complex even while appearing otherwise.
“Children’s literature is pure, innocent, and uncontroversial.”
Another common assumption about children’s literature is that it is
devoid of elements associated with adults and adult culture, such as
sexuality, racial discrimination, class distinctions, or violence and
trauma. However, children’s literature—in depicting the lives,
pleasures, fears, and anxieties of children—often includes elements
that might seem upsetting or too mature in content. The frequent
controversies that surround these books, and the numerous attempts
to limit children’s access to them, point to the inclusion of
sophisticated elements some adults nd disturbing in works for
young people. Children live in a world primarily created by and for
adults, so no strict line divides the experiences and environments of
younger and older members of a community. We should therefore
expect to nd elements associated with adults and adult culture in
works for and about children.
“Critical analysis takes the fun out of reading children’s
literature.” Finally, some adult readers resist thinking critically
about children’s literature because they worry that doing so “ruins”
the work or their childhood memories of it. Such resistance re ects
assumptions that children’s literature is only or primarily a source of
uncritical pleasure for the child and nostalgia for the adult and that
critical thinking interferes with this pleasure. Some readers do not
want to discover that they did not understand all the meanings or
implications of a text when they were children, or they might not
want to create new understandings that could compete with older
ones. In this view, children’s literature is simply meant to be
enjoyed without requiring too much e ort. However, understanding
how texts work and what they mean can actually contribute to one’s
reading pleasure, so we encourage readers to be receptive to
analyzing children’s literature.
Reading children’s literature critically enables us to challenge these
assumptions. The analysis of literature—or reading critically—
involves investigating what texts mean and how they work,
understanding the relationships between texts and signi cant
ideologies or social systems and experiences such as gender or race,
placing texts within literary or cultural histories, and examining
speci c elements such as a text’s themes, literary devices,
production, structure, language, uses, or reception. Because no
single exercise in analysis or critical reading undertakes all these
tasks at once, critics must make di cult decisions about how to
focus their attention and about which methodological approach is
most e ective for a given project. Literary critics read texts closely,
learn about the history of literature and literary forms, consider the
historical and cultural contexts of works, and use di erent
theoretical concepts and approaches to understand the text, context,
and reader.
Reading Closely
The practice of close reading involves paying careful attention to
the language of the text, including the histories and meanings of
words and their connotations. The critic searches for the
implications of the use of particular words and explores how
language is used to produce di erent meanings.
For instance, a close reading of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The
Secret Garden (1911) reveals that scale (size and dimension) and
Mary’s perception of scale are important to understanding her
feelings and actions in the novel. Reading closely, we note that the
novel is mostly focalized through Mary (that is, much of the
description indicates Mary’s perception). When she is led to her
room at Misselthwaite Manor, the narrator communicates how
immense the house seems to her: “And then Mary Lennox was led
up a broad staircase and down a long corridor and up a short ight
of steps and through another corridor and another, until a door
opened in a wall and she found herself in a room with a re in it
and a supper on a table” (15). The enormity of the house and
grounds, from Mary’s childhood perspective, and the novelty of the
manor and landscape, o er Mary much to explore. Having spaces
and mysteries to investigate makes her domestic situation, which
might otherwise be dull, an extraordinary adventure. The reader is
able to understand Mary and the novel better by reading Burnett’s
language closely.
Considering Literary History and Forms
Reading critically also involves an awareness of literary history,
how literature has changed over time and what de nes di erent
movements, forms, genres, or techniques. Being able to situate a text
in a particular literary movement or to recognize how it re ects,
modi es, or de es the conventions of a speci c genre helps direct
the reader’s attention and prompts discoveries that might otherwise
be overlooked.
As an example, readers might note that The Secret Garden includes
elements of gothic literature, which is characterized by a mood or
tone of darkness and mystery; the depiction of large, decaying
architectural structures; a focus on emotional or disturbed
characters who possess psychological depth; and the intrusion of the
past into the present or the experience of being literally or
symbolically haunted. Given that gothic ction is characterized by a
sense in which the past lingers too long or haunts the present, we
are led to question what plays that role in The Secret Garden. Colin,
Mary’s sickly cousin, and his dead mother could be said to haunt
Misselthwaite Manor, creating a mystery for Mary to investigate.
Reading the novel in the context of gothic literature prompts us to
consider what it means that mother and son both haunt the home or
even that the home is a place of fear rather than comfort. An
awareness of generic conventions helps the reader make sense of
these elements.
Examining Historical and Cultural Contexts
A critical reader of children’s literature also examines how the
historical and cultural contexts of authors a ect the composition of
their work and its reception by readers. Ideologies and discourses
(ways of thinking and communicating) circulating at a given time
and in a given place in uence or construct how individuals see the
world, making it possible to think in certain ways as well as
impossible or di cult to imagine alternatives. Virtually all aspects
of culture and society are ltered through, or constructed by,
ideological and discursive frameworks that shape and create
thought and perception. We are often in uenced by our historical
and cultural contexts without being fully aware of those in uences.
Even what seem like very individual choices, such as what to wear
or whom to pursue romantically, are signi cantly encouraged,
enabled, constrained, or prevented by our historical and cultural
One important way of reading critically consists of analyzing
literary texts for the traces of these unacknowledged historical and
cultural in uences. A critical reader considers how the qualities,
events, and ways of thinking and perceiving that characterize a
particular historical moment are manifested in the text, constrain its
production, or in uence what readers notice or understand.
For instance, when Burnett was writing The Secret Garden in 1910,
the British Empire was still at its height, and that context leaves its
traces throughout the novel. M. Daphne Kutzer, considering
colonialism as a context for The Secret Garden, develops precisely
this analysis: “Mary’s behavior in the garden echoes that of colonial
explorers in India and elsewhere” (59). The facts of the novel also
refer more explicitly to colonialism. Mary was born in India because
her father held an important position as an agent of the British
Empire. Mary’s ill temper and disagreeable appearance are
attributed to her time in India. The family’s Indian servants catered
to Mary’s every whim, and when she arrives in England after the
deaths of her parents, she expects the same treatment from the
white British servants. She later refers to her tyrannical cousin as a
“Rajah.” Both Mary and Colin are associated with India and
“Indianness,” but working with the English soil and breathing the
English air in the secret garden “heals” them, as though England
itself heals them. Noting how these elements of the text emerge out
of Burnett’s historical and cultural context constitutes one of the
primary strategies for reading critically.
Using Critical and Theoretical Concepts and Approaches
Since the 1960s, critical approaches to literary analysis have become
increasingly diverse, o ering critics and scholars a variety of
concepts and methods with which to explore literature. These
approaches include, among others, deconstruction, feminist and
gender theory, historicist and Marxist approaches, reader response
theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, biographical analysis,
disability theory, ecocriticism, and queer theory. Each critical
approach o ers a unique focus and its own set of questions, and
each is associated with a vocabulary and set of concepts with which
to think and write about literature. These terms and concepts
provide a critical framework that gives shape to analysis, helping to
direct the critic’s attention, generating useful lines of inquiry, and
providing tools with which to hypothesize answers and develop
explanatory claims. Reading critically bene ts from a familiarity
with these critical approaches, even if a speci c project integrates
multiple approaches or undertakes interdisciplinary work.
Critic Jerry Phillips, for example, reads The Secret Garden through
the lens of social class. He notes, “At the center of The Secret Garden
is an anatomy of social hierarchy, a laboratory of class relations: the
great country house” (172). Phillips pays close attention to how
Mary interacts with Martha, a domestic servant, and Ben
Weathersta , the gardener. Martha, for instance, “refuses to see
herself as a mere instrument of her social superiors. She resolves to
do her duties, but no more,” and Ben similarly refuses to bow to the
authority of Mary, who was accustomed to ordering her servants
around in India (175). The issues of class and shifting class relations
in turn-of-the-century England provide the critical framework for
this analysis of the novel, but other critics have approached The
Secret Garden from feminist, psychoanalytic, and postcolonial
perspectives. Complex works such as this novel can be read from
multiple perspectives.
Dual Address and Complexity
We read children’s literature critically to understand its complex
meanings and operations. One source of complexity is its
management of multiple audiences. Many children’s books that
prove durable, remaining in circulation or print for decades or even
centuries, are those that appeal to both children and adults. Barbara
Wall coined the term “dual address” to describe the way some
works for children move between addressing child readers and
addressing adult readers (Wall 9), while U.C. Knoep macher and
Sandra L. Beckett use the term “crosswriting” to refer to the practice
of writing for children and adults at the same time (Beckett xi).
Because of the dual address or practice of crosswriting, some
children’s literature appeals to the sensibilities of adult readers and
contains allusions or references aimed at the adult audience.
Moreover, the notion of a separate literature for children is
relatively recent historically, and Wall nds that Victorian children’s
literature was often characterized by an “adult narrative voice” that
“exhibited strong consciousness of the presence of adult readers”
(9). Many literary forms, such as fairy tales and fables, were meant
for both adults and children and were constructed to appeal to both.
Even now, adults produce and buy almost all the literature destined
for child readers. Writers must thus add elements to attract and hold
the interest of adults, with the result that seemingly simple books
for children contain several layers of complex meaning.
Linguistic and Narrative Complexity
A book such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
(1865) is clearly a complex work of art with a sophisticated and
extensive vocabulary, yet we need to rethink the assumption that
books with a limited vocabulary, including picturebooks, are not
complex. Iconic children’s author Dr. Seuss created The Cat in the
Hat (1957) from a vocabulary of 250 words and Green Eggs and Ham
(1960) from a vocabulary of 50 words. Even with a limited
vocabulary, though, he managed to communicate complicated
thought and expression, such as the uncertain ending of The Cat in
the Hat, where the children consider whether to tell their mother
what has been happening all day. The short book ends with a
question—“What would YOU do / If your mother asked YOU?”—
prompting the reader to participate actively in solving a complex
ethical dilemma. Seuss’s illustrations are dynamic and challenging
to the viewer, despite or perhaps because of their roots in the
tradition of editorial cartoons. The texts of Seuss’s books are their
own form of unique, dense, and exhilarating poetry. Despite their
immediately recognizable rhyme schemes, they feature unexpected
juxtapositions, surprising rhymes, and fantastic situations.
What are the elements that lend an apparently simple and short
text a form of complexity? Allan Luke draws attention to the literary
depth of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, which is intended for
beginning readers: “While pitched at a primer level audience,
Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories nonetheless employ such literary
devices as stories within stories, dream and stream of consciousness
sequences to portray and invite the further construction of
imaginative possible worlds” (111). Lobel’s Frog and Toad books,
like Seuss’s works, ask a great deal of their young readers. In his
essay “Children, Irony, and Philosophy,” Gareth Matthews discovers
philosophical dilemmas in Frog and Toad Together (1992), such as
the nature of bravery as explored in the story “Dragons and Giants.”
In this story, Frog and Toad wonder whether they are brave, and
Frog asserts that climbing a mountain will reveal the truth. On the
mountain, they encounter various terrifying perils (a snake, an
avalanche, a hawk), but exclaim that they are not afraid. Still, they
run away, and when they get back to Toad’s house, Frog hides in
the closet and Toad cowers under the covers. This story raises a
number of questions: What does it mean to be brave? What is the
di erence between acting brave and being brave? Do brave people
have to be brave all the time?
Likewise, a number of contemporary picturebooks have displayed
an impressive level of complexity. For example, in David Macaulay’s
Black and White (1990), four seemingly unrelated narratives are
intertwined—each with a separate visual style and story. Readers
are encouraged to speculate on the connections between the
narratives through subtle clues that they are related, and all o er
di erent perspectives on the same event. Macaulay’s book
challenges literary and pictorial conventions and requires an
extremely sophisticated engagement with narrative. We study
children’s literature in order to understand these di erent kinds of
complexity and meaning, as we would with adult literature.
Didacticism and the Lessons of Children’s Literature
In addition to being complex, children’s literature is a key site for
transmitting values and educating children. This fact makes it
especially important—it has a profound impact on socialization and
society. By better understanding the texts produced and given to
children, we gain a stronger understanding of the broader culture in
which we live. As Mitzi Myers explains, “Because children’s tales
perform a variety of cultural functions, they are crammed with clues
to changes in attitudes, values, and behavior. Above all, these key
agents of socialization diagram what cultures want of their young
and expect of those who tend them” (33). Some children’s books are
intentionally instructional. The term “didactic” is used to describe
books that are speci cally designed to teach a lesson, whether
moral, political, religious, social, or practical. Critics such as Myers
have demonstrated that even didactic works can be complex,
important, and pleasurable (55). As we will discuss in Chapter 2,
much of the history of children’s literature has been de ned by
didacticism or by e orts to avoid it.
The Transmission of Cultural Values
Even texts that are not intentionally didactic can teach, in uence, or
shape readers. Reading children’s literature critically can reveal
those cultural values and teach us about ourselves. The Story of Little
Black Sambo (1899) is a striking example of a children’s book that
conveys the norms and assumptions of its time. Helen Bannerman, a
Scottish woman living in India, wrote and illustrated the book to
amuse her two daughters. The fanciful story of an Indian boy who
eludes and ultimately triumphs over a ferocious tiger, Sambo has
long been the source of controversy because Bannerman’s
illustrations are similar to late nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury racist caricatures of Africans and African Americans. Sambo
and his parents are depicted as very dark skinned and as having
wooly hair, thick lips, broad smiles, and wide eyes. As Tammy
Mielke explains, numerous versions of Sambo were published in the
United States between 1900 and 1950, and many included new
pictures by American illustrators who further exaggerated the
characters’ racial features, drawing on minstrel traditions that
mocked African Americans. Mielke notes that these American
illustrations “parallel historical attitudes towards African American
people, showing the power of illustration in re ecting cultural
attitudes and how African American childhood is constructed
through visual means” (3). Though Bannerman’s purpose might not
have been to inculcate racist stereotypes, her book nonetheless
contributed to a wider discourse that presented people of color as
ridiculous and inferior. As Mielke demonstrates, a study of the
book’s changing American illustrations over the course of the
twentieth century can illuminate evolving representations of African
Americans and broader changes in American culture.
The popularity or reception of works is also indicative of
prevailing cultural mores. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series,
published between 1997 and 2007, has attained an almost
unprecedented worldwide popularity. Combining various genres of
children’s literature—fantasy, realism, the school story, adventure—
the seven-book series follows the exploits of the boy-wizard named
Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione as they confront the
growing threat of Lord Voldemort, an evil wizard. Given its
widespread appeal, the series and readers’ response to it provide
useful signposts to the state of various cultural concerns. For
example, readers have debated the series’ representation of girls and
girlhood as embodied by Hermione. Hermione appears more
knowledgeable about magic than Harry or Ron, and yet her frequent
emotional displays and need for rescuing create a complex picture
of modern girlhood. The series also raises questions about classbased hierarchies through the treatment of the house-elves, who
serve as mostly dutiful servants to the wizards. In addition,
nonwizards, or Muggles, become the object of scorn by some in the
wizarding community who believe that Muggles and half-Muggles
lack “pure blood.” These plot elements parallel aspects of racial
politics and racism in Europe and North America. The series
continues to engage with issues of race and gender/sexuality. When
Noma Dumezweni was cast to play the adult Hermione in the play
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Rowling tweeted her support of
the casting of a black actor, writing, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair
and very clever. White skin was never speci ed.” In 2007, after the
publication of the seventh book in the series, Rowling told an
audience of fans that she considered Dumbledore to be gay,
prompting many readers to revisit their interpretations of the
character. Moreover, the controversy surrounding the series because
of opposition from some religious communities attests to the
continued con icts between secular and religious cultures, and
Rowling herself has received criticism for her appropriation of
Native American culture on the Pottermore website where she has
continued to expand the world of the series. The changes made to
editions or translations of the books for readers in di erent
countries point to assumptions about di erences in national tastes
or to the operation and e ect of language, such as the change from
the British “Philosopher’s Stone” to the American “Sorcerer’s Stone”
or the problem of the name Tom Marvolo Riddle as an anagram for
“I am Lord Voldemort” for non-English editions.
Children’s literature transmits information and values of the
culture from which it emerges, and it can in uence readers in subtle
ways to accept and internalize beliefs, perceptions, and
expectations. Narrative and language are chief mechanisms for the
transmission of information and values, so literature and our ability
to understand it remain vital to society. Children’s literature is as
diverse in content, theme, plot, character, setting, genre, and style
as adult literature; as such, it addresses a wide range of human
relationships, social issues, and cultural practices. Writers are
always in uenced by the culture of the time and place in which they
live and write, even in ways that they are unconscious of, and so the
traces of that cultural context can be seen in their work, whether
authors intend those elements to appear or not. Critics, too, can
sometimes fail to notice such elements of a work at the time, since
the ideological traces of the wider culture can become more
apparent as time passes and as scholars develop a critical
perspective from which to analyze texts and their contexts.
Subversive or Hegemonic?
Does children’s literature reinforce dominant, or hegemonic,
cultural values, or does it subvert them by o ering resistant
representations that undermine traditional ways of thinking? Texts
rarely just do one or the other, and reading children’s literature
critically can involve considering how a text reinforces or resists
hegemonic values. Jacqueline Rose argues that children’s literature
imagines and constructs the gure of the child, one that she suggests
is a fantasy of and for adults. In her classic study The Case of Peter
Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984), Rose investigates
“what it is that adults, through literature, want or demand of the
child” (137). The child of children’s literature, she argues, serves as
the embodiment of innocence and purity for adults who lack these
qualities, and thus in this view children’s literature reinforces the
hegemonic values of adult culture. Alison Lurie, in contrast, argues
that many writers of classic children’s literature “tended to overturn
rather than uphold the conventional values of their period or
background” (xii). In a world dominated by economic and
commercial interests, children’s literature o ers a subversive
critique by implying that “what matters is art, imagination, and
truth” (Lurie xi). Lurie notes that many child protagonists act
rebelliously and question adults and the world around them by
imagining di erent ways of thinking and being. She suggests, in
fact, that part of the appeal of children’s literature is its subversive
or oppositional relationship to dominant, adult cultural values. In
their Introduction to Tales for Little Rebels (2008), Julia L.
Mickenberg and Philip Nel observe that “the very idea of ‘radical
children’s literature’ may be surprising, because we do not
commonly think of the connections between children’s literature
and politics. But children’s literature has always been ideological”
(1). Mickenberg and Nel con rm this claim with their extensive
collection of overtly political children’s works, such as an excerpt
from The Child’s Socialist Reader published in 1907. Rarely does a
text simply reinforce or resist dominant culture by being either
entirely subversive or entirely hegemonic in its representations. To
read children’s literature critically, we must seek to understand the
complex relationship it has to other discourses and practices. We
can do so by analyzing the child it imagines and constructs, as well
as the adult who participates in this construction, bene ts from it,
or feels threatened by it.
Literature does not just represent the world, but also constructs
the world; it depicts the world not only as it is, but also as it might
be. Literature, as a form of art, can help readers see the world
di erently or anew and thus help them envision alternatives to
current or dominant beliefs and ways of living. Because children’s
literature, like adult literature, ultimately both re ects and
constructs the world, the study of children’s literature can provide
critical insight into many of the most important domains of culture
and society and dimensions of identity and experience: race, class,
gender, sexuality, age, nation, region, religion, kinship, education,
history, and others.
Pleasure and Unpleasure
As a literary art form, children’s literature is complex, and its
complexity is one reason that it is able to give so much pleasure,
that it can be read over and over again and be experienced
di erently each time. The history of children’s literature is marked
not only by didacticism and the impulse to instruct but also by
literary innovation and artistry. Many of the works that remain
memorable or mark signi cant milestones in the history of
children’s literature are those that demonstrate innovation by
expanding the de nitions or boundaries of writing for youth, by
experimenting with forms and themes, by playing with conventions
and expectations, and by taking creative chances in using words and
images in literary and artistic ways.
As we’ve noted, some readers worry that analyzing cultural texts
interferes with pleasure, but we might also note how unsettling it is
to be confused by a text or uncertain about its meaning. Learning a
new skill or achieving comprehension of ideas can be a source of
great relief and satisfaction. Just as understanding the history of art
and artistic movements can help a viewer make sense of a work of
art in a museum, thereby deriving pleasure from understanding the
work’s meaning or composition or its place in a larger movement or
history, understanding the history of children’s literature and how
children’s literature works can enhance the pleasure of reading it
and allow us to reread with pleasure. For instance, a complex work
such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains numerous allusions
to other literary texts and historical events. While the nonsense and
strangeness of the book can be enjoyed without recognizing these
references, understanding them allows readers to notice jokes they
might otherwise miss, allowing new and di erent pleasures to be
Children’s literature can also be unpleasurable. It can generate
anxiety or discomfort or depict frightening and disturbing elements.
The disorienting quality of Alice’s Adventures could be upsetting to
some readers, as might the terrifying scissor-man of Heinrich
Ho mann’s Struwwelpeter (1845), who chops o the thumbs of
children who refuse to stop sucking them. The unhappy fates of the
children in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) or
in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
(1999) might be frightening, as might historical ction for children
about war and atrocity, such as Toshi Maruki’s Hiroshima No Pika
(1982), a picturebook about the bombing of Hiroshima, or Myron
Levoy’s Alan and Naomi (1977), a children’s novel about a girl
traumatized by seeing her father killed in the Holocaust. Readers
seek out literature about terrible things for many reasons, including
helping them to work through challenging or horrible experiences
or feelings.
Children’s literature can reveal both our greatest pleasures and
our deepest fears or concerns. Understanding what pleases or
frightens us the most is absolutely key to understanding what it
means to be human and how human beings relate to and treat one
another. In evoking childhood memories, children’s literature
provides access to our most foundational emotions or experiences; it
is thus one of the few ways adults can maintain a connection to
childhood. Following Jerry Griswold, the scholar and critic, we nd
the expression in children’s literature of basic pleasures and fears to
be especially insistent, suggesting that we can learn about some of
our most deep-seated needs and pleasures through studying works
for children. By examining what it is about childhood that triggers
adult nostalgia, we can learn about our most potent and long-term
fears, anxieties, pleasures, and desires.
“Boy Working in a Glass Factory” by Lewis Wickes Hine, 1911. The boy is Robert
Kidd, one of the young workers in the Alexandria, Virginia, factory.
Susannah Bricks, one of the children featured in James Janeway’s A
Token for Children (1671), cries out, “Behold, I was shapen in
iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me, and I was
altogether born in sin!” (59). Fortunately, she repents of her sin
before dying at the age of fourteen from the plague. Such naturally
sinful children also appear throughout nineteenth-century stories
about boys at boarding schools, as in Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s
Schooldays (1857), in which the natural wickedness of boys must be
constantly policed, managed, and eventually overcome by the good
example of their masters and the disciplinary policies of the school.
In contrast, the child speaker of William Blake’s poem “The Lamb”
(1789) sees himself, the lamb, and the baby Jesus as sharing a
natural innocence, which the character of Little Eva in Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) also embodies. Her father,
St. Clare, the owner of a large slaveholding plantation in the
American South, wonders when he sees his virtuous daughter
enjoying the company of the slave Tom, “What would the poor and
lowly do, without children?” (185). St. Clare sees children like Eva
as embodying innocence, not sin: “Your little child is your only true
democrat… . This is one of the roses of Eden that the Lord has
dropped down expressly for the poor and lowly, who get few
enough of any other kind” (185).
The history of children’s literature cannot be understood fully
without considering the history of childhood, and children’s
literature seems inextricably bound to issues of audience. What
kinds of writing are appropriate or inappropriate for children? What
is useful for the instruction or education of children? What will
children nd interesting or enjoyable? What are children of di erent
ages prepared to read or understand? How we answer these
questions—which might be asked by adults who write, publish,
purchase, recommend, or teach children’s literature—depends on
how and what we think about children. Are children born into
savagery or sin, inclined to delinquency in the absence of proper
guidance, and in need of strict discipline? The children in the works
just cited represent di erent models of childhood and ideas about
children. While adults read and enjoy children’s literature as well,
understanding the history of childhood helps us to understand the
readers who are presumably the primary audience for children’s
As historians of childhood have discovered, the nature of that
audience is anything but a simple matter. Since the groundbreaking
publication of Philippe Ariès’s Centuries of Childhood in 1960 (trans.
in 1962), researchers have made it clear that how childhood has
been de ned—indeed, who counts as a child—has often di ered at
di erent times and in di erent places, sometimes radically.
Complicating the study of the history of childhood is the fact that at
any given moment multiple and even contradictory ideas about
children and childhood coexist; what we think about children and
childhood and the ways real children actually live do not always
correspond. In addition, age intersects with other key dimensions of
social experience, such as sex/gender, class, race, nation, region,
religion, and ethnicity, so that the lives of children often vary
widely even at the same historical moment. Considering all these
factors produces a very complex picture of what it means to be a
child. What, then, do we mean when we speak of children or
childhood? Rather than providing a historical chronology, we
answer this question in the section that follows by focusing on
models of childhood most prevalent in British and US cultural
history since the seventeenth century, and we approach this history
in terms of models of childhood in order to distinguish clearly
between ideas about “the child” and the experiences of living
In the modern age, a number of competing models or
conceptualizations of children and childhood circulate that a ect
how children are treated and perceived and how children live and
perceive themselves. The history of childhood has not unfolded in a
linear way, and newer understandings have not simply replaced
earlier ones. Rather, di erent models of childhood, more or less
dominant at di erent moments and in di erent places, overlap and
intermingle to produce a complex and sometimes contradictory
picture of what it means to be a child. We describe some of the most
commonly encountered models of childhood separately, but these
models rarely operate in isolation. Even seemingly outdated models
continue to overlap with others and in uence how we think and
write about children. Rather than simply being a framework for
classifying child characters, these models provide a way to think
about the assumptions underlying how children are represented in
children’s literature so that those representations can be analyzed
The Romantic Child
One such model is that of the child as the embodiment of innocence,
or the Romantic child, such as Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. John
Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) sets forth
the tabula rasa theory, the notion that the mind of a child is a blank
slate: “Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper,
void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be
furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and
boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless
variety? To this, I answer in one word, From experience [sic]” (59).
Later Locke would write in Some Thoughts Concerning Education
(1693) that “the di erence to be found in the manners and abilities
of men is owing more to their education than to anything else [and
thus] we have reason to conclude that great care is to be had of the
forming of children’s minds” (25). Locke’s theory of human nature
held practical consequences for the rearing of children, especially in
matters of education and discipline. Locke thought that children
should be left “free and unrestrained” as much as possible in order
to explore the world around them and that they possess a “natural
gaiety,” which could be spoiled by too much adult interference (39).
Similar sentiments were expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in
Emile (1762), his treatise on education. In Book II, Rousseau exhorts
parents to abandon restrictive educational and disciplinary practices
that make the lives of children unbearable drudgery:
Love childhood; promote its games, its pleasures, its amiable
instinct. Who among you has not sometimes regretted that age
when a laugh is always on the lips and the soul is always at
peace? Why do you want to deprive these little innocents of the
enjoyment of a time so short which escapes them and of a good
so precious which they do not know how to abuse? Why do you
want to ll with bitterness and pains these rst years which go
by so rapidly and can return no more for them than they can
for you? (79)
The child as conceived in Emile has natural innocence and virtue
that must simply be molded by the sensitive guidance of an adult
tutor, but Rousseau warns against forcing adult reason onto the
child, who is not ready for it. “To know good and bad, to sense the
reason for man’s duties,” he writes, “is not a child’s a air. Nature
wants children to be children before being men. If we want to
pervert this order, we shall produce precocious fruits which will be
immature and insipid and will not be long in rotting” (90). In
statements such as these, Rousseau works to emphasize the link
between childhood and nature.
In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s controversial novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Eva is
constructed as possessing a racialized childhood innocence denied to African
American children.
By the end of the eighteenth century and the rst half of the
nineteenth, Romantic poets such as Blake in Songs of Innocence
(1789) and William Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey” (1798) further
solidi ed the association of childhood with innocence and purity.
In uenced by thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau, they found in
children and childhood a contrast to the apparent corruptions of
body and soul bred by industrialization. Wordsworth’s 1807
publication of “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections
of Early Childhood” re ects this Romantic idealization of childhood:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it ows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day. (lines 66–76)
This conception of children as somehow purer and more virtuous
than adults, closer to nature and God, and beauti ed by their
naïveté persists in contemporary times, both in literary and lmic
representations of children and in public policy debates involving
the “protection” of children and childhood ignorance. Consider the
refrain to “stay gold” in S.E. Hinton’s landmark young adult novel
The Outsiders (1967), in which teenager Johnny encourages his
friend Ponyboy to retain his “childlike” wonder, or the public
hysteria surrounding Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’s suggestion
in 1994 that masturbation might be an acceptable means of
avoiding HIV transmission among young people, an idea that clearly
con icted with the conception of childhood innocence and led to
Elders’s forced resignation. What we like to think about children has
practical consequences.
This Romantic conception of childhood can emphasize di erent
qualities and sometimes appears inconsistent. To some Romantics,
the minds of children are blank slates, and children must be molded
by adults and imprinted with culture. Others in uenced by the
Romantic tradition see children as naturally happy, carefree,
innocent, or pure and thus likely to be disappointed, deformed, or
corrupted by experience and maturation. Some Romantic thinkers
regard children as savage and uncivilized in their proximity to
nature and beasts, in contrast to more cultured and disciplined
adults. Others emphasize their natural insights or abilities, which
adults lack or have lost. What these various understandings share is
the sense of children as almost superior to adults in some ways and
as aligned with nature, beauty, or spirituality.
Many classics of children’s literature re ect a Romantic vision of
childhood. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911),
the author depicts the three child protagonists as having an a nity
with nature: the sickly, upper-class Mary and Colin both nd health
and vigor by working in the garden, and the kindly, working-class
Dickon communes with animals and maintains his hardy
constitution by always being outside. The eponymous protagonist of
Virginia Hamilton’s M.C. Higgins, the Great (1974), the rst novel by
an African American author to win the prestigious Newbery Medal,
lives on a mountain and fears the dangers posed to his home and
family by the after-e ects of strip-mining. The novel’s depiction of
M.C. as crucial to his family’s salvation and as the one most
conscious of the dangers of technology links him to the Romantic
tradition of seeing children as embodying an earlier, purer, agrarian
past amid urbanization and industrialization.
The Sinful Child
Another conceptualization competes with the notion of children as
the embodiment of innocence: that of the child as sinful and in need
of discipline and training. Puritan theology and social customs have
left us with the image of the sinful child born corrupted by the
original sin of the biblical Adam and Eve, easily swayed to do
wrong, and susceptible to evil. Historian Steven Mintz has examined
the diary kept by New England Puritan Samuel Sewall between
1673 and 1729. As Mintz explains,
Sewall’s diary reveals a society that believed that even
newborns were innately sinful and that parents’ primary task
was to suppress their children’s natural depravity. Seventeenthcentury Puritans cared deeply for their children and invested an
enormous amount of time and energy in them, but they were
also intent on repressing what they perceived as manifestations
of original sin through harsh physical and psychological
measures. Aside from an occasional whipping, Sewall’s primary
technique for disciplining his children was to provoke their fear
of death, sin, and the torments in icted in hell. (2)
By the mid eighteenth century, Evangelicals in Britain and the
United States had reshaped religious understandings of children.
Less severe than their Puritan predecessors, they permitted play and
sought to restrict child labor. While the sense of children as born
sinful and damned became less pronounced in Evangelical
discourse, the need to save, discipline, and educate them remained
central. The Sunday School movement emerged in Britain between
the 1750s and 1780s in order to address these needs, with
Evangelicals such as English-born Robert Raikes establishing Sunday
schools to introduce children to Christian thought and provide
alternatives to mischief or criminal behavior, especially for poor and
working-class children.
Jessica’s First Prayer (1867), written by English Methodist Hesba
Stretton (penname of Sarah Smith), indicates the Evangelical view
of the child in need of both spiritual and economic care. Jess, the
protagonist, is dirty, hungry, and miserable, neglected and abused
by her drunken mother. When Mr. Daniel Standring, who keeps a
co ee stand in London, attempts to catch Jess at stealing by
deliberately dropping a penny in front of her, she resists the
temptation and returns it to him. She later follows him into a church
and learns about God and faith from the minister and his children.
Though she needs spiritual salvation and social training, she is not
exactly the evil or sinful child described by Puritan writers even if
the text implies that her poverty and lack of spiritual education
would eventually lead her to depravity, as her mother had been led.
Evangelicals, in uenced by both religious doctrines and the
increasingly popular views of the Romantics, imagined the child as a
composite of the sinful and Romantic child.
Today, manifestations of this notion of childhood sin might take
more secular forms, couched in the pseudopsychological language of
impulse control and developmental immaturity or in the
pseudoanthropological language of savagery or untamed wildness,
but they still arise in references to the schoolyard cruelty of children
or to the need for teenage curfews as a way to reduce crime. The
sinful or depraved child frequently appears onscreen or in written
ction as well, as in William March’s 1954 bestseller, The Bad Seed,
which features an adorable suburban girl in pigtails who turns into a
chillingly cold-blooded murderer. The Bad Seed was later made into
a hit Broadway play and a critically acclaimed lm. George R.R.
Martin’s fantasy novel A Game of Thrones (1996) was also a
bestseller that was later adapted into a successful television series,
and it too features a malevolent boy, Prince Jo rey, who later
becomes a tyrannical child king. Clearly, the gure of the evil child
still resonates. This image is remarkable for the way it contrasts so
strikingly with the image of the child as the embodiment of
While the model of the sinful or evil child still persists most
obviously in works of horror, it can also be seen throughout
children’s literature even if the child’s evil is not attributed to
original sin. The character Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series
belongs to the tradition of the evil child, even though his evil is
in uenced by his upbringing and his family’s service to Voldemort.
Another evil child, Paul, in Edward Bloor’s Tangerine (1997) blinds
his younger brother, commands a friend to murder another youth,
and steals from his neighbors, and yet the novel provides little
explanation for Paul’s horri c actions. Though representations of
the Romantic or sacred child now appear more frequently and serve
as the dominant conceptions of children, the evil or sinful child
continues to appear in the form of bullies, criminals, or rivals.
The Working Child
One of the key developments in the history of childhood involves
the way children were transformed from economically valuable
sources of expendable labor into almost sacred and sentimental
objects who actually cost parents money. The model of the working
child, which characterized life for most children before the early
twentieth century, cast children as necessary and useful contributors
to the household, as practical additions to families, and as sources of
labor. The early American colonies, nding themselves in desperate
need of able bodies, appealed to England to send over street
children. Upon one such request from the Virginia Company in
1619, the Privy Council of England responded,
Whereas the City of London hath, by an act of the Common
Council, appointed one hundred children, out of the multitudes
that swarm in that place, to be sent to Virginia, there to be
bound as apprentices for certain years with very bene cial
conditions for them afterwards … the City deserveth thanks and
commendations for redeeming so many poor souls from misery
and ruin and putting them in a condition of use and service to
the State. (“Declaration” 242)
Hardly precious objects to be coddled, these children of twelve and
upward, pressed into “service to the State,” were to be rounded up
and sent to a faraway land to do the back-breaking work of building
the colonies. Not all these children were expected to go happily or
voluntarily, and the English government made provisions for such a
possibility: “If any of them shall be found obstinate to resist or
otherwise disobey such directions as shall be given in this behalf, we
do likewise hereby authorize such as shall have the charge of this
service to imprison, punish, and dispose of any of those children,
upon any disorder by them or any of them committed, as cause shall
require, and so to ship them out for Virginia with as much
expedition as may stand with conveniency [sic]” (“Declaration”
This way of understanding children as useful labor persisted late
into the nineteenth century. In his enormously in uential exposé
How the Other Half Lives (1890), Jacob Riis writes about the “army
of homeless boys” living on the streets and working in New York
City in the 1880s. He cites as an example the case of two brothers:
“John and Willie, aged ten and eight, picked up by the police. They
‘didn’t live nowhere,’ never went to school, could neither read nor
write. Their twelve-year-old sister kept house for the father, who
turned the boys out to beg, or steal, or starve” (150). The evidence
gathered by Riis and others suggests that this father was no
aberration nor unusually heartless; rather, his actions represent a
particular way of thinking about children that di ers from the
image of the sacred child that is currently dominant in Euro
American culture.
Nineteenth-century children’s literature often described the
common experience of child labor, and more contemporary
historical novels re ect this earlier model. Horatio
“Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters,” Jacob Riis, 1890.
Alger’s iconic rags-to-riches story Ragged Dick (1868) depicts orphan
bootblacks who live and work on the streets of New York City, and
Walter Dean Myers’s historical novel The Glory Field (1994) includes
children and adolescents from di erent periods who must work to
support their families or themselves, such as Lizzy, a thirteen-yearold slave who escapes to freedom during the American Civil War,
and fteen-year-old Elijah, who stands up to a white sheri and
risks being lynched in an e ort to help support his family nancially
at the turn of the twentieth century. These texts show the working
child as fully capable of earning an income, engaging in exhausting
physical labor, and acting independently of adults.
The Sacred Child
Sociologist Viviana Zelizer traces the shifting conceptualization of
childhood over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, when child labor laws sought to remove children from the
factories and elds and compulsory education laws relocated them
to the classroom as the model of the sacred child took hold. In this
model, children are understood as precious and fragile aesthetic
objects to admire rather than as practical tools. As such, they must
be protected, watched, fussed over. A few dates and gures sketch a
picture of how the sacred child emerged in the nineteenth century
as child labor declined and education became compulsory:
• In the United States, Massachusetts was the rst state to enact a
compulsory education law in 1852. It compelled children between
the ages of six and sixteen to attend school for some portion of the
• The next state to pass such a law was Vermont in 1867, indicating
that other states were slow to follow the lead of Massachusetts.
• It was not until the 1870s and 1880s that the trend became
decisive. By 1885, twenty-two out of thirty-eight states had
compulsory education laws, and by 1900, thirty-four out of fortyve did.
• It took almost sixty years, from the 1870s to the 1930s, to prohibit
many forms of child labor in the United States. During this period,
a signi cant percentage of children worked either on family farms
or outside the home, including in factories (Zelizer 57).
• Not coincidentally, the 1930s marked the beginning of a shift
toward an increase in attendance of secondary schools. While in
1930 the number of teenagers graduating from high school was
equal to 29 per cent of seventeen-year-olds in the United States,
that gure doubled to 59 per cent by 1950 (Schaller 28).
These trends occurred for a number of reasons. Zelizer cites the rise
in real incomes, the institution of the family wage with which men
were expected to earn enough to maintain a household, and the
growing demand for educated labor in the twentieth-century
economy as factors that enabled or compelled children to attend
school rather than to work (62–63). In order to free up jobs for
adult men and to reduce competition for work, which was
heightened by the in ux of immigrants during the latter half of the
nineteenth century, children were gradually removed from the
workforce in signi cant numbers. Schools evolved to give them
someplace to be and something to do.
Two other possible preconditions for this shift to thinking about
children as precious objects to coddle and protect were the overall
reduction in the number of children born to each family and the
declining mortality rate as more children survived into adulthood.
As Steven Mintz explains about colonial America, “In New England’s
healthiest communities, around 10 percent of children died in their
rst year, and three of every nine died before reaching their twentyrst birthday. In seaports like Boston or Salem, death rates were two
or even three times higher” (15). By the early twentieth century,
families were having fewer children, which gave parents more time
and inclination to invest emotionally in each child, and better
public-health education and access to medical care permitted more
children to survive into adulthood. As it became easier to keep
children alive, parental agency over the fate of their children
increased parental responsibility and vigilance over their care.
Whatever the reasons, during this period children became
primarily a source of emotional reward to prize and assiduously
nurture, sacred objects to protect from every conceivable danger,
rather than sources of economic income and parental security in old
age. At rst, childhood as a time and space of play, imagination,
and formal education was the province of only the most privileged
children of the middle and upper classes who could a ord to keep
these young people out of the workforce and provided with the toys,
games, books, leisure, and lack of responsibility that now
characterize childhood. Gradually, over the course of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this model of childhood
came to be understood as an ideal toward which all families across
the economic spectrum could and should aspire.
This marked a radical shift in both the discourse and experience
of childhood. The daily routines and schedules, the self-conceptions
and thoughts, the interests, the behaviors, and the capacities of the
nine-year-old factory worker or farm worker in the rst decade of
the twentieth century would di er considerably from those of the
nine-year-old student who attends a suburban school in the rst
decade of the twenty- rst. The child laborers of the early twentieth
century would have dressed exactly like the adults working next to
them. They would have eaten the same foods, used the same
machines, and passed time alongside fellow workers, some about
the same age and some much older. They would have traveled from
home to factory or across stretches of land unchaperoned and
unsupervised. In contrast, twenty- rst-century youth might dress
quite di erently from adults, attend school during the day rather
than work, associate primarily with those of similar ages, eat foods
packaged and marketed speci cally for young people, watch
television programs produced expressly for a younger demographic,
and be watched constantly or forced to give an account of every
movement. These two cohorts, separated by about a century, had
very di erent lives and thought about themselves in radically
di erent ways.
Because the model of the sacred child serves as one of the more
dominant understandings of children, it appears frequently in
children’s literature. For instance, in Eleanor Porter’s Pollyanna
(1913), Pollyanna’s value to her Aunt Polly comes not from paid
labor but from how Pollyanna’s good behavior re ects on her
upbringing. Pollyanna also occupies the center of attention, and the
curmudgeonly Mr. Pendleton wants to adopt her himself because he
sees children, and Pollyanna in particular, as able to bring joy into
the life of adults. Pollyanna’s injury nally makes her the one who
needs care, and she is treated like a fragile object to be protected
from the full knowledge of her prognosis. Lafayette, the youngest
protagonist of Jacqueline Woodson’s Miracle’s Boys (2000), also
embodies the model of the sacred child. While his oldest brother,
Ty’ree, works to support his younger siblings, and the middle child
Charlie works to readjust to life after a stint in a home for
delinquent boys, Lafayette focuses on school, television, and dealing
with his feelings stemming from the loss of his parents. Lafayette is
the child who must be protected from the pain of life, and the
tension of the novel springs from the gap between this ideal and the
realities of poverty and orphanhood.
The Child as Radically Other
The very di erent experiences of the sacred child and the working
child suggest yet another structuring opposition that underlies
modern conceptualizations of childhood and its distinction from
adulthood. Are children fundamentally and qualitatively di erent
from adults, or are they merely incomplete or miniature versions?
Does the line between childhood and adulthood represent a rupture,
marking a radical di erence between the child and the adult, or do
childhood and adulthood exist as periods that gradually shade into
each other along a continuum, with each possessing traces of the
other at its fringes? Di erent responses to these questions produce
quite di erent ways of thinking about various aspects of childhood
and children’s culture.
One model understands the child as fundamentally di erent from
the adult, or radically Other. For instance, the child at play might
represent an experience or imaginative feat unique to childhood and
lost to adults, who are much too preoccupied with the empirical or
the real. Bill Watterson plays with this notion in his Calvin and
Hobbes comic strip (1985–1995). When Calvin is alone with his
stu ed tiger, Hobbes is real and alive; when one of Calvin’s parents
enters the frame, Hobbes reverts into an inanimate toy. His parents
cannot see Hobbes the same way Calvin does. Children who playact
as kings and queens, then, are perhaps performing in ways unique to
children, but few would claim that a performance of Shakespeare’s
Macbeth is child’s play. The child at play might be imagined as a
miniature actor, the playacting of childhood existing along a
continuum with the enactment of adult drama. Does the play of
eight-year-old Pee Wee football players belong properly to
childhood, meaning that the big business of adult football is a
holdover of children’s culture, or are these boys prematurely
enacting an adult sport? These children might be seen as playing at
an adult activity, or the adults, by playing, might be seen as
performing a childhood pursuit. We do not have to decide which is
the case, but we do need to recognize the slippery nature of both
childhood and adulthood in order to read literature for children
The Developing Child
Many models of childhood include a sense in which the child is
radically Other to the adult, rather than existing along a continuum
with people of di erent ages. One model that does seem to suggest a
continuum is that of the developing child. The twentieth century
saw the birth of the academic child-study movement. Though
philosophers, educators, and others concerned with the care and
education of the young had long considered and written about
children, childhood, and child-rearing, professional psychologists
rst turned their attention to the concentrated study of childhood
beginning with works such as G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence: Its
Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology,
Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education, rst published in 1904. Kenneth
Kidd describes Hall as “the founding father not only of child
psychology but of American psychology more generally… . Hall
presided over the child study movement at Clark University, where
he welcomed Sigmund Freud in 1909 and trained a whole new
generation of child experts” (36). Freud, another key pioneer of
psychological child study, saw the child and childhood experiences
as absolutely central to the workings of the human psyche, and his
work on the psychodynamics of childhood popularized
understandings of the child as existing along a continuum of
development with the adult. Freud likened childhood in the life of
the individual to the “primaeval” period in the evolution of the
human species (Freud 39).
By the mid twentieth century, the eld of developmental
psychology had crystallized around the empirical study of children
and their increasing capacities over the course of youth. Swiss
psychologist Jean Piaget, who began laying out his theory of child
development in the 1920s, articulated four periods of cognitive
development during which children construct knowledge in
di erent ways: the sensorimotor period from birth to two years, the
preoperational period from two to seven years, the period of
concrete operations from seven to eleven years, and the period of
formal operations from eleven years on. While other psychologists
and cultural critics have challenged this emphasis on normative,
universal stages of development in recent years, what is important
for the student or scholar of childhood and children’s literature is
that the work of Piaget and other developmental psychologists
represents children neither as miniature adults nor as fundamentally
di erent from adults. Rather, the developmental approach
understands children as immature or developing beings who are
slowly moving toward adulthood in a mostly unbroken line. If this
sounds matter of course to the contemporary reader, it might be
because this model is currently one of the most prevalent and
Since the advent of scienti c child study, children’s literature
often conceives of the child in psychological terms and depicts the
child’s gradual development or maturation. The young Christopher
Robin in A.A. Milne’s Pooh books possesses the imagination to
envision Pooh and the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood as
living beings; yet, at the end of The House at Pooh Corner (1928) he
must abandon Pooh to go to school and sorrowfully alludes to his
own development: “‘Pooh,’ said Christopher Robin earnestly, ‘if I—if
I’m not quite—’ he stopped and tried again—’Pooh, whatever
happens, you will understand, won’t you?’” (179). Christopher Robin
intuits that his growing up will change him and his relationship
with his beloved bear. In Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971), Judy
Blume describes the physical and psychological development of
twelve-year-old Tony, who must deal with common experiences of
puberty, such as nocturnal emissions and uncontrollable erectio…
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