Welcome, Keywords for Children’s Literature

by Philip Nel, Lissa Paul

In the four years since the launch of Keywords for Children’s Literature in print (2011), we’ve learned a lot from scholars and students who have used it. As Raymond Williams did, we wanted to provide a shared vocabulary — but, in our case, specifically for the disciplinarily diverse group of people who work in children’s literature. The field draws scholars and writers from Literature, Education, and Library and Information Science. We knew that misunderstandings between disciplines arose because key terms were used in different ways. Recording the historical and etymological traces of each of the original forty-nine key terms, our contributors explained how these words came to be used in conflicted ways in different disciplines. In so doing, they drew a new map of our common vocabulary, locating its regional conflicts and contested terrain.

Since they contain only what the cartographer deems plottable, all maps invite revision. Greater familiarity with the territory reveals previously unnoticed gaps in the terrain. Keywords for Children’s Literature has taken us—its co-editors—to many places, to Cambridge, to Oslo, to Maastricht and Los Angeles. In each place that we’ve talked about our project, we have made note of revisions we want to make to our original map. Though we explicitly focus on traditions in English, we aspire to do a second edition that is more international in scope—in terms of both the literature represented (scholarly and literary) and the authors of the Keywords essays. We always knew our map would be provisional, and so are delighted to see how these altered contours have been revealing themselves to us.

The vast (we are tempted to say impossible) task of mapping a field of scholarly inquiry is one of the great strengths of the books in NYU Press’s Keywords series. From the moment they’re published, this family of books invites the reader into a conversation, as she or he questions the terms, the texts chosen, the words omitted and the words included. These maps are intellectual provocations that inspire students and teachers to query, object, revise, re-think. (Indeed, a popular assignment is to have students write an entry for a keyword that, in their estimation, is missing from the volume.) So, as we celebrate the launch of the (currently) five-volume inquiry into key critical terms, we invite you to peruse the online and print editions of Keywords for Children’s Literature, ask questions, and join the conversation.


From the Editors

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