What you will study
The study of children’s literature is fast becoming established at both undergraduate and graduate level with its own academic journals and critical literature, and collections of children’s literature are held in many major libraries and museums. In addition, the success of authors such as J. K. Rowling or Philip Pullman suggests that children’s literature is thriving and developing in the twenty-first century. In short, children’s literature matters; it is significant to parents, educators, librarians, psychologists, childhood studies students and students of literature and – most importantly – to children themselves.
In this module, you will study key examples of novels, picture books, poems and creative performance produced for children aged 3–18 years old. These examples are drawn from different periods of Anglophone children’s literature. Alongside the study of these texts and performances, you will read a selection of related critical material and consider some of the major themes, issues and debates in the field. These include the relationship between children's literature and the conceptions of childhood, the question of whether children’s literature should instruct or delight, the tension between popular and prestigious literature for children, and the connection/association between oral, written and visual modes.
The module is organised in six blocks.
Block 1: Instruction or Delight? gives an overview of the field and raises questions about the nature and purposes of children’s literature, focusing on some contemporary best-sellers and the reasons for their importance. It also traces how fairy stories have changed over the years, in response to different anxieties and concerns.
Block 2: Books for Girls and Books for Boys looks at how children and young people’s worlds are constructed differently in two seminal nineteenth-century novels, and examines fictional techniques used to present ideologies in children’s literature.
Block 3: Poetry and Performance introduces a selection of poetry used and performed with children, from early nineteenth-century classics to examples from the present day. You will consider a variety of narrative performance in storytelling, on stage and in film, and explore debates about how childhood is represented to child and adult audiences.
Block 4: The Prestigious and the Popular: 20th Century Children’s Fiction includes the study of a number of twentieth-century children’s classics, a sampling of the world of children’s comics and a consideration of the controversies around popular authors. The block raises questions about the quality and value of different kinds of literature for children, and the ways in which it is judged.
Block 5: Words and Pictures focuses on the use of images in children’s books – from traditional illustrated books, which grew in popularity through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to more modern picture books, where the images are so central to the story that they often take on a narrative role.
Block 6: Contemporary Trends explores recent examples of different kinds of contemporary children’s fiction, considering changes and continuities in the mood and tone of children’s literature, the media mix from print to electronic in which literature is experienced and the markets through which it is distributed and consumed.
The audiovisual materials relating to each of the six blocks are presented online. The materials include theatre and storytelling performances, interviews with children, authors and publishers, mini-lectures and discussions. In addition, the interactive activities provide an introduction to literary, stylistic and multimodal analysis of children’s literature, to support your work on the set texts.
The module is particularly relevant for teachers and children’s librarians.