by Lissa Paul

About Lissa Paul

Lissa Paul is Professor of Education at Brock University. She is the author of Reading Otherways and The Children’s Book Business, associate general editor of the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature, and was an editor of the journal The Lion and the Unicorn.


In Keywords, the term “literacy” does not have an entry of its own. Instead, Raymond Williams (1976) traces its evolution from its fourteenth-century root, “literature.” For the first three hundred years of its life, “literature” was an all-purpose word referring sometimes to “being well-read,” and at other times to “the books in which a man is well-read” (Williams 1976). Gradually, this common-ancestor word divided into several distinct species: the root-word, “literature,” strengthened its links to nationhood (as in English literature or French literature); “literate” came to describe being well-read; “literary” became associated with the “profession of authorship”; and “literacy” arose in the late nineteenth century as a social concept “to express the achievement and possession of what are increasingly seen as general and necessary skills” (Williams 1976). In the definition of “literacy,” the operative word is “skills,” suggesting a low-order, mechanical, even superficial ability related to the simple decoding of black letters on a white page. But by situating “literacy” as an outgrowth of “literature,” Williams reminds us to respect its tough root as well as all its more intellectual branches, including “literary,” “literate,” “reading,” and “writing.”


A curiously slippery word, archive is both singular and plural, noun and verb (OED). It can refer to the place where material is stored (such as a rare books library) and to the material itself (OED). The etymological evolution of archive through its Greek roots—arkheia (public records) and arkhe (government)—provides a map of the word’s lexical tensions. In the seventeenth century, when archive first came into use, it was a place where (public) records were kept. As other forms of the root mean “beginnings”—as in archeology and architecture—the idea of a foundation also lingers. By way of contrast, the OED defines library as “a place set apart to contain books for reading, study, or reference.” Although a library may house an archive, it is only in an archive that it is possible to search for origin stories. The verb form, to archive, does not appear until the twentieth-century.


We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations reassure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.

To ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”


Thanks to all of our contributors for sharing their expertise via the keywords essay, one of the most demanding critical genres, requiring a balance of etymologies, literary and cultural histories, and representative examples from different countries and traditions—all succinctly organized in about eight paragraphs. Your hard work makes this book possible.

Sample Assignment #1

Through the 2016-17 academic year, we—Phil and Lissa—were soliciting authors for our second, more international edition of Keywords for Children’s Literature, co-edited with Nina Christensen and slated for publication by New York University Press in 2019. With the parameters we had outlined for the established authors we solicited so clearly in our minds, we both set “keywords” assignments for our students in our respective master’s level classes. Lissa’s assignment was for students in the winter 2017 session of EDUC 5P01: Introduction to Social and Cultural Contexts of Education: Developing a Critical Language, Phil’s for English 703: Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature in Spring 2017. In pedagogical terms, we had both decided to give our students “problem-based learning” assignments, that is the tasks we assigned to our students closely resembled the ones we gave to established scholars. Phil and Lissa gave similar assignments to their students, though Lissa designated hers as keywords “for Education,” and Phil “for Children’s Literature.” To avoid repetition, we have reproduced an edited version of Phil’s assignment here and are granting permission to use with appropriate credit: