All that didactic means, etymologically, is “instructive” or “skilled at teaching” (OEDδιδακτικός). That meaning has persisted, neutrally, in some languages, where a departamento de didáctica or département de didactique simply refers to an education faculty, or Didaktik labels the theory of teaching. But the term, today, in English, is generally used polemically. To call a children’s book didactic is to accuse it of trying to impart a “message”—generally of a moral nature. Didactic, in children’s literature criticism and reviewing, is often synonymous with moralizingauthoritariantotalitarianpropagandist. The term is also its own superlative: rarely is a book deemed “too didactic”; didactic generally suffices to condemn it.

Yet “the didactic” (or didacticism) remains seldom defined in children’s literature criticism: it is an I-know-it-when-I-see-it sort of vice. The only solid definitional anchor for didacticism is historical. Didactic literature for children—namely, for religious

This essay may be found on page 57 of the printed volume.

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