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Children's literature

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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.

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.

Audiovisual material relating to each of the six blocks is presented online. This material includes 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.

Entry requirements

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 speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Your study will involve reading a number of works for children, including full-length novels. Many students spread the workload by reading some of the set texts before the module starts.

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.

What's included

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

You will need

We recommend you buy the current editions of the set books as listed or the earlier editions listed where these can be obtained. With the exception of the two picture books, it is possible to work from other editions, including Kindle versions, if you have them already. If you do, 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. In some cases, publishers have issued new editions of the set texts with revised pagination. Information about alternative page numbers for the editions will be provided with the module resources.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

  • A desktop or laptop computer with Windows 7 or higher
  • The screen must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Gavin, J. **Coram Boy Egmont £7.99 - ISBN 9781405277037 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9781405212823.
  • Rowling, J.K. *Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Bloomsbury £7.99 - ISBN 9781408855652 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780747558194.
  • Stevenson, R.L. Treasure Island Oxford World's Classics £5.99 - ISBN 9780199560356 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780199536078.
  • Reeve, P. **Mortal Engines Scholastic £7.99 - ISBN 9781407152134 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9781407110912; or new edition ISBN 9781407189147.
  • Taylor, M. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry Puffin £6.99 - ISBN 9780141354873 Students can also use the previous editions of this book - ISBN 9780141333342 or ISBN 9780140366259.
  • Alcott, L.M. Little Women Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199538119 This edition includes 'Good Wives'.
  • Burgess, M. Junk Andersen Press £7.99 - ISBN 9781783440627 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780140380194.
  • McGough, R. (ed) 100 Best Poems for Children Puffin £12.99 - ISBN 9780141310589
  • Naidoo, B. The Other Side of Truth Puffin £6.99 - ISBN 9780141377353 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780141304762.
  • Pearce, P. Tom's Midnight Garden Oxford University Press £6.99 - ISBN 9780192734501 Students can also use the previous edition of this book – ISBN 9780192792426.
  • Potter, B. The Tale of Peter Rabbit Frederick Warne Publishers £5.99 - ISBN 9780723247708
  • Pullman, P. *Northern Lights Scholastic £7.99 - ISBN 9781407154169 Students can also use the previous editions of this book - ISBN 9781407130224 or ISBN 9780439951784; or new edition ISBN 9781407186108.
  • Ransome, A. Swallows and Amazons Vintage £7.99 - ISBN 9780099572794 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780099427339.
  • Browne, A. Voices in the Park Corgi £7.99 - ISBN 9780552545648

Other materials

  • Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan DVD (2003, Jason Isaacs, Lynn Redgrave, Jeremy Sumpter) Universal Pictures £19.99 This DVD is available from high street or internet retailers, or by searching on www.find-dvd.co.uk.

Note: *Students only need to buy one of these books (for Block 1 and Block 4). ** Students only need to buy one of these books (for Block 6). We recommend you buy the current editions of the set books as listed or the earlier editions listed where these can be obtained. With the exception of the two picture books, 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. In some cases, publishers have issued new editions of the set texts with revised pagination. Information about alternative page numbers for editions listed will be provided with the module resources.

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 us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying EA300 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Children's Literature (EA300) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2021.

Course work includes:

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

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