Children’s Literature

“Children’s literature” is a term used to describe both a set of texts and an academic discipline—and it is often 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. Henry James, in “The Future of the Novel” (1900b), observed that “the literature, as it may be called for convenience, of children, is an industry,” but not one to be taken seriously: “the sort of taste that used to be called ‘good’ has nothing to do with the matter; we are demonstrably in [the] presence of millions for whom taste is but an obscure, confused, immediate instinct” (quoted in Hughes 1978). As recently as 1997, Roderick McGillis wrote: “[B]ooks for the young still carry a burden of perceived simplicity that sets them outside the complexities we associate with literature for adults.” This view …

This essay may be found on page 42 of the printed volume.

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