Children's Literature

Children’s literature can describe both a corpus of texts and an academic discipline—often confidently and apparently unproblematically, as in the title of this volume—but the term is what Raymond Williams (1976) would have called “difficult.” Its elements cover a huge range of cultural meanings synchronically, diachronically, and internationally. It is still widely regarded as an oxymoron: if children commonly connotes immaturity, and literature commonly connotes sophistication in texts and reading, then the two terms may seem to be incompatible. Equally, its meaning varies considerably across the world—for example, kinderliteratur, børnelitteratur, letteratura per l’infanzia (or letteratura giovanile), dje_č_je književnosti, and literatura infantil are not exactly equivalent. How can they be, when the concept of child varies culturally in terms of cognitive and physical development, responsibility, relationship to the adult world, and along many other axes? Across the years, the child has been seen as inherently evil, or as a tabula rasa, or as an innocent, “trailing clouds of glory.” Today, children leave school (childhood’s end?) at the age of ten in Bangladesh and eighteen in Argentina; children go to school (perhaps another childhood’s end) at the age of seven in Finland and five in Australia. In Western countries, the concept of...

This essay may be found on page 41 of the printed volume.

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