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Children's literature

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A mother reads to her children, depicted by Jessie Willcox Smith in a cover illustration of a volume of fairy tales written in the mid to late 19th century.

Children's literature or juvenile literature includes stories, books, and poems that are enjoyed by and targeted primarily towards children. Modern children's literature is classified in different ways—by genre or by the intended age of the reader.

One can trace children's literature back to the stories and songs that adults told their children before publishing existed, as part of the wider oral tradition. Due to the inability to publish stories, it may be difficult to track the development of early children's literature. Even after widespread printing, many classic tales were originally created for adults and later adapted for a younger audience. On the other hand, a great amount of literature has been aimed specifically at children, often with a moral or religious message since the 1400s. The late nineteenth and very early twentieth century became known as the Golden Age of Children's Literature, with many books acknowledged as classics being published in that period.


There is no single, widely accepted definition of children's literature. It can be broadly defined as anything that children read, but a more useful definition may be fiction, sometimes non-fiction, poetry, and drama intended for and used by children and young people. Nancy Anderson, of the College of Education at the University of South Florida, defines children's literature as all books written for children, "excluding works such as comic books, joke books, cartoon books, and nonfiction works that are not intended to be read from front to back, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference material."

Classifying children's literature is equally confusing. As the International Companion Encyclopedia Of Children's Literature says, "The boundaries of genre... are not fixed but blurred." Sometimes no agreement can be reached on whether a given work is best categorized as adult or children's literature, and many books are marketed for both adults and children. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was written and marketed for children, but it was so popular among children and adults that The New York Times created a separate bestseller list for children's books.

Despite the widespread notion that children's literature is usually associated with books, narratives existed before printing, and the roots of some best-known children's tales go back to storytellers many generations ago. Seth Lerer, in the opening of Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, says "This book presents a history of what children have heard and read... The history I write of is a history of reception."


Children's literature can be divided into a number of ways, but it is most easily divided between genre and intended age of the reader.

By genre

A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by technique, tone, content, or length. Anderson lists six categories of children's literature with some significant subgenres:

  • Picture books, including concept books (teaching an alphabet or counting for example), pattern books, and wordless books.
  • Traditional literature, including folktales, which convey the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in old times. This genre can be further broken down into myths, fables, legends, and fairy tales.
  • Fiction, including fantasy, realistic fiction, and historical fiction.
  • Non-fiction.
  • Biography and autobiography.
  • Poetry and verse.

By age category

The criteria for these divisions are vague, and books near a borderline may be classified either way. Books for younger children are tend to be written with very simple language, use large print, and have many illustrations. Books for older children use increasingly complex language, normal print, and fewer (if any) illustrations. The categories with an age range are listed below:

  • Picture books, appropriate for pre-readers or aged 0–5.
  • Early reader books, appropriate for children aged 5–7. These books are often designed to help a child build his or her reading skills.
  • Chapter book, appropriate for children aged 7–12.
    • Short chapter books, appropriate for children aged 7–9.
    • Longer chapter books, appropriate for children aged 9–12.
  • Young-adult fiction appropriate for children aged 12–18.


Pictures have always accompanied children's stories. A papyrus from Byzantine Egypt shows illustrations accompanied the story of Hercules' labors. Modern children's books are illustrated in a way that rarely occurs in adult literature, except in graphic novels. Generally, artwork plays a greater role in books intended for the younger readers (especially pre-literate children). Children's picture books can be an accessible source of high quality art for young children. Even after children learn to read well enough to enjoy a story without illustrations, they continue to appreciate the occasional drawings found in chapter books.

A late 18th-century reprint of Orbis Pictus by Comenius, the first children's picture book.

According to Joyce Whalley in The International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, an illustrated book differs from a book with illustrations in that "a good illustrated book is one where the pictures enhance or add depth to the text." Using this definition, the first illustrated children's book is considered Orbis Pictus by the Moravian author Comenius. Orbis Pictus had a picture on every page, followed by the name of the object in Latin and English. It was translated into English the year after it appeared and was used in homes and schools around Europe and Great Britain for years.

Early children's books like Orbis Pictus were illustrated by woodcut, and many times the same image was repeated in a number of books regardless of how appropriate the illustration was for the story. Newer processes, including copper and steel engraving was first used in the 1830s. One of the first uses of Chromolithography, a way of making multi-colored prints, in a children's book was deomonstrated in Struwwelpeter and published in Germany in 1845. English illustrator Walter Crane refined its use in children's books in the late 1800s.

Walter Crane's chromolithograph illustration for The Frog Prince, 1874.

Another illustration method that appeared in children's books was etching, used by George Cruikshank in the 1850s. By the 1860s, top artists in the West were illustrating for children, including Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway and John Tenniel. Most pictures were still black-and-white, and many colour pictures were hand colored, often by children. The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators credits Caldecott with "the concept of extending the meaning of text beyond literal visualization".

In India Nandalal Bose, whose paintings are considered artistic treasures, illustrated books for children from the late 1800s into the 1900s. Twentieth-century artists such as Kay Nielson, Edmund Dulac, and Arthur Rackham produced illustrations that are still reprinted today. The development in printing capabilities was reflected in children's books. After World War II, offset lithography became more refined, and painter-style illustrations like Brian Wildsmith's were common by the 1950s.


According to Aspects and Issues in the History of Children's Literature from the International Research Society for Children's Literature, the development of children's literature anywhere in the world follows the same basic path. All children's literature, whatever its current stage of development, begins with spoken stories, songs, and poems. In the beginning, the same tales that adults enjoyed were created specifically for children, to educate, instruct, and entertain them. In the final stage, literature for children was established as separate from that of adults, and now has its own genres, divisions, expectations, and canon. The development of children's literature is influenced by the social, educational, political, and economic resources of the country or ethnic group.

Before 50 BC

Every culture has its own mythology, unique fables, and other traditional stories that are told for instruction and entertainment. The earliest written folk-type tales include the Panchatantra from India, which was composed about 200 AD. It may be "the world's oldest collection of stories for children", but other sources believe it was actually intended for adults. The Jakatas, stories from India about the birth of Buddha, go back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. A few of these stories, particularly those, where Buddha took the shape of an animal, would have been enjoyed by children. The source stories for The Arabian Nights, perhaps also originally from India, have also been traced back this far.

As an example of oral stories that is enjoyed by children is the tale of The Asurik Tree, which goes back at least 3,000 years in Persia (presently kown as Iran).

The great ancient Greek poet, Homer, lived sometime between 1200 BC and 600 BC. He is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer's work contributed to the development of all Western literature, including children's literature. Between 750 and 650 BC, Hesiod told stories that became a major source of Greek mythology.

Irish folktales can be traced as far back as 400 BC. Storytellers who traveled across island preserved these stories of witches, fairies, and magic spells. For centuries, Ireland's geographic isolation helped preserve them.

50 BC to AD 500

Papyri from the 400s tell versions of Aesop's fables.

In Imperial China, children attended public events with their parents, where they would listen to the complicated tales of professional storytellers. Often rhyming, the stories were accompanied by drums, cymbals, and other traditional instruments. Children also watched the plays performed at festivals and fairs. Though not specifically intended for children, the elaborate costumes, acrobatics, and martial arts held even a young child's interest. Smaller gatherings were accompanied by puppet shows and shadow plays. The stories often explained the background behind the festival, covering folklore, history, and politics. Storytelling may have reached its peak during the Song Dynasty from 960-1279 AD. This traditional literature was used for instruction in Chinese schools until the 20th century.

Greek and Roman literature from this age is thought to contain "nothing that could be considered a children's book in the sense of a book written to give pleasure to a child". However, children would have enjoyed listening to stories such as the Odyssey and Aesop’s Fables, since Aesop and Homer, along with the Greek playwrights, were "at the heart of early reading and writing" in Greece at this time.


The Panchatantra was translated from Sanskrit into Kannada in 1035 AD. The first children's book in Urdu may be Pahelian by the Indian poet Amir Khusrow, who wrote poems and riddles for children in the 1200s-1300s.

Buddhism spread in China during the early part of this period, bringing with it tales later known as Journey to the West. Chinese children would have enjoyed many of these stories of "fantasy, the supernatural, demons and monsters."

There are two schools of thought about children and European Medieval literature. The first developed from the writings of Philippe Ariès in the 1960s and holds that, because children at this time were not viewed as greatly different from adults, they were not given significantly different treatment. Those holding this point of view see no evidence of children's fiction as such existing in Europe during the Middle Ages. However, they recognize that instructional texts in Latin were written specifically for children, by clerics like the Venerable Bede, and Ælfric of Eynsham.

Those who disagree with Ariès make several arguments, explained by Gillian Adams in her essay Medieval Children's Literature: Its Possibility and Actuality. One claim that just because a culture does not view childhood as modern Western societies do, does not mean children's literature cannot develop there. Another claims that modern Western scholars defined literature for children narrowly, and fail to acknowledge what literature does exist. For example, they point to Marie de France's translation of Aesop's fables, and the Play of Daniel from the 1100s. Daniel Kline, in Medieval Literature for Children says modern and Medieval literature for children have common goals: "conveying the values, attitudes, and information necessary for children and youth to survive or even advance within their cultures." Kline divides children's literature in Europe during this time into five genres: Didactic and Moral, Conduct-related, Educational, Religious, and Popular.

The debate on interpretation aside, scholars cite this period as the time as when "many of the genres that continue to feature in writing for children emerge". Examples of literature children enjoyed during this time include Gesta Romanorum, the Roman fables of Avianus, the French Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry, and the Welsh Mabinogion. In Ireland, many of the thousands of folk stories were recorded in the 11th and 12th centuries. Written in Old Irish on vellum, they began spreading through Europe, influencing other folk tales with stories of magic, witches, and fairies.


During the Byzantine Empire, the Bible and Christian hymns and stories were popular. The Ottomanstakeover of Greece meant the enslaved Greeks had to rely on songs, lullabies, and other easily shared methods of cultural preservation. According to Vassilis Anagnostopoulos in The International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, these verses constitute the first children's poetry.

An early Mexican hornbook pictured in Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book, 1896.

Hornbooks appeared in England during this time, teaching children basic information such as the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer. In 1484, William Caxton published Aesop's Fables, followed by Le Morte d'Arthur in 1485. These books were intended for adults, but enjoyed by children as well. Geoffrey Chaucer's writings were retold for children by the late 1400s, and often European printers released versions of Aesop's Fables in their native languages.


Russia's earliest children's books, primers, appeared around this time. An early example is ABC-Book, an alphabet book published by Ivan Fyodorov in 1571.

The first Danish children's book, The Child's Mirror by Niels Bredal in 1568. This was an adaptation of a book of courtesy for children by the Dutch priest Erasmus. Finland had Abckiria, a primer released in 1543, but very few children's books were published there until the 1850s. A Pretty and Splendid Maiden's Mirror, an adaptation of a German book for young women, became the first Swedish children's book upon its 1591 publication.

In Italy, Giovanni Francesco Straparola released The Facetious Nights of Straparola in the 1550s. Called the first European storybook to contain fairy-tales, it eventually had 75 separate stories and written for an adult audience. Giulio Cesare Croce also borrowed from stories children enjoyed for his books.

Chapbooks, pocket-sized pamphlets that were often folded instead of being stitched, were published in Britain, eventually spreading to the United States. Illustrated by woodblock printing, these inexpensive booklets reprinted popular ballads, historical re-tellings, and folk tales. Though not specifically published for children at this time, young people enjoyed the booklets as well. Johanna Bradley in From Chapbooks to Plum Cake says that chapbooks kept imaginative stories from being lost to readers under the strict Puritan influence of the time.


The first picture book published in Russia, Karion Istomin's The Illustrated Primer, appeared in 1694.

During the 1600s, the concept of childhood changed drastically in Europe. Adults saw children as separate beings, innocent and in need of protection and training by the adults around them. Because of this shift in thinking, books were now printed and distributed specifically for children. In 1634, the Pentamerone from Italy became the first major published collection of European folk tales. Charles Perrault began recording fairy tales in France, publishing his first collection in 1697. They were not well received among the French literary society, who saw them as only fit for old people and children. In 1658, Jan Ámos Comenius in Bohemia published the informative illustrated Orbis Pictus, for children under six learning to read. It is considered as the first picture book produced specifically for children.

The Puritans, mainly in England and North America, also played a major role in developing writing for children by publishing books intended to teach children to read and to instruct them in religious teachings. Some of the longest used and most popular were by James Janeway; however, one book from this movement that is still widely read today is The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan.

There are sources that claim hornbooks was brought from England by the Puritans to help educate their children before 1633. The first children's book published, in what would become the United States, was a catechism for children written in verse by the Puritan John Cotton. Known as Spiritual Milk for Babes, it was published in 1646, appearing both in England and Boston. Another early book,

The New England Primer

The New England Primer, was in print by 1691 and used in schools for 100 years. The Primer begins, "In Adam's fall We sinned all..." and continues through the alphabet. It also contained religious maxims, acronyms, spelling help and other educational items, all decorated by woodcuts.


China still had no separate stories for children. Dream of the Red Chamber, written in this period and published in 1791, told a story of romance and friendship that children enjoyed.

Greece was still under control of the Ottomans. During the last half of this century, Greeks living throughout Europe had children's books translated, printed, and shipped to Greek schools, bringing European influence into Greece's children's literature.

In Russia, Peter the Great's interest in modernizing his country through Westernization helped Western children's literature dominate the field through the 1700s. Catherine the Great wrote allegories for children, and during her reign, Nikolai Novikov started the first juvenile magazine in Russia.

Sweden published fables and a children's magazine by 1766. In the Netherlands, Hieronymus van Alphen is still remembered for the children's poems he began publishing in 1778. By the late 1700s, writing for children had exploded in the Netherlands. According to the contemporary novelist Betje Wolff, "This is the era, in which one writes for children".

1719 saw the publication of Robinson Crusoe by Danial Defoe, an English Puritan. As the first contemporary adventure novel, Robinson Crusoe quickly became "one of the most popular books in all English literature". One year after its publication, it was translated into French. By 1769, Germany published 40 editions and adaptations. At this point, most children's literature in Germany, including juvenile magazines and encyclopedias, was often translated from French.

In 1744, Englishman John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book. Considered a landmark for the beginning of pleasure reading marketed specifically to children, it reflected Jean-Jacques Rousseau's new theories that children should be allowed to develop naturally and joyously. His idea of appealing to a children's natural interests took hold among writers for children, but their stories remained basically didactic. Popular examples included Thomas Day's The History of Sandford and Merton, four volumes that embody Rousseau theories. Furthermore, Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth's Practical Education: The History of Harry and Lucy (1780) urged children to teach themselves. What may be Italy's first children's book appeared in 1768. Domenico Soresi's collection of stories, Instructive and Pleasant Tales, was a result of Rousseaus' ideas.

Rousseau's ideas also had great influence in Germany. Those ideas developed into German Philanthropism, a movement concerned with reforming both education and literature for children. As its leader, Johann Bernhard Basedow adapted an encyclopedia to better suit children, including many illustrations by Daniel Chodowiecki. Another follower, Joachim Heinrich Campe's adaptation of Robinson Crusoe went into over 100 printings. He became Germany's "outstanding and most modern" writer for children. According to Hans-Heino Ewers in The International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, "It can be argued that from this time, the history of European children's literature was largely written in Germany".


Children's literature boomed during the 1800s for several reasons. Paper and printing became widely available and affordable, and more people were learning how to read. The population boom across the West meant there was a greater children's literature market, and European colonization spread books, including those for children, around the globe.

The Crescent Moon by Rabindranath Tagore illus. by Nandalall Bose, Macmillan 1913.

In India, Christian missionaries established the Calcutta School-Book Society in 1817, creating a separate genre for children's literature in that country. Magazines and books for children in native languages soon appeared. In the latter half of the century, Raja Shivprasad wrote several well-known books in Hindustani. A number of respected Bengali writers began producing Bengali literature for children in the 1800s, including Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who translated some stories and wrote others himself. Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore wrote plays, stories, and poems for children, including only one illustrated work by painter Nandalal Bose. They worked from the end of the 1800s into the beginning of the 20th-century. Tagore's work was later translated into English, with Bose's pictures. Behari Lal Puri was the earliest writer for children in Punjabi. His stories were didactic in nature. Furtherrmore, Aesop's Fables were translated into Telegu by Kandukuri Veeresalingam in 1898.

In Russia, juvenile literature reached children through a number of magazines which introduced Russian folk tales to readers and spread around the large country. Aleksandr Afanasyev collected over 600 traditional stories, releasing a special children's edition of his eight-volume Russian Folk Tales in 1871. One of the first women writers for children was Aleksandra Ishimova, editor of Two Girl's magazines, who published popular books of history and Bible stories in the 1840s. By the 1860s, literary realism and non-fiction dominated children's literature. More schools were started, using books by writers like Konstantin Ushinsky and Leo Tolstoy, whose Russian Reader included an assortment of stories, fairy tales, and fables. Books written specifically for girls developed in the 1870s and 1880s. Publisher and journalist Evgenia Tur wrote about the daughters of well-to-do landowners, while Aleksandra Annenskaya's stories told of middle-class girls working to support themselves. Vera Zhelikhovsky, Elizaveta Kondrashova, and Nadezhda Lukhmanova also wrote for girls during this period. And in Russia, poet Alexander Pushkin published Russian folklore-based fairy tales in verse.

Two scholars in Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, collected Norwegian fairy tales and published them in pamphlet form. Their book, Norwegian Folktales is often referred to as Asbjørnsen and Moe. By compiling these stories, they preserved Norway's literary heritage and helped create the Norwegian written language. The period from 1890 until World War I is considered the Golden Age of Children's Literature in Denmark. Erik Werenskiold, Theodor Kittelsen, and Dikken Zwilgmeyer were especially popular, writing folk and fairy tales as well as realistic fiction. The 1859 translation into English by George Webbe Dasent, helped increase the stories' influence.

Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (left) and Jakob Grimm (right) from an 1855 painting by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann

Children's literature in Western Europe and the United States began to change in the 1800s. The didacticism of the previous age began to make way for more humorous, child-oriented books. Chapbooks were still being published, many specifically for children, abridging classic fairly tales and popular novels like Robinson Crusoe. Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen traveled through Europe and produced many well-known fairy tales in the first half of the century. In Switzerland, a pastor's son released his father's manuscript, a story keeping with the didactic nature of Swiss children's literature, in 1812 and 1813. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss became popular after Isabelle de Montolieu translated and adapted it into French. The next Swiss classic embraced by the rest of the world was Johanna Spyri's two-part novel Heidi in 1880 and 1881. The brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm began to preserve traditional tales told in Germany. They were so popular in their home country that modern, realistic children's literature began to be looked down on there. This dislike of non-traditional stories continued there until the beginning of the next century. The Grimm's contribution to children's literature goes beyond their collection of stories, as great as that is. As professors, they had a scholarly interest in the stories, striving to preserve them and their variations accurately, recording their sources. They established folklore as "a field for scholars" and set the stage for children's literature as a field suitable for research.

A number of English language books also appeared during the 1800s. William Roscoe's story poem The Butterfly's Ball in 1802 is considered a "landmark publication" in fantasy literature. Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes, which appeared in 1857, is considered the founding book in the school story tradition. Lewis Carroll's fantasy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland appeared in 1865 in England. The first "English masterpiece written for children", its publication opened the "First Golden Age" of children's literature in Great Britain and Europe that continued until the early 1900s. It was also a founding book in the development of fantasy literature. In 1883, Carlo Collodi wrote the first Italian fantasy novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, which was translated many times. In Britain, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book was first published in 1894, and J. M. Barrie told the story of Peter Pan in the novel Peter and Wendy in 1911.

In the United States, Clement Moore's Christmas classic A Visit from St. Nicholas appeared in 1822. Publisher and writer Peter Parley began publishing his geography, biography, history, science, and adventure stories, "Selling a total of seven million copies by ... 1860". After the American Civil War ended in 1865, children's publishing entered a period of growth. Boys' book writer Oliver Optic published over 100 books. 1868 brought the publication of the "epoch-making book" such as Little Women, the fictionalized autobiography of Louisa May Alcott. This coming of age story established the genre of realistic family books in the United States. Mark Twain released Tom Sawyer in 1876, and in 1880 another bestseller, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, a collection of African American folk tales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, appeared.

A Tagore illustration of a Hindu myth

In India, many writers of stature in the Hindustani began writing books for children. The first full-length children's book was Khar Khar Mahadev by Narain Dixit, which was serialized in one of the popular children's magazines in 1957. Other writers include Premchand, and poet Sohan Lal Dwivedi. In 1919, Sukumar Ray wrote and illustrated nonsense rhymes in the Bengali language, and children's writer and artist Abanindranath Tagore finished Barngtarbratn. Benagli children's literature flourished in the later part of the twentieth century. Educator Gijubhai Badheka published over 200 children's books in the Gujarati language, and many of them are still popular. In 1957, political cartoonist K. Shankar Pillai founded the Children's Book Trust publishing company. The firm became known for high quality children's books, and many of them released in several languages. One of the most distinguished writers is Pandit Krushna Chandra Kar in Oriya literature, who wrote many good books for children like "Pari Raija", "Kuhuka Raija", "Panchatantra", and "Adi Jugara Galpa Mala". He wrote biography of many historical personalities like "Kapila Deva". In 1978, the firm organized a writer's competition to encourage quality children's writing. The following year, the Children's Book Trust began a writing workshop and organized the First International Children's Book Fair in New Delhi. Children's magazines, available in many languages, were widespread throughout India during this century.

The Chinese Revolution of 1911 and World War II brought political and social change that revolutionized children's literature in China. Western science, technology, and literature became fashionable. The first pieces of literature intended solely for Chinese children were translations of Aesop's fables, Western fairy tales, and The Arabian Nights. China's first modern publishing firm, Commercial Press, established several children's magazines, which included Youth Magazine, and Educational Pictures for Children. The first Chinese children's writer was Sun Yuxiu, an editor of Commercial Press, whose story The Kingdom Without a Cat was written in the language of the time instead of the classical style used previously. Yuxiu encouraged novelist Shen Dehong to write for children also. Dehong went on to rewrite 28 stories based on classical Chinese literature specifically for children. In 1932, Zhang Tianyi published Big Lin and Little Lin, the first full-length Chinese novel for children.

The Chinese Revolution of 1949 changed children's literature again. Many children's writers were denounced, but Tianyi and Ye Shengtao continued to write for children and created works that aligned with Maoist ideology. The 1976 death of Mao Zedong provoked more changes sweep China. Many writers from the early part of the century were brought back, and their work became available again. In 1990, General Anthology of Modern Children's Literature of China, a fifteen-volume anthology of children's literature since the 1920s, was released.

Children's non-fiction gained great importance in Russia at the beginning of the century. A ten-volume children's encyclopedia was published between 1913 and 1914. Vasily Avenarius wrote fictionalized biographies of important people like Nikolai Gogol and Alexander Pushkin around the same time, and scientists wrote for books and magazines for children. Children's magazines flourished, and by the end of the century there were 61. Lidia Charskaya and Klavdiya Lukashevich continued the popularity of girls' fiction. Realism took a gloomy turn by frequently showing the maltreatment of children from lower classes. The most popular boys' material was Sherlock Holmes, and similar stories from detective magazines.

The state took control of children's literature during the October Revolution. Maksim Gorky edited the first children's, Northern Lights, under Soviet rule. People often label the 1920s as the Golden Age of Children's Literature in Russia. Samuil Marshak led that literary decade as the "founder of (Soviet) children's literature". As head of the children's section of the State Publishing House and editor of several children's magazines, Marshak exercised enormous influence by recruiting Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam to write for children.

In 1932, professional writers in the Soviet Union formed the USSR Union of Writers, which served as the writer's organization of the Communist Party. With a children's branch, the official oversight of the professional organization brought children's writers under the control of the state and the police. Communist principles like collectivism and solidarity became important themes in children's literature. Authors wrote biographies about revolutionaries like Lenin and Pavlik Morozov. Alexander Belyayev, who wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, became Russia's first science fiction writer. According to Ben Hellman in the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, "war was to occupy a prominent place in juvenile reading, partly compensating for the lack of adventure stories", during the Soviet Period. More political changes in Russia after World War II brought further change in children's literature. Today, the field is in a state of flux because some older authors are being rediscovered and others are being abandoned.

The Golden Age of Children's Literature ended with World War I in Great Britain and Europe, and the period before World War II was much slower in children's publishing. The main exceptions in England were the publications of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne in 1926 and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1937. In 1941, children's paperback books were first released in England under the Puffin Books imprint, and their lower prices helped make book buying possible for children during World War II. Europe experienced a similar slow-down, but "one of the first mysteries written specifically for children" was published. Erich Kastner's popular novel Emil and the Detectives was published in Germany in 1930.

In the 1950s, the book market in Europe began recovering from the effects of two world wars. In Britain, C. S. Lewis published the first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia series in 1950, Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians was published in 1956, and Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964. Children's fantasy literature remained strong in Great Britain through the 1900s. In Wales, the Welsh Joint Education Committee and the Welsh Books Council encouraged the publication of children's books in the Welsh language as well as books in English about Wales. Efforts in Ireland in the 1980s enabled the founding of similar publishers in Ireland. The period during and following World War II became the Classical Age of the picture book in Switzerland, with works by Alois Carigiet, Felix Hoffmann, and Hans Fischer. 1963 was the first year of the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy, which was described as "the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing". For four days it brings together writers, illustrators, publishers, and book buyers from around the world.

American children's literature sparked the publication in Chicago of one of its most famous books in 1900, which was L. Frank Baum's fantasy novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. "By combining the English fondness for word play with the American appetite for outdoor adventure", Connie Epstein in International Companion Encyclopedia Of Children's Literature says Baum "developed an original style and form that stands alone". Baum wrote thirteen more Oz novels, and other writes continued the Oz series into the 1960s.

Between the world wars, the field continued to grow in North America, which was largely due to the growth and influence of libraries in both Canada and the United States. Children's reading rooms in libraries, staffed by specially trained librarians, helped create demand for classic juvenile books. Reviews of children's releases began appearing regularly in Publishers Weekly and in The Bookman magazine began to regularly publish reviews of children's releases, and the first Children's Book Week was launched in 1919. In that same year, Louise Seaman Bechtel became the first person to head a juvenile book publishing department in the country. She was followed by May Massee in 1922 and Alice Dalgliesh in 1934.

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik van Loon, 1st Newbery Award winner

The American Library Association began awarding the Newbery Medal, the first children's book award in the world, in 1922. The Caldecott Medal for illustration followed in 1938. The first book by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life on the American frontier, Little House in the Big Woods appeared in 1932. In 1937 Dr. Seuss published his first book, entitled, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. The young adult book market developed during this period, thanks to sports books by popular writer John R. Tunis', the novel Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, and the " Sue Barton" nurse book series by Helen Dore Boylston.

The already vigorous growth in children's books became a boom in the 1950s and children's publishing became big business. In 1952 American journalist E. B. White published Charlotte's Web, which was described as "one of the very few books for young children that face, squarely, the subject of death". Maurice Sendak illustrated more than two dozen books during the decade, which established him as an innovator in book illustration. The Sputnik crisis, that began in 1957, provided increased interest and government money for schools and libraries to buy science and math books and the non-fiction book market "seemed to materialize overnight".

In 1997, J. K. Rowling published the first book in The Harry Potter Series, in England. Despite its huge success, the children's book market in Britain suffered at the end of the century due to a difficult economy and competition from television and video games. However, picture books continue to do well.



Professional organizations, dedicated publications, individual researchers and university courses conduct scholarship on children's literature. Scholarship in children's literature is primarily conducted in three different disciplinary fields: literary studies (literature and language departments), library and information science, and education. (Wolf, et al., 2011).

Typically, children's literature scholars from literature departments in universities (English, German, Spanish, etc. departments) conduct literary analyses of books. This literary criticism may focus on an author, a thematic or topical concern, genre, period, or literary device. The results of this type of research are typically published as books or articles in scholarly journals, including Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Children's Literature in Education, Children's Literature, The Lion and the Unicorn, and International Research in Children's Literature.

The field of Library and Information Science has a long history of conducting research related to children's literature.

Most educational researchers studying children's literature explore issues related to the use of children's literature in classroom settings. They may also study topics such as home use, children's out-of-school reading, or parents' use of children's books. Teachers typically use children's literature to augment classroom instruction.

Scholarly associations and centers include The Children's Literature Association, the International Research Society for Children's Literature, the Library Association Youth Libraries Group, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators the Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature, IBBY Canada and Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL), and the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature.


Many noted awards for children's literature exist in various countries:

  • In Africa, The Golden Baobab Prize runs an annual competition for African writers of Children's stories. It is one of the few African literary awards that recognizes writing for children and young adults. The com[petition is the only pan-African writing competition that recognizes promising African writers of children's literature. Every year, the competition invites entries of unpublished African-inspired stories written for an audience of 8 to 11-year-olds (Category A) or 12 to 15-year-olds (Category B). The writers who are aged 18 or below, are eligible for the Rising Writer Prize.
  • In Australia, the Children's Book Council of Australia runs a number of annual CBCA book awards
  • In Canada, the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature and Illustration, in English and French, is established. A number of the provinces' school boards and library associations also run popular "children's choice" awards where candidate books are read and championed by individual schools and classrooms. These include the Blue Spruce (grades K-2) Silver Birch Express (grades 3–4), Silver Birch (grades 5–6) Red Maple (grades 7–8) and White Pine (high school) in Ontario. Programs in other provinces include The Red Cedar and Stellar Awards in BC, the Willow Awards in Saskatchewan, and the Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards. IBBY Canada offers a number of annual awards.
  • In the Philippines, The Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature for short story literature in the English and Filipino languages (Maikling Kathang Pambata) has been established since 1989. The Children's Poetry in the English and Filipino languages has been established since 2009. The Pilar Perez Medallion for Young Adult Literature was awarded in 2001 and 2002. The Philippine Board on Books for Young People gives major awards, which include the PBBY-Salanga Writers' Prize for excellence in writing and the PBBY-Alcala Illustrator's Prize for excellence in illustration. Other awards are The Ceres Alabado Award for Outstanding Contribution in Children's Literature; the Gintong Aklat Award (Golden Book Award); The Gawad Komisyon para sa Kuwentong Pambata (Commission Award for Children's Literature in Filipino) and the National Book Award (given by the Manila Critics' Circle) for Outstanding Production in Children's Books and young adult literature.
  • In the United States, the American Library Association Association for Library Service to Children give the major awards. They include the Newbery Medal for writing, Michael L. Printz Award for writing for teens, Caldecott Medal for illustration, Golden Kite Award in various categories from the SCBWI, Sibert Medal for informational, Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning readers, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for impact over time, Batchelder Award for works in translation, Coretta Scott King Award for work by an African-American writer, and the Belpre Medal for work by a Latino writer. Other notable awards are the
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    National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the Orbis Pictus Award for excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children.
  • In the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, the Carnegie Medal for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, and the Guardian Award are a few notable awards.

International awards also exist as forms of global recognition. These include the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Ilustrarte Bienale for illustration, and the BolognaRagazzi Award for art work and design. Additionally, bloggers with expertise on children's and young adult books give a major series of online book awards called The Cybils Awards, or, Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

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