This illustration is by Walter Crane from a first edition of Goody Two Shoes
Kay E. Vandergrift
Scholars and practitioners concerned with young people and their literature can acquire a greater understanding of that literature and its role in the lives of children by studying both the history of childhood and the history of children's literature. The historical context should include a reading of both popular and classical literature to appreciate the contributions of early authors and illustrators. Periodicals and textbooks also played an important role in the history of this literature and reveal a great deal about perceptions of children and young people over time.
There are many anthologies that contain selections of historical children's literature as an introduction to this topic, but the handling of original materials, even if they are inexpensive editions, offers a sensitivity to what children held in their hands at the time and often we find small treasures they left behind (signatures, autograph rhymes, pressed flowers, clippings, etc.) To add a dimension to experiencing the original book, visit the Antiquarian Book page and the Children's Literature Special Collections Page.
Facsimiles of early children's books provide an alternative to original texts and offer opportunities to examine reproductions of rare and expensive volumes. Adult books with child characters also add to our understanding of perceptions of childhood at various periods in our history.
In order to understand the context of our field, it is useful to study the objectives listed.
Identify and describe the images of childhood as revealed in children's literature over time.
Compare and contrast the images of childhood revealed in children's literature to those of philosophical, educational, and sociological theories over time.
Demonstrate familiarity with major archetypes and motifs of traditional children's literature.
Identify and describe characteristics of children's textbooks over time.
Recognize and describe major media/types of illustration and identify the most influential illustrators in the history of children's literature.
Identify and discuss key authors and works in the history of children's literature.
Identify and describe key publishers and publishing trends in the history of children's literature.
Describe the nature and extent of early children's book reviewing.
Analyze the role of the periodical in historical children's literature.
Use various approaches to the study of and bibliographic access to historical children's literature.
Relate the history of children's literature to professional library and educational activities in work with children and youth.
Read (and enjoy!) a selection of historical children's literature.
Are the philosophical, educational, and sociological theories of childhood reflected in literature for children? If so, how?
To what extent does Aesop contribute to our understanding of many early children's books?
How does the popular reading of children over the years relate to what scholars have said about the history of childhood and of children's literature?
How much did early publishers influence the writing and illustrating of books for children?
How does lithography and the book, illustration and design in the commercial sector contribute to our understanding of this process in publication?
How does the history of the alphabet contribute to our knowledge of early children's books?
To what extent does the history of American children's literature reflect the ideals and attitudes of the American experience?
How has the history of children's literature been related to the teaching of reading?
What are some of the design factors related to children's books?
To what extent were early textbooks avenues for recreation and entertainment for children?
What do the changes in versions and variants of traditional folk and fairy tales over time tell us about changing perceptions of childhood?
In what ways does the Snow White site demonstrate changes over time?
How has the reviewing process influenced what is made available to the child?
How is the culture of childhood (family life, games, peer relationships) revealed in literature for children?
What distinctions can be drawn between sentiment and sentimentality in the history of children's literature?
How was gender revealed in the composition and content of 19th and early 20th century children's literature?
How were minorities (religious, racial,cultural) treated in early children's literature?
Created September 20, 1995 and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey