Adult

Adult derives from the Latin adultus: “full-grown, mature, firmly established.” To be an adult, the root implies, is to reach the endpoint of a developmental arc—to attain the physical, behavioral, and social norms of maturity—but this fantasy of fulfillment is tenuous. Adult’s first OED definitions are adjectives, unmoored from a stable subject. Adult might make any person full grown; it also makes an attitude sophisticated or a movie erotic. Adult’s noun form—“a person who is fully developed; one who has reached maturity”—is similarly volatile, its boundaries porous enough to let in its supposed opposite, the child. Half the quotations the OED provides in support of this definition reference children, many aligning adult and child experiences. (Herbert Spencer, for example, wonders “what rights are common to children and adults.”) Compounds yoke adults to ideas associated with young people: adult studentadult illiteracy. The word’s desultory travel

Aesthetics

The neglect of sustained, theoretical inquiry into the aesthetics of children’s literature is a symptom of our discipline’s history. As it developed in North America, the academic discipline of children’s literature emerged in the context of the canon-busting and -expanding cultural studies movements of the 1960s and ’70s, a theoretical milieu newly suspicious of objective claims of aesthetic value. In recent years, however, the global field has seen renewed interest in aesthetics as “sensuous knowledge,” a mode of apprehension inextricably bound to both history and ideology.

The word aesthetics has ancient roots, its earliest forms the Greek aisthanomai and aisthetikos (both summoning the idea of perception). In his seminal study Aesthetica (1750–58), Alexander Baumgarten reworked these ancient terms—including aisthēsis (sensation)—into our more contemporary understanding of aesthetics. The term has oscillated between apparent opposites: aesthetic value as both subjective and universal, as perceived sensually but primarily understood via …

Affect

Current research in the arts and humanities operates in the wake of what has been termed the “affective turn” (Clough and Halley 2007). Since feminist and queer theory turned our gaze on the body, the emotions have become a major site of interest across the disciplines. The term affect, which derives from the Latin affectus, meaning “mental or emotional state or reaction,” is today used both generically as an umbrella term to indicate the emotions and more technically to designate a particular subset of this domain. Attempts to encapsulate the meaning of affect in shorthand are impeded by the fact that theorists of affect have taken pains precisely to distinguish affect from rather than as “feeling” or “emotion” and because affect acquires its significance as that which eludes conscious definition or straightforward articulation. Nevertheless, the OED ventures a definition of affect as a “feeling or subjective experience accompanying

African American

From the beginnings of African American children’s literature around the turn of the twentieth century, the parameters of what should be included has been as much of a source of conflict as the terminology used to label this group of people. Commenting on the contested nature of this genre, Dianne Johnson (1990) asserts in Telling Tales: the Pedagogy and Promise of African American Literature for Youth:

Like children’s literature, as a broad category, African American children’s literature is a label which refers to the intended audience. On the other hand, like Afro-American literature, Black children’s literature refers to the ethnic and racial identities of the authors. When the two categories are combined into one, the parameters of the new category are much less clear. This confusion in definition is important, largely because of the deliberate uses to which the literature is put.

In this passage, Johnson highlights the shifting …

Agency

“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

Animal

The chief ambassador for the magic kingdom of childhood is an oversized mouse. One of a few cultural figures recognized by his first name alone, Mickey is such an icon that his ubiquitous smile and welcoming gloved hands have erased much of the strangeness and the history by which a cheerful rodent became a symbol for dreams beyond the Freudian variety of wolf-man nightmares. Insistently invoking imagination as the antidote to reality, the mouse subsumes culturally distinct renditions of animals and children under a generic rubric, the Disney fairy tale, which has all but erased its diverse cultural traces and origins. But the mouse inadvertently tells us something about the history of children and animals—namely, that they are fungible as categories and in their relation to one another. If Mickey defines childhood, he also reminds us of the fact that children and animals define one another as creatures similarly exempt

Archive

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 …

Audience

The dominant modern meaning of audience refers to the viewers of an entertainment or readers of a book. According to the OED, such usages date to before 1387 (for a performance) and to 1760 (for a book or writer). Other early meanings including “the range or sphere of hearing,” or being within a person’s hearing, date to before 1393. Derived from the Latin audīre, “to hear,” the term has a special resonance for children’s literature because the youngest children are not readers but auditors of literature, truly an audience. Indeed, the broad term audience better captures the many ways in which children consume literature—and other aspects of culture—than does reader, the term generally preferred in literary criticism.

Raymond Williams (1976, 1983b) did not include audience in his Keywords. The term does receive an entry in New Keywords, edited by Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg,

Authenticity

According to the OED, the first instance of the word authenticity was in 1716, in letters to Dr. Richard Bentley regarding a translation of the New Testament (cited in McDonald 2016, 226). Variations of the word authenticity, however, appear earlier: “autenticitat (probably 1343)” and “French authenticité (1557).” Definitions of authenticity include “the fact or quality of being true or in accordance with fact; veracity; correctness”; “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine”; “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original”; and “based on facts; accurate or reliable” (OED).

Moving from religious to philosophical meanings, Kernis and Goldman claim that two aspects of “authentic functioning” are “people’s (1) self-understanding” and “(2) openness to objectively recognizing their ontological realities (e.g., evaluating their desirable and undesirable self-aspects)” (2006, 284). Sartre agrees: “Man is nothing else but that

Body

Body is a noun, though it was a verb: “To give form, shape, or physical presence to; to embody. Now chiefly literary or poet” (OED). The OED gives five definitions for the noun: the “physical form of a person, animal, or plant”; the “main portion, the trunk”; “a person”; “a collective mass”; and “substance, matter, a portion of matter.” Then the OED traces the etymology of the word back to “Old High German botah: body, corpse, trunk (of the body).” Additionally, the OED finds that “the sense development has been influenced by association with classical Latin corpus,” which leads to body in the sense of a body of literature, or “a compendium of writings on a subject, textbook (e.g. corpus iūris law textbook).” The OED’s five core definitions all emphasize physicality and dominance, the concrete and the aggregate, the literal and the central or

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