Study Guide

Children's Literature

Children's Literature Introduction

Picture a world where animals talk, children fly, evil wizards try to destroy the world, and princes and princesses live happily ever.

That's the world of fantasy…and it's also the world of children's literature.

The emphasis on the magical and the fantastic in children's literature mirrors the imaginations of children. After all, we weren't always clued into the fact that dragons don't exist. Once upon a time we believed in monsters, witches, and a few specific holiday-related figures who shall not be named in case a young child somehow stumbles upon this page.

Why should we study children's literature? To put it one way, it's the gateway drug of literature. We wouldn't be the awesome book-devouring Shmoopers we are if it weren't for the children's literature we read as tiny-tots. Those books introduced us to literature, and apparently, they did it well.

Children's books not only help kids learn to read; they also teach 'em a whole lot about themselves and the world around them. We're talking right and wrong, generosity, kindness, emotions of all kind…and just how stuff works.

And of course, these books have plenty to say to adults, too. What if we told you that lots of Dr. Seuss books were about war and communism? Or that Maurice Sendak's recall the terrors of the Holocaust?

Anyone who says children's literature is just for children should be eaten by a dragon.

P.S. We're calling children's literature a movement; but really, it's more of a genre. And just like any other genre, it's gone through its own trends and taboos, its own revolutions and transformations. From the very first books aimed at children, which were pioneering in their own right, to the current postmodern bent that challenges children and adults alike to reflect on narrative, children's literature has tons to offer—and we hope you'll drink it all in.

What is Children's Literature About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to assume you love reading. If you don't, you've found the wrong number.

The fact of the matter is, children's literature is our first introduction to reading. If we hadn't been hooked by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Dr. Seuss as kids, we may not have ended up being such big literature buffs.

So even though we may have outgrown children's literature in favor of Toni Morrison or Don DeLillo, we can't underestimate how important children's books were to our own development as readers. All the wonders of Shakespeare would have been inaccessible to us if we hadn't first gone through those books about Hungry Caterpillars and Wild Things.

If you want to understand the roots of your own identity as a literary-head, children's literature is the place to be.

Children's Literature Resources

Websites

Library of Congress Digitized Children's Literature
Delve into this website for a treasure trove of rare children's books. All available online.

Norton Anthology of Children's Literature Timeline
A comprehensive timeline of children's literature, beginning way back in the 8th century BCE. Yowza.