This post was originally published on the former Worrisome Words site on September 8, 2017
Children’s Literature theory is not only my own field, and therefore dear to my heart … it is also of growing interdisciplinary interest! Of course it is of interest to literary theorists, teachers, and librarians, but I have also recently seen it referenced in discussions about inherent sexism in the STEM fields, ecological crisis, and histories of racism, to name just a few instances. Because children’s books often provide a platform for the exploration and dissemination both of social and cultural norms and social and cultural innovations, it can form a useful field of references for just about any discipline. If you would like to know how to get started, here is a list of my top five introductory texts.
Hunt, Peter (ed). Understanding Children’s Literature: Key Essays from the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Routledge, 1999. Containing entries from a number of key theorists, including Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, Perry Nodelman, Lissa Paul, and Charles Sarland, this volume covers key areas of critical debate, from ideology and politics to reader-response criticism, feminism, and reading literacy.
Nodelman, Perry, and Mavis Reimer. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, 3rd edition. Pearson, 2002. This classic of children’s literature theory, now in its third edition, not only provides a comprehensive overview of the professional discourses of children’s literature, but also engages with some of the key controversies within the discipline. Chapters include “Teaching Children’s Literature”, “Children’s Literature in the Marketplace”, “Poetry” and “Picture Books”.
Aries, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Vintage Books: 1962. Before you can really understand children’s culture, you first need a good understanding of exactly what the concept of “child” entails! Philippe Aries’ classic historical exploration of the family in Western culture examines everything from food to clothing, to representation in art, to show how the concept of childhood has developed over time.
Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. Routledge, 2002. Children’s literature is far from uncontroversial, and in this volume Jack Zipes explores the ways in which children’s literature, as a site for the acculturation of children, can hide some troubling undercurrents. From its uses in education to its influence as a mass-produced product, Zipes explores children’s culture as a site for both controversy and manipulation.
Coats, Karen. The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Bloomsbury, 2017. Due to be published this year, Karen Coat’s comprehensive introduction looks to be particularly interesting in that it focuses at least partially on young adult literature as well as the genres for younger groups traditionally focused on by children’s literature theorists. Young adult fiction has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, as well as a surge in critical interest; it is gratifying to see it examined comprehensively in an introductory volume. With chapters on topics such as nonfiction and informational literature, young adult literature on stage and screens, and posthumanism, this volume provides a critical overview which takes account of the way in which children’s culture is evolving rapidly in the information era.
Jen is an Instructor of English at East Stroudsburg University. Views and opinions expressed here are her own, and not those of the University or any other organization.