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Children's literature

This module provides a broad introduction to the vibrant and growing field of children’s literature studies. You will study children’s literature in English ranging from its beginnings in eighteenth-century chapbooks and fairy tales, through seminal nineteenth-century novels, to contemporary examples of fiction illustrating current trends. The module also includes the study of picture books old and new, stage performance and film, young adult fiction, storytelling and poetry. You will learn about the distinctiveness and purposes of children’s literature, its prestigious and popular modes and its different representations of children’s worlds.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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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 from 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 major themes, issues and debates in the field. These include the relationship of children's literature to 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 relationship 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 picturebooks, 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.

Audiovisual material relating to each of the six blocks is presented through two DVDs. This material includes theatre and storytelling performances, interviews with children, authors and publishers, mini-lectures and discussions. In addition, a DVD-ROM provides introductory activities on literary, stylistic and multimodal analysis of children’s literature, to support your work on the set texts.

Vocational relevance

The module is particularly relevant for teachers and children’s librarians.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance. You will have access to an online tutorial group forum. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.  

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. The end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online through the eTMA system.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with the OU.

Children’s literature is an interdisciplinary module primarily designed for students who have studied English, literature or childhood studies at OU level 2. Worlds of English (U214) (or the discontinued U211), Reading and studying literature (A230), and Childhood (E212) are all excellent preparation for this module. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

It will be to your advantage to read some of the set texts before starting on the module.

If you have not previously studied an OU level 2 literature, childhood studies or English language module you may find it helpful to work through some or all of the Reading and studying literature (A230) and Exploring the English Language (U211) modules on our OpenLearn website.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £2632.00

Registration closes 11/09/14 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2016.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 01/09/2014.

What's included

Study guide, two readers, module guide, two DVDs, one DVD-ROM, play text of Peter Pan. Additional study materials will be accessible from the website.

You will need

A DVD player.

We recommend you buy the editions of the set books listed below as the study materials make reference to page numbers in these books. If you choose to obtain different editions, take care to ensure that you have the full version of Little Women including the second part, Good Wives, as some shorter editions only include the first part.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Potter, B The Tale of Peter Rabbit Frederick Warne Publishers £5.99 - ISBN 9780723247708
  • Taylor, M Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry Puffin £7.99 - ISBN 9780141333342
  • Stevenson, R L Treasure Island Oxford World's Classics £5.99 - ISBN 9780199560356
  • Rowling, J K *Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Bloomsbury £6.99 - ISBN 9780747558194 New edition to be published in September 14 9781408855652 students can purchase either edition
  • Reeve, P **Mortal Engines Marion Lloyd Books £6.99 - ISBN 9781407131276
  • Ransome, A Swallows and Amazons Red Fox £7.99 - ISBN 9780099572794
  • Pullman, P *Northern Lights Scholastic £6.99 - ISBN 9781407130224
  • Pearce, P Tom's Midnight Garden Oxford University Press £6.99 - ISBN 9780192792426
  • Naidoo, B The Other Side of Truth Puffin £6.99 - ISBN 9780141304762
  • McGough, R (ed) 100 Best Poems for Children Puffin £10.99 - ISBN 9780141310589
  • Burgess, M Junk Puffin/Penguin £7.99 - ISBN 9781783440627
  • Browne, A Voices in the Park Corgi £5.99 - ISBN 9780552545648
  • Alcott, L M Little Women Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199538119 This edition includes Good Wives
  • Gavin, J **Coram Boy Egmont £8.99 - ISBN 9781405212823

Other materials

  • Peter Pan DVD (2003, Jason Isaacs, Lynn Redgrave, Jeremy Sumpter) £19.99 This DVD is available from high street retailers or internet retailers by searching on

*Students only need to buy one of these books depending on personal preference. ** Students only need to buy one of these books depending on personal preference. We recommend you buy the editions of the set books listed as the study materials make reference to page numbers in these books. With the exception of the two picturebooks, however, it is possible to work from other editions, including Kindle versions, if you have them already. If you do so, take care to ensure that you have the full version of Little Women including the second part, Good Wives, as some shorter editions only include the first part.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. 

Block 5 examines the role of images in children’s literature and students are expected to carry out visual analysis of illustrated books and picturebooks. Assessment of this block will be based on the visual material and although there will be an option which allows you to discuss these issues more broadly, some understanding of visual qualities will be expected. The module team do think that it is possible for a blind or visually impaired student to complete the module, but if you have a severe visual impairment you are encouraged to contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service for advice before registering.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.