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Language, literature and childhood

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This module explores children’s literature from the perspectives of language, literature and childhood studies. You’ll consider issues such as: How do children acquire and use languages and literacies? Why (and how) is language important in children’s literature? What is the difference between literature for children and literature for adults? Why (and how) is literature important for children and young adults? How is childhood socially constructed? And how is the child represented in literature? You will look at these and other issues using a range of children’s literature texts and text extracts from recent years.

What you will study

Language, literature and childhood is ideal if you’re interested in the disciplines of English language and/or applied linguistics, English literature, and childhood studies. You may have studied one or more of these areas previously, but we will provide support if you have not studied these subjects before.

The module is organised into four blocks, each with a particular focus:

Block 1: Contexts and Readers

This introductory block invites you to ask questions such as: How do children acquire and use languages and literacies? Why (and how) is language important in children's literature? What is the difference between literature for children and literature for adults? Why (and how) is literature important for children and young adults? How is childhood socially constructed? And how is the child represented in literature?

Block 2: Voice, Representation and Identity

In Block 2, you’ll study a diverse range of texts for children and young adults, including video games and digital media, non-fiction, narrative fiction and poetry. You’ll consider issues such as ‘What do adult writers expect from their child readers?’ ‘How do texts for children challenge or maintain representations of social groups and communities?’ and ‘What tools and techniques do writers for children draw on in their work’.

Block 3: Practices and Performance

Block 3 is designed to expand your understanding of ‘what counts’ as literature or as reading. You’ll focus on the practices of children or of those who seek to delight and/or instruct children. A recurring theme is the ‘struggle’ between adult- and child-directed practices: this builds on ideas around child agency and relates to the fundamental tensions between instruction and delight in children’s literature.

Block 4: Trends and Futures

In Block 4, you’ll explore how trends in texts produced for children emerge and change. You’ll reflect on the role of storytelling for social change and you’ll consider the role of the publishing, creative and media industries in shaping trends and futures.

You will learn

This module requires you to critically engage with different theoretical and analytic approaches to texts, practices, positions and ideas associated with children and childhood. You’ll develop skills in synthesising information and ideas from a variety of sources and in evaluating critically opposing positions. You’ll also acquire the knowledge, concepts, theories, terminology and skills to articulate considered arguments concerning the nature, contexts, and diversity of writing for, with and by children and their associated practices of reading and writing.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this module.

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, such as our level 2 module, English in the world (L201).

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

If you have not studied English in the world (L201), it would be useful to read through The Linguistic Toolkit on the L301 module website and work through the online activities. You will be able to access the module website after you have registered.

You could also get a head start on the module by reading the Set Books:

  • Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
  • Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Tender Earth by Sita Brahmachari
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Picturebook)
  • It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner (Picturebook)

What's included

You’ll learn through a mix of print and online materials. You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment materials
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – which may include PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.

You’ll also receive four printed books – one book for each block of study.

Computing requirements

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 (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

This module includes the optional use of specialist text analysis software called AntConc. You’ll be given detailed instructions as to how to download and use this software.

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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums (some of these discussions feed into your TMAs but they aren’t compulsory).

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Contact us 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 must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying L301 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

Language, literature and childhood starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2023. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2032.

Course work includes:

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