ⓘ Children's literature criticism


ⓘ Childrens literature criticism

The term childrens literature criticism includes both generalist discussions of the relationship between childrens literature and literary theory and literary analyses of a specific works of childrens literature. Some academics consider young adult literature to be included under the rubric of childrens literature.

Nearly every school of theoretical thought has been applied to childrens literature, most commonly reader response Chambers 1980 and new criticism. However, other schools have been applied in controversial and influential ways, including Orientalism Nodelman 1992, feminist theory Paul 1987, postmodernism Stevenson 1994, structuralism Neumeyer 1977, post-structuralism and many others.


1.1. Approaches Child focused

Early childrens literature critics aimed to learn how children read literature specifically rather than the mechanics of reading itself so that they could recommend "good books" for children. These early critics were often teachers, librarians and other educationalists. The critics often disagreed about what books they think children would like, and why, and about which books will be "good" for children and why. Though many critics are still child-centric, the discipline has expanded to include other modes of analysis. As childrens literature criticism started developing as an academic discipline roughly in the past thirty years or so, see historical overviews by Hunt 1991 and McGillis 1997), childrens literature criticism became involved with wider work in literary theory and cultural studies.


1.2. Approaches Construction of the child

Many childrens literature critics now point out that children are not one group, but differ according to gender, ethnicity, religious background, and so on. Feminist childrens literature critics such as Lissa Paul 1987 therefore try to work out how boys and girls read differently, for instance. Other critics for instance, Peter Hunt 1991, Perry Nodelman 1992, John Stephens 1992, and Roderick McGillis 1996) take this idea a step further and argue that children are often "colonized" by adults, including childrens literature critics, because adults speak on behalf of children instead of letting children express themselves. However, these critics too can not agree on what then are "true" children expressing themselves, and which books are therefore "good" for them. Finally, a few critics, notably Jacqueline Rose 1984 and Karin Lesnik-Oberstein 1994 and 2004 take this discussion even further, arguing that identities are created and not "inherent", and that in the case of an identity such as "childhood" it is created by "adults" in the light of their own perceptions of themselves. That is, "adulthood" defines "childhood" in relation to differences and similarities it perceives to itself. This post-structuralist approach is similar to that argued by critics in gender studies such as Judith Butler and is widely accepted and used in sociological and anthropological studies of childhood Jenks 1996; Jenks, James and Prout 1997.


1.3. Approaches Textual focus

Many scholars approach childrens literature from the perspective of literary studies, examining the text as text without focus on audience. Stephens and McCallum 1998 discuss the intertextuality of childrens literature, while Rose explores the identifying characteristics of the genre. Nodelman 1990 looks at the synthesis of text and illustration in picturebooks.


1.4. Approaches Cultural studies focus

Culture studies scholars investigate childrens literature as an aspect of culture. Childrens literature, in this light, is a product consumed like other aspects of childrens culture: video games, television, and the like. For more analysis of childrens culture in general, see Jenkins. For literature in particular as cultural artifact, see Mackey.