This module provides a broad introduction to the vibrant and growing field of children’s literature studies. It focuses on constructions of childhood in children’s literature and will require you to employ close reading skills, literary analysis and critical engagement in relation to its texts and assignments. 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.
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.
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. Reading and studying literature (A230), Worlds of English (U214) 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.
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.
You'll have access to a module website, which includes:
- a week-by-week study planner
- course-specific module materials
- audio and video content
- assignment details and submission section
- online tutorial access
You’ll also be provided with a printed study guide, two readers and a play text of Peter Pan.
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.
You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (10.15 or higher).
Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.
To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).
Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.
Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.
It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.
Materials to buy
- McGough, R. (ed) 100 Best Poems for Children Puffin £12.99 - ISBN 9780141310589
- Alcott, L.M. Little Women Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199538119 This edition includes 'Good Wives'.
- Browne, A. Voices in the Park Corgi £7.99 - ISBN 9780552545648
- Gavin, J. **Coram Boy Egmont £7.99 - ISBN 9781405277037 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9781405212823.
- Naidoo, B. The Other Side of Truth Puffin £7.99 - 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 9781407186108 Students can also use the previous editions of this book - ISBN 9781407130224 or ISBN 9780439951784; or ISBN 9781407154169.
- Ransome, A. Swallows and Amazons Vintage £7.99 - ISBN 9780099572794 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780099427339.
- Reeve, P. **Mortal Engines Scholastic £7.99 - ISBN 9781407189147 Students can also use the previous editions of this book - ISBN 9781407110912; or ISBN 9781407152134.
- 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.
- Burgess, M. Junk Andersen Press £7.99 - ISBN 9781783440627 Students can also use the previous edition of this book - ISBN 9780140380194.
- Taylor, M. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry Puffin £7.99 - ISBN 9780141354873 Students can also use the previous editions of this book - ISBN 9780141333342 or ISBN 9780140366259.
- 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.