By Nina Christensen

About Nina Christensen

Nina Christensen is Professor in Children’s Literature and Head of the Centre for Children’s Literature and Media at Aarhus University. She is the author of three books on children’s literature (in Danish) and a number of articles, especially on picture books, the history of children’s literature, and children’s literature and concepts of childhood. Recent articles in English include “Follow the Child, Follow the Book” (2017; with Charlotte Appel) and “Picturebooks and Representations of Childhood” (2018).


“But he doesn’t have anything on!” (Andersen 2004, 94). With these words, a child opposes adults’ hypocritical admiration of the naked sovereign proudly parading in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “Kejserens nye Klæder” (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”; 1837). Enacting agency, this child character makes an independent statement in opposition to the established adult order. Though the term can be traced back to the seventeenth century, its use within children’s literature studies is a recent phenomenon.

Agency derives from the Latin verb agere, “to act,” an origin reflected in a contemporary definition: “Ability or capacity to act or exert power” (OED). More specifically, sociologists describe agency as “the power of actors to operate independently of the determining constraints of social structure” and “the volitional, purposive nature of human activity as opposed to its constrained, determined aspects” (Jary and Jary 1995, 10). During the last decade of the twentieth


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.”

—Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer

Depending on their field, readers and scholars of children’s literature may see the word keyword as a search term, or a designation for the limited-vocabulary words of a British reading primer from the 1960s, or perhaps an entry in a scholarly dictionary. The word keyword is itself a keyword in Raymond Williams’s sense: a commonly used term that people assume has a shared meaning but in fact lacks this shared meaning. Because they are words about which there is some debate, keywords reveal conflicts. They are words that, in Williams’s phrase,

Note on Classroom Use

As we note at the end of our introduction, this book aspires to provoke questions, create dialogue, and invite collaboration. In that spirit, here are some suggestions for using the book in the classroom.

While editing this second, more international edition of Keywords for Children’s Literature, we applied the lessons we were learning to our classroom practice. With the parameters outlined for the book’s contributors so clearly in our minds, both Lissa Paul and Phil Nel set “keywords assignments” for their students in their respective master’s level classes. Lissa’s assignment was for students in the winter 2017 session of “Introduction to Social and Cultural Contexts of Education: Developing a Critical Language”; Phil’s for the course “Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature” in spring 2017. In pedagogical terms, we both decided to give our students “problem-based learning assignments”—that is, the tasks we assigned to our students closely resembled the ones we

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