In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children's Literature

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Short Introductions
  • General Introductions and Guides
  • Anthologies
  • Popular Culture and Children’s Literature
  • Children’s Literature in Education
  • Children and Texts

Childhood Studies Children's Literature
Peter Hunt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0014


The study of children’s literature as an academic discipline has developed since the 1980s from its roots in education and librarianship to its place in departments of literature and childhood studies. Although its practitioners position themselves at different points on the spectrum between “book-oriented” and “child-oriented,” the study is held together by the “presence” of some concept of child and childhood in the texts. The distinctions that apply in other literary systems between “literature” and “popular literature” or “literature” and “nonliterature” are not necessarily useful in this field. Nevertheless, criticism tends to fracture between a liberal-humanist and educationalist view that children’s literature should adhere to and inculcate “traditional” literary and cultural values and a more postmodern and theoretical view that texts for children are part of a complex cultural matrix and should be treated nonjudgmentally. In addition, the discipline is multi- and interdisciplinary as well as multimedia: its theory derives from disciplines such as literature, cultural and ideological studies, history, and psychology, and its applications range from literacy to bibliography. Consequently, children’s literature can be defined and limited in many (sometimes conflicting) ways: one major problem for scholars is that the term children’s is sometimes taken to transcend national and language barriers, thus potentially producing a discipline of unmanageable proportions. As a result, this article is eclectic, but it excludes specialist studies to which children’s books are peripheral or merely instrumental, such as folklore or teaching techniques. Children’s literature is also studied comparatively and internationally, with German and Japanese writing being particularly important. This article largely confines itself to English-language texts and translations into English.

Reference Resources

Children’s literature has been well catered for in terms of reference books, partly because the subject is of interest to the general public as well as to academics. General Reference Books thus range from large illustrated encyclopedic guides to collections of academic essays, as well as short introductions aimed primarily at students.

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