The White Horse of Alih

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Documents Homepage :: Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society :: Ch-Co Children's Literature

Like the concept of childhood, children's literature is very much a cultural construct that continues to evolve over time. Children's literature comprises those texts that have been written specifically for children and those texts that children have selected to read on their own, and the boundaries between children's literature and adult literature are surprisingly fluid. John Rowe Townsend once argued that the only practical definition of a children's book is one that appears on the children's list by a publisher. Contemporary publishers are not making that distinction any easier; for example, MAURICE SENDAK's Outside Over There (1981) was published as a picture book for both children and adults, and J. K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER series is available in adult and children's versions with the only difference being the book's cover art. While folk and FAIRY TALES were not originally intended for children, they have become a staple of children's literature since the early nineteenth century. On the other hand, many books written for and widely read by children during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are considered historical children's literature today and are read almost exclusively by adult scholars of children's literature. Children's literature has been written, illustrated, published, marketed, and purchased consistently by adults to be given to children for their edification and entertainment. Generally speaking, it is the intended audience rather than the producers of the texts who define the field. Children's texts written by child or adolescent authors, such as Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters (1919) or ANNE FRANK's Het Achterhuis (1947; The Diary of a Young Girl, 1952), are exceptions to the rule. Many famous children's authors, such as Louisa May Alcott and LEWIS CARROLL, produced family magazines as children, and bits of their juvenilia were reworked into published children's books. More often, children's books result from the collaboration or direct inspiration of a specific child or group of children with an adult author. James Barrie's friendship with the Lewelyn Davies boys resulted in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (1904) and the novel Peter and Wendy (1911). The bedtime stories that A.A. Milne told his son Christopher Robin were revised into Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Although children's literature is intended primarily for children, it is more accurate to view such texts as having dual audiences of children and adults. Adults, particularly parents, teachers, and librarians, often function as gatekeepers who identify appropriate texts for children. Since children's literature has been marketed and purchased by adults who, in turn, present it to children, authors and publishers have attempted to produce children's texts that appeal to the desires of the actual adult purchaser, if not the child reader of the text. In the picture book and chapter book genres especially, an adult reads to a child or children in a group. It is only with the advent of the paperback book that adolescents, and in some cases younger children, have been able to select their books independent of adult supervision or funds. Prior to the development of public education and free libraries in the late nineteenth century, children's literature tended to be limited to the middle and upper classes. A children's book reflects the ideologies of the culture in which it was written and embodies that period's assumptions about children and appropriate behavior. Consequently, children's literature more often embodies adult concerns and concepts of childhood rather than topics children might choose for themselves. This gap between children's and adult's attitudes toward children's literature is often revealed in the difference between the top-selling children's books, which are frequently series books,...
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