Childhood Studies Folklore
Elizabeth Tucker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0087


Folklore, cultural traditions shared by individuals and groups, became a subject of interest to scholars in 1846 in England. Impetus for folklore study also came from Germany, where the Grimm brothers published their collection of folktales in 1812–1814. Study of children’s folklore began in the second half of the 19th century. In contrast to nursery lore, which adults teach to children, children’s folklore is created and transmitted by children themselves. Collections of children’s folklore from the late 19th century to the present have made it clear that children’s culture is a source of vibrant peer-based learning that facilitates progress toward adulthood and gives children much pleasure. Children’s folklore is an interdisciplinary field of study in which folklorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others have participated. The Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society has been an important locus of scholarly activity, and there are other groups of scholars interested in children’s folklore around the world. This bibliography presents children’s folklore scholarship from the United Kingdom, the United States, France, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. German scholarship in ethnology and education is not included here because of its different methodology.

General Overviews

One of the key concepts of children’s folklore study is the interplay of tradition with creativity, first noted by Newell 1963, Fine 1980 calls this combination “Newell’s paradox.” Sometimes adults deny the significance of children’s folklore. Sutton-Smith 1970 explains that adults pay less attention to childhood because the “triviality barrier” makes childhood seem unimportant. Grider 1980 assesses the work of folklorists of childhood up to the year of the essay’s publication, and Tucker 2012 surveys scholarship from the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st century, with emphasis on varying concepts of childhood.

  • Fine, Gary Alan. “Children and Their Culture: Exploring Newell’s Paradox.” Western Folklore 39 (1980): 170–183.

    DOI: 10.2307/1499799

    How can children be creative and conservative at the same time? Fine explores this apparent paradox, explaining why it is fundamental to the study of children’s folklore.

  • Grider, Sylvia Ann. “The Study of Children’s Folklore.” Western Folklore 39.3 (1980): 159–169.

    DOI: 10.2307/1499798

    Grider’s article not only covers important research up to 1980 but also expresses considerable insight. Many folklorists of childhood have referred to this article.

  • Newell, William Wells. Games and Songs of American Children. New York: Dover, 1963.

    Newell’s early study of American children’s games and songs expresses important insights into the dynamics of children’s culture. More than a century after its publication, it is still a pleasure to read.

  • Sutton-Smith, Brian. “Psychology of Children: The Triviality Barrier.” Western Folklore 29 (1970): 1–8.

    DOI: 10.2307/1498679

    This article by Sutton-Smith explicates the “triviality barrier,” which makes childhood seem unimportant to adults. Scholars of childlore leap over that barrier, discovering the many meanings of this stage of life.

  • Tucker, Elizabeth. “Changing Concepts of Childhood: Children’s Folklore Scholarship Since the Late Nineteenth Century.” Journal of American Folklore 125.498 (2012): 389–410.

    DOI: 10.5406/jamerfolk.125.498.0389

    Tucker’s essay explores the development of concepts of childhood since the beginning of children’s folklore scholarship in the late 19th century. Children’s folklore scholarship began with evolutionism, following Darwin’s publication of his theories, and has recently declared interest in evolution again, following scientific studies.

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