The Grimms were a couple of German brothers who went around collecting folktales in the early 19th century. Many of the folktales that they published became very popular children's stories, and we can see their influence in movies like Cinderella and Snow White and Every Disney Movie Ever Made.
In many ways, the folktales that the Grimms collected form the basis of modern children's literature: they're full of crazy plot twists, fantastic creatures, and of course, lots of happy endings. Their stories do tend to be gorier and, well, grimmer, than the versions of fairytales we hear today, but the Grimm brothers' stories laid the foundation for the classic stories we grew up reading.
In this book we'll find all those wonderful stories we've all heard as children: the story of Cinderella and her wicked step-mother and step-sisters; the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf; and the story of Snow White…among many, many more.
The fairytales exemplify all the characteristics of children's literature: young protagonists, themes of innocence, lots of fantasy, and a very clear distinction between good and evil.
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"Snow White" is one of the most famous stories in the Grimms' Fairytales. And like many other fairytales in this book, it's a didactic story that emphasizes punishment of the wicked. Check out the evil queen's grisly ending in this story (Quote #5).
If only frogs turned into beautiful princes in real life. In the Grimms' "The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich," they do. This is just one of the many examples of fantastic transformation in the Grimms' Fairytales. Have a look at this scene (Quote #5) from the story.
Lewis Carroll was the penname of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who brought us Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This guy was mathematician who studied at the University of Oxford—wouldn't have nabbed him as a Jabberwocky man, huh?
Here's the thing: Carroll got along really well with children. He befriended an Oxford family with three young girls and started telling them stories; they were so good that the girls asked him to write them down. One of those stories was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the rest, as they say, is history.
You know the one: it's the story about the curious little girl who follows a rabbit and ends up falling into a rabbit hole. The rabbit hole leads her into a world of grinning cats, talking caterpillars, a Queen of Hearts, and more wonkiness than anyone (except Carroll) could ever imagine.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland became an instant hit when it was first published. The story's fantastic world appealed to children everywhere, and the book was also popular among adults—that's why it's had such a big influence on fantasy writers everywhere.
In this sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice enters another magical world—this time by making her way into and through a mirror. Like its prequel, this book is also full of extraordinary things: talking flowers, chess pieces that come to life, and a guy (or rather an egg) called Humpty Dumpty.
On one level, this is a children's book, but on another, it's full of complicated imagery and symbolism. The book picks up on and mirrors some of the motifs in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. While Alice's Adventures begins outdoors, the sequel begins indoors. While a deck of cards is a motif in Alice's Adventures, in this book it's chess.
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Take a look at our analysis of youth in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
Fantastic things immediately begin to happen when Alice walks through the mirror in Through the Looking-Glass. Check out what Alice begins to see (Quote #7).
For most of his life, C.S. Lewis was an academic, working at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and focusing on Renaissance and Medieval Literature. Whodathunkit, right?
Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, and became an atheist as a teenager, only to decide in his early thirties to rejoin the Anglican Church. After his conversion back to the Church, much of his work—including his children's literature—was influenced by Christian themes and motifs.
Though Lewis wrote everything from poetry to essays to literary criticism to theology, he's most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia—a fantasy series of seven books set in the mythical land of Narnia.
The first of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe tells the tale of four children living in a country house during World War II. One day, one of the children opens a wardrobe in the house, only to find herself transported to the magical world of Narnia, where animals talk, a witch rules, and mythical creatures abound.
It's one of the worlds' fave kids' stories, and in it, we'll find all the hallmarks of children's literature—including loads of the fantastic and a whole group of child protagonists.
In the second book in the serious, the four children return to Narnia, where they find that things haven't been going so well. The throne of Narnia has been usurped, and once again, they must save the magical land from destruction. That's children's lit for you.
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Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is full of the fantastic. Have a look at these quotations from the book.
C.S. Lewis was a didactic writer who was big on teaching his young readers the difference between good and evil. Check out our analysis of the theme in Prince Caspian, the second book in the Narnia Chronicles.
Roald Dahl definitely didn't have the happily-ever-after life depicted in most of his stories. His childhood was pretty terrible, as he spent most of his time in boarding schools in England where headmasters caned the kids. During World War II, he was a pilot with the British Royal Air Force, fighting and shooting down Germans in North Africa. His plane crashed in the Libyan desert during the war, but he survived, and went on to write a whole suite of pretty incredible children's books.
Maybe because of his experiences, Dahl's children's books often feature dark and oppressive themes and lots of violence—you might find yourself getting a little spooked by 'em, even.
James and the Giant Peach is the story of little James, who is mistreated by his horrible aunts after his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros in London. What's a rhinoceros doing in London? It had escaped from the zoo—duh.
Anyway, James's aunts make him work all day (sounds like pre-Children's Rights to us). He meets an old man who gives him some magical crocodile tongues, and an accident with the tongues leads to the blossoming of a giant peach. And that's where all the adventure begins.
That's right: that's only the beginning. No one said children's literature wasn't exciting.
Even if you haven't read the book, you've probably come across one of the film versions of this famous story: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was made in 1971 and a second version, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was made in 2005, staring Mr. Dreamy himself, Johnny Depp.
The book tells the story of Charlie, a poor boy who wins a Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka's famous chocolate factory. When Charlie gets there, he discovers that it's not just a factory—it's a whole new world full of Oompa-Loompas, a chocolate river, and worker squirrels…among other things.
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Like many children's books, Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has an optimistic outlook. And that optimism is reflected in the book's happy ending.
After he's transformed into a mouse, the narrator of Dahl's The Witches reflects on childhood—a big theme in the novel. And he thinks maybe it's better to be a little mouse than a little boy. Check out this quotation (Quote #7) for more.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn't actually a doctor—sorry to break it to you. Though he began to study for a Ph.D. at Oxford University, he never completed it and instead returned to the U.S. to pursue his career as an illustrator.
Good call, Teddy.
Dr. Seuss was a double threat: he wrote and illustrated his own books. He's famous for his made-up words, his catchy rhymes, and his distinctively loopy illustration style. You know the one.
Here's a great quote from the Doctor himself: "Children's literature as I write it and as I see it is… satirizing the mores and habits of the world" (source). That's right, Seuss was spongy. He absorbed all the serious issues going on in the world and expressed them through his work.
Add to that the impact Seuss had on children's literacy, and you have yourself one major player in children's literature.
Here's how it goes down: a couple of kids are left home alone one day, and they get an unexpected visitor—a cat accompanied by two companions, Thing One and Thing Two. As a result of the Cat's shenanigans, everything gets wrecked, but the cat magically cleans it all up…just before Mom gets home.
Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat as a way to help children read, and those rhyming lines sure did the trick.
The last book that Dr. Seuss published before his death, Oh The Places You'll Go! tells the story of a child going out and exploring the world. Sounds like prime-cut children's lit to us.
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Dr. Seuss is famous for repetition—in the form of repeated sounds in rhyming lines. Have a look at these quotations from The Cat in the Hat
Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go! focuses on action. It's about going out and exploring the world.