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Children's literature is for readers and listeners up to about age twelve and is often illustrated. The term is used in senses which sometimes exclude young-adult fiction, comic books, or other genres. Books specifically for children existed by the 17th century. Scholarship on children's literature includes professional organizations, dedicated publications and university courses.

Defining children's literature

Daisy Ashford as a child
There is some debate on what constitutes children's literature.

Books written by childrenwrongo

books written FOR CHILDREN

A much-overlooked type of children's literature is work written by children, such as The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford (aged 9) or the juvenilia of Jane Austen or Lewis Carroll, written to amuse brothers and sisters.

Books written for children

Perhaps the most common definition of children's literature is those books intentionally written for children. Nancy Anderson, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of South Floridamarker in Tampa, defines children's literature as all books written for children, "excluding works such as comic books, joke books, cartoon books, and nonfiction works that are not intended to be read from front to back, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference material". Some of this work, of course, is also very popular among adults. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was originally written and marketed for children, but it was so popular among children and adults that The New York Times created a separate bestseller list. Often no consensus is reached whether a given work is best categorized as adult or children's literature, and many books are marketed for both adults and children.

Books chosen for children

The most restrictive definition of children's literature are those books various authorities determine are "appropriate" for children, such as teachers, reviewers, scholars, parents, publishers, librarians, retailers, and the various book-award committees.

Parents wishing to protect their children from the unhappier aspects of life often find the traditional fairy tales, nursery rhymes and other voyages of discovery problematic, because often the first thing a story does is remove the adult influence, leaving the central character to learn to cope on his or her own: prominent examples of this include Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Bambi and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Many regard this as necessary to the story; after all, in most cases the whole point of the story is the characters' transition into adulthood.

Books chosen by children

Huckleberry Finn
broadest definition of children's literature applies to books that are actually selected and read by children. Children choose many books, such as comics, which some would not consider to be literature at all in the traditional sense; they also choose literary classics and recognized great works by modern writers, and often enjoy stories which speak on multiple levels. In the opinion of novelist Orson Scott Card, "one can make a good case for the idea that children are often the guardians of the truly great literature of the world, for in their love of story and unconcern for stylistic fads and literary tricks, children unerringly gravitate toward truth and power." Someone who enjoyed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a child may come back to the text as an adult and see the darker themes that were lost on them as younger readers.In addition, many classic books that were originally intended for adults are now commonly thought of as works for children. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was originally intended for an adult audience. Today it is widely read as a part of children's school curriculum in the United States.

Types of children's literature

Children's literature can be divided in many ways.

Children's literature by genres

A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by technique, tone, content, or length. Nancy Anderson, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of South Floridamarker in Tampa, has delineated six major categories of children's literature, with some significant subgenres:
  1. Picture books, including board books, concept books (teaching an alphabet or counting), pattern books, and wordless books
  2. Traditional literature: there are ten characteristics of traditional literature: (1) unknown authorship, (2) conventional introductions and conclusions, (3) vague settings, (4) stereotyped characters, (5) anthropomorphism, (6) cause and effect, (7) happy ending for the hero, (8) magic accepted as normal, (9) brief stories with simple and direct plots, and (10) repetition of action and verbal patterns. The bulk of traditional Literature consists of folktales, which conveys the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in past times. This large genre can be further broken down into subgenres: myths, fables, ballads, folk music, legends, and fairy tales.
  3. Fiction, including the sub-genres of fantasy and realistic fiction (both contemporary and historical). This genre would also include the school story, a genre unique to children's literature in which the boarding school is a common setting.
  4. Non-fiction
  5. Biography, including autobiography
  6. Poetry and verse.

Children's literature by age category

Children's literature is an age category opposite adult literature, but it is sub-divided further due to the divergent interests of children age 0-18.
  • Picture books appropriate for pre-readers ages 0–5. Caldecott Medal winners often (but not always) fall within this category.
  • Early Reader Books appropriate for children age 5-7. These books are often designed to help a child build his or her reading skills.
  • Chapter book appropriate for children ages 7–11.
    • Short chapter books, appropriate for children ages 7–9.
    • Longer chapter books, appropriate for children ages 9–12. Newbery Medal winners often (but not always) fall within this category.
  • Young-adult fiction appropriate for children age 13-18

The criteria for these divisions are just as vague and problematic as the criteria for defining children's books as a whole. One obvious distinction is that books for younger children tend to contain illustrations, but picture books which feature art as an integral part of the overall work also crosses genres and age levels. Tibet: Through the Red Box by Peter Sis is a one example of a picture book aimed at an adult audience.


Book series are not unique to children's literature. Series are also very popular in science fiction and crime fiction. Sometimes the success of a book for children prompts the author to continue the story in a sequel or to launch a series, such as L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz. Sometimes works are originally conceived as series, such as the Harry Potter books. Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine have specialized in open-ended series. Sometimes a series will outlive its author. When Baum died, his publisher hired Ruth Plumly Thompson to write more Oz books. The Nancy Drew series and others were written by several authors using the same pen name.


's books are often illustrated, sometimes lavishly, in a way that is rarely used for adult literature except in the illustrated novel genre popular especially in Japan, Korea and France. Generally, the artwork plays a greater role in books intended for the youngest readers (especially pre-literate children). Children's picture books can be a cognitively accessible source of high quality art for young children.

Many authors work with a preferred artist who illustrates their words; others create books together, and some illustrators write their own books. Even after children attain sufficient levels of literacy to enjoy the story without illustrations, they continue to appreciate the occasional drawings found in chapter books.


Because of the difficulty in defining children's literature, it is also difficult to trace its history to a precise starting point.

15th Century

Some stories popular among children were written in the 15th Century. Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (1486) and the tales of Robin Hood (c. 1450) were not written with children in mind, but children have been fascinated by these stories for centuries.

17th Century

In 1658 Jan Ámos Komenský published the illustrated informational book Orbis Pictus in Czechoslovakia. It is considered to be the first picture book published specifically for children. Also during this time, Charles Perrault (1628–1703) laid the foundations of the fairy tale in France. His stories include Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella.

18th Century

In 1744, John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in England. He sold it with a ball for boys or a pincushion for girls. It is considered a landmark for the beginning of pleasure reading marketed specifically to children. Previous to Newbery, literature marketed for children was intended to instruct the young, though there was a rich oral tradition of storytelling for children and adults;

19th Century

the early Nineteenth Century, the Brothers Grimm; Jakob and Wilhem were responsible for the writing down and preserving of oral traditions In Germany such as Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel (1812).

Between 1835 and 1848, Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) of Denmarkmarker published his beloved fairy tales: The Little Mermaid (1836), The Emperor's New Clothes (1837), The Ugly Duckling (1844), The Snow Queen (1845) and others. During Andersen's lifetime he was feted by royalty and acclaimed for having brought joy to children across Europe. His fairy tales have been translated into over 150 languages and continue to be published in millions of copies all over the world and inspired many other works. The emperor's new clothes and the ugly duckling are phrases which have both passed into the English language as well-known expressions.

In 1865, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) published Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in England. The tale plays with logic in ways that have given the story lasting popularity to adults as well as children. It is considered to be one of the most characteristic examples of the genre of literary nonsense, and its narrative course and structure has been enormously influential, mainly in the fantasy genre.

In 1880, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901) published Heidi (1880) in Switzerlandmarker. The subtitle declared that it is a book "for children and those who love children". Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) wrote folk stories featuring animal characters speaking African-American dialect.

In 1883, Carlo Collodi wrote his puppet story, The Adventures of Pinocchio as a first Italian fantasy novel for the children of Italy.

20th Century

In 1900, L. Frank Baum (1856–1919) published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the United States. It has since been reprinted countless times. It was the subject of a stage play in 1902 and a film in 1939. It is one of the best-known stories in American popular culture and has been widely translated. Its initial success led to thirteen sequels.

In 1908,Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows from his retired from his position as secretary of the Bank of Englandmarker. He moved to the country, where he spent his time in the River Thames doing much as the animal characters in his book do; namely, as one of the most famous phrases from the book says, "simply messing about in boats" for his son.

Peter and Wendy
In 1911, J.M Barrie (1860–1937) published Peter and Wendy where Peter, one of the most famous characters in children’s literature, magically refuses to grow up and spends his never-ending childhood in the small island called Neverland.

A. A. Milne (1882-1956) wrote children's poems and a series of stories about the bear Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the woods (later made into Disney cartoons).

In 1933, Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) published the first installment of the Little House on the Prairie series in the United Statesmarker based on her childhood in a Western-pioneering family. The books have remained continuously in print since their initial publication and are considered classics of American children's literature. Several of them were named Newbery Honor books. They remain widely read. The books were also adapted into a long running, popular American television series, Little House on the Prairie.

In 1950, C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) published the first of installment of his Chronicles of Narnia series in Great Britain. It has sold over 120 million copies in 41 languages. The Chronicles of Narnia have been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, stage, and cinema. In addition to numerous traditional Christian themes, the series borrows characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales.

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) captivated generations of children with his many books of colorful illustrated characters concocting imaginative fantasies in rhymes.

Roald Dahl (1916-1991) had captivated written a children books with a humor fantasy, he concocting his imaginative from his boyhood and his manhood.

In 1997, J. K. Rowling (born 1965) published the first installment of her Harry Potter series in Great Britainmarker. Her books have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide; they are translated into more than 63 languages and she has become one of the wealthiest women in the world - a publishing phenomenon.

21st CenturyIn 2001, Eoin Colfer (born 1965) published the first installment of his Artemis Fowl series in Irelandmarker. In 2008, titles from the series spent six weeks at number one and helped the Penguin Group post record profits in a tough economy.


In recent years, scholarship in children's literature has gained in respectability. There are an increasing number of literary criticism analyses in the field of children's literature criticism. Additionally, there are a number of scholarly associations in the field, including the Children's Literature Association, the International Research Society for Children's Literature, the Library Association Youth Libraries Group, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators the Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature, IBBY Canada and Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL), and National Centre for Research in Children's Literature.

Multidisciplinary scholarship has examined gender and culture within children's literatures.

Courses on children's literature are often required in initial and advanced (early childhood/elementary) teacher training in the United States.


Some noted awards for children's literature are:

  • Canadamarker: the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature and Illustration (English and French). A number of the provinces' school boards and library associations also run popular "children's choice" awards where candidate books are read and championed by individual schools and classrooms. These include the Blue Spruce (grades K-2) Silver Birch Express (grades 3-4), Silver Birch (grades 5-6) Red Maple (grades 7-8) and White Pine (High School) in Ontario. Programs in other provinces include The Red Cedar and Stellar Awards in B.C., the Willow Awards in Saskatchewan, and the Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards. IBBY Canada offers a number of annual awards.

  • The Philippines: The Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature for Short Story for Children in English and Filipino Language (Maikling Kathang Pambata) since 1989 and Children's Poetry in English and Filipino Language since 2009. The Pilar Perez Medallion for Young Adult Literature (2001 and 2002). The major awards are given by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. They include the PBBY-Salanga Writer's Prize for excellence in writing and the PBBY-Alcala Illustrator's Prize for excellence in illustration. The Ceres Alabado Award for Outstanding Contribution in Children's Literature; the Gintong Aklat Award (Golden Book Award); The Gawad Komisyon para sa Kuwentong Pambata (Commission Award for Children's Literature in Fiipino) and the National Book Award (given by the Manila Critics' Circle) for Outstanding Production in Children's Books and Young Adult Literature.

  • Online: the Cybils Awards, or Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards, are the first major series of book awards given by children's and young adult book bloggers.

See also



  1. Anderson 2006, p. 2.
  2. Anderson 2006
  3. Anderson 2006, pp. 84–85.
  4. Anderson 2006, p. 89.
  5. Elias Bredsdorff, Hans Christian Andersen: the story of his life and work 1805-75, Phaidon (1975) ISBN 0-7148-1636-1


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