Essays about Children’s Literature

Listed here are links to some of my work about children’s books that is available online. For a more complete listing, you can look at my VITA.

And for a few essays on novels and plays not intended specifically for children by authors like John Fowles, Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates, go HERE.

Some Recent Additions (a list of some pieces, new and old, that I’ve recently added to this website).


Utopian Grandparents

A review of four recent picture books about grandparents in the context of my experience of being a grandchild, being a grandparent, and getting old.

Writing for the Childhood Police: An Academic’s Adventures in Children’s Publishing

Based on a keynote address I gave at The Childhoods Conference: Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood at the University of Lethbridge in May, 2011, this intemperate and decidedly crotchety diatribe explores how being published as a writer of children’s books after a career of producing academic discourse about them affected my thinking about and writing criticism about children’s literature. The talk focuses on how my interactions with people in publishing as a writer of children’s fiction made me more aware of recent publishing trends and especially, of how the profit-oriented considerations that drive publishers shape what does and doesn’t get published for children. I go on describe how my knowledge of these matters transformed my critical approach to children’s literature, and to suggest why an awareness of how the publishing business operates in ways that affect what writers write and what children get to read ought to be more central to the work of other critics. 

This version of the talk includes many of the images from the Powerpoint that accompanied it in Lethbridge.

I’m not able to provide links to PDFs of more recent essays. There is a list of them HERE.

The Links to the PDFs:

Afterword: Propaganda, Namby-Pamby, and Some Books of Distinction (an appendix to Dictionary of Literary Biography 52. Twentieth Century American Children’s Writers, ed. Glenn E. Estes. Gale Research, 1986. This essay surveys children’s literature produced in the USA in the first eight decades of the twentieth century.)

And the Prince turned into a Peasant and Lived Happily Ever After: A review of Jack Zipes’ Breaking the Magic Spell. (review of Jack Zipes’ Breaking the Magic Spell

The Art of the Children’s Novel (a discussion of Frank Kermode’s Forms of Attention in relation to the Children’s Literature Association Touchstones project)

As Canadian as Apple Pie and Old Glory: a review of a lot of Canadian picture books

A is for . . . What? The function of Alphabet Books

Bad Boys and Binaries: Mary Harker on Diana Wieler’s Bad Boy: A consideration of Canadian writer Diana Wieler’s YA novel in terms of the variational relationships of its alternating narratives and what they reveal about contemporary attitudes towards conventional masculinity, heterosexuality, and homosexuality

Balancing Acts: Noteworthy American Fiction (Written in 1989, this essay tries to predict which of the then currently discussed novels for children by American writers might be remembered as “touchstones” in later years)

Becoming What You Eat: Identifying with Food in Children’s Literature

Beneath Aesthetics: the Picture Book Stripped Bare

Beyond Explanation, and Beyond Inexplicability, in [Eleanor Cameron’s] Beyond Silence

Cadence and Nonsense: Dennis Lee’s Poems for Children and Adults

“Canadian”? “Children’s” “Literature”? (an editorial questioning the meanings and implications of the three words in the name of the journal it was published in)

The Case of the Disappearing Jew: a discussion of the implications of a Penguin Puffin edition of the 1823 English version of Grimm brothers’s tales changing the original “The Jew in the Bush” to “The Miser in the Bush”

Children’s Literature as Child Pornography

Children’s Literature by American Women: 1900 to the Present

Children’s Literature Canon Comment, 1981

Cott in Himmel: A review of Jonathan’s Cott’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature.  

The Craft or Sullen Art of a Mouse and a Bat: A discussion of two children’s books about animals who write poetry: Leo Lionni’s Frederick and Randal Jarrell’s The Bat Poet and the attitudes towards poetry they encourage in their readers.

Cultural Arrogance and Realism in Judy Blume’s Superfudge

Decoding the Images: How Picture Books Work

Defining Children’s Literature (very early steps towards what eventually became my book The Hidden Adult: Defining Children’s Literature)

The Depths of All She Is: Eleanor Cameron

The Disappearing Childhood of Children’s Literature Studies: a review article exploring what recent guides to children’s literature studies reveal about recent trends in the field and about what criticism of children’s literature currently does and does not focus on

Doing Violence to Conventions: The Work of Ilse-Margret Vogel: a survey of the children’s books of Ilse-Margret Vogel, a writer whose work deserves to be better known

The Durability of Innocence: The Endless Childhood of Children’s Literature Criticism (a discussion of the reviews of critical books about children’s literature I had written over the decades, focussing on their common themes–especially the ways in which they reveal ongoing assumptions about children’s literature and about the supposed absence of previous criticism about it)

Editorial: On Three Degrees of Censorship

Editor’s Comment: The Case of Children’s Fiction, or The Impossibility of Jacqueline Rose

Editor’s Comments: Is Democracy Good for Literary Criticism? (from 1985: Why some people think it is anti-democratic and elitist to believe that some views of literary texts are more worthwhile than others, and why having opinions about literature is different from having prejudices about it)

Editor’s Comment: Talking About, and Teaching About, Pleasure: a comparison of the literary reading strategies of a child, a class of university students in a children’s literature course, and an English professor, revealing how all three miss important aspects of texts that the others focus on

Editor’s Comment: Teaching Children, or Teaching Subjects

Editor’s Comment: Is democracy good for literary criticism? (From 1985: Why some people think it is anti-democratic and elitist to believe that some views of literary texts are more worthwhile than others, and why having opinions about literature is different from having prejudices about it)

Editor’s Comments: Facts as Art (on the need for literary criticism of children’s non-fiction; includes a list of recommended non-fiction titles provided by Milton Meltzer)

Editor’s Comments (on a canon of children’s literature)

E.L. Konigsburg (a literary biography of this writer, from American Writers for Children since 1960: Fiction)

Eliminating the Evidence: Peeing and Pooping in Children’s Literature

Every Saturday Morning While You’re Asleep: Notes of a TV Watcher (What I saw when I joined my children while they watched Saturday morning TV in 1982)

Expectations: Titles, Stories, Pictures: A report on what children’s literature students expect as they respond first to the title of a picture book on its own, then the story it is attached to, and finally, to the illustrations accompanying the text.

The eye and the I: Identification and first-person narratives in picture books

Fear of Children’s Literature: What’s Left (or Right) After Theory? Originally the keynote address at the IRSCL Conference, Stockholm, 1995

Good, Evil, Knowledge, Power: A Conversation between Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman (in which I interview my fiction-writing collaborator Carol Matas about questions of evil and power in the children’s novels she writes on her own.)

Grand Canon Suite: An early report on the deliberations of the Children’s Literature Association Canon Committee and my response to them, before my my involvement with the committee

Hatchet Job: A review of Karin Lesnik-Oberstein’s Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994

The Hidden Child in The Hidden Adult (on childhood agency in children’s lit criticism)

The Hidden Meaning and the Inner Tale: Deconstruction and the interpretation of Fairy Tales (on how Derrida might help to account for fairy tales)

History as Fiction: The Story in Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s Story of Mankind

How But Not What or Why (a review of Nikolajeva and Scott’s How Picturebooks Work)

How typical children read typical books: Identifying with the characters in children’s fiction

Humane Ideology (a review of John Stephens’s Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction, and an exploration of the relationships between ideology and individual personality)

A Hundred Years of Treasure; or, Grime Does Not Pay (about Stevenson’s Treasure Island)

The Illustrators of (Robert) Munsch

The Implied Viewer: Some Speculations about What Children’s Picture Books Invite Readers to Do and to Be

Introduction [to thinking about a “canon” of children’s literature]: Matthew Arnold, A Teddy Bear, and a List of Touchstones

Interpretation and the Apparent Sameness of Children’s Literature

The Invention of Childhood: by Children;s Literature: An invited keynote address at the biennial conference of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Canberra, Australia, May, 2000. (published as “Inventing Childhood.” The Third Millennium: Read On! proceedings of the Fifth National Conference of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Canberra

I See by your Outfit: B Westerns and Some Recent Texts about Cowboys

Jacob Two-Two and the Satisfactions of Paranoia (a discussion of Mordecai Richler’s novel)

The Limits of Structures: a Shorter Version of a Comparison of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Virginia Hamilton’s M.C. Higgins, the Great (despite the title, this is the only version)

“Little Red Riding Hood” as a Canadian Fairy Tale: A discussion of a classroom exercise in which students all wrote down the versions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood as they recalled it. In response to my thoughtless generalizations about the European ancestry of Canadians, Agnes Grant responded to this essay in a later issue of Canadian Children’s Literature in which she describes the quite different results to the same experiment produced by the Indigenous students in her own class. I’ve included Grant’s essay along with my own.

Little Red Riding Hood Rides Again–and Again and Again and Again (The commonalties and differing details of thirty different inexpensive picture book versions of the well-known fairy tale)

Long Underwear and Christian Verse: A consideration of how mainstream children’s literature criticism ignores texts published by religious publishers

Louise Fitzhugh (a literary biography of this writer, from American Writers for Children since 1960: Fiction)

Making Boys Appear: the Masculinity of Children’s Fiction

Males Performing in a Female Space: Music and Gender in Young Adult Novels

The Mirror Staged: Images of Babies in Baby Books

A Monochromatic Mosaic: Class, Race And Culture In Double-Focalized Canadian Novels For Young People. Continuing on from “Of Solitudes and Borders,” also available here, a discussion of the ideological implications of novels for young people with alternating narratives, here specifically focussed on the Canadian context.

My Own False Face: A Response to Marianne Micros’s Interview with Welwyn Wilton Katz: A discussion about being both a critic and a novelist, about disputes between critics and writers of the texts they criticize, and about intended and other kinds of readings.

Non-Fiction for Children: Does It really Exist?

Non-Native Primitive Art: Elizabeth Cleaver’s Picture Books

The Nursery Rhymes of Mother Goose: A World without Glasses

The Objectionable Other, or, Walter de la Mare Meets My Little Pony: A consideration of the similarities and differences of popular literature and “serious” literature

Of Nakedness in Children’s Picture Books

Of Solitudes And Borders: Double-Focalized Canadian Books For Children:Early musings on the ideas about novels for young people with alternating narratives–the focus of my book Twice Upon a Time 

On the Border between Implication and Actuality: Children Inside and Outside of Picture Books (While the current hegemony of studies in literary education requires a commitment to the idea that individuals all respond to texts differently, a large body of research devoted to descriptions of the experiences of specific children with texts has the presumed purpose of increasing our understanding of literary response more generally. This essay explores the contradictions inherent in work committed to the uniqueness of individual response that nevertheless often seem to present its subjects as examples of more general truths about children’s engagement with literature. After an analysis of the generalisations stated or implied in a number of reports of work with children and texts, I consider what it might or might not be safe to conclude from such work, and how the work might most become useful.)

Once: The Land and Its People: A statistical analysis of the records gathered by the brothers Grimm, in an attempt to establish the geographical, demographic, and sociological characteristics of the land called Once, the setting for their reports of Oncean history (A paper originally presented at a Children’s Literature Association conference in 1984.)

Outside Looking In, Inside Looking Out (on studying texts of Canadian children’s literature)

Ordinary Monstrosity: the World of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps

The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children’s Literature

Out There in Children’s Science Fiction: Forward into the Past

Pleasure and Genre: Speculations on the Characteristics of Children’s Fiction AND The Urge to Sameness. (What I enjoy in literature for young readers, and how that helps me to become aware of its typical characteristics. This opened a discussion in the journal Children’s Literature, and was followed by responses from three other scholars and then a response to them by me, “The Urge to Sameness,” also included here.)

The Precarious Life of Children’s Literature Criticism

Preface: There’s Like No Books About Anything: an introduction to a collection of critical articles edited by Sebastien Chapleau about recent developments in children’s literature criticism, circa 2004–including a discussion of the performer Madonna’s conviction that she is the first person ever to have written a truly worthwhile children’s book

Private Places on Public View: David Wiesner’s Picture Books. Despite their visual similarities, a number of David Wiesner’s picture books represent different genres. This essay explores how the picture books challenge theories of SF and fantasy, and how the books and the theories both celebrate and undermine the liberating potential of fantasy.

Progressive Utopia: Or, How to Grow Up Without Growing Up (An overview of the similarities in five novels for girls: Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Wiggins’ Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Porter’s Pollyanna, Spyri’s Heidi, and Burnett’s The Secret Garden)

Pyle’s Sweet, Thin, Clear Tune: The Garden and the Moon

Reinventing the Past: Gender in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tehanu and the Earthsea ” Trilogy”

Rereading Anne of Green Gables in Anne of Ingleside:  Montgomery’s Variations

Robert Cormier does a number: A reader-response analysis of Robert Cormier’s Young Adult novel I Am the Cheese

Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War: Paranoia and Paradox

Searching for Treasure Island: a discussion of movie versions of R.L. Stevenson’s novel, included in Classic Children’s Novels and the Movies, ed. Douglas Street. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983.

The Second Kind of Criticism (from 1992, a review of Peter Hunt’s Criticism, Theory, & Childrens Literature (1991) as a productively infuriating book) 

A Second Look: Scott O’Dell’s Sing Down the Moon (When I wrote this in 1984, I thought of myself as a humane and tolerant person expressing humane, tolerant views. I’m uploading it three decades later because I find much of what I say here embarrassing–and because what embarrasses me is my utterly unconscious assumption of white male privilege. I praise O’Dell’s choice of not providing his young Navaho narrator with a name for much of the book–a choice I now see as a commentary on the deprivation of her personhood that in fact confirms and reinforces that deprivation. I also praised O’Dell’s depiction of the Navajo stoicism and refusal to express anger at what is happening to them–another confirmation of a hoary stereotype. Worst of all, I simply took it as an absolute truth that no one who was Navajo or even remotely like a Navajo would ever be part of the audience of the book. I have uploaded the article here not only because I feel guilty about what I once took for granted, and because I hope I have learned enough and grown enough to be less guilty now than I was in 1984.

Signs of confusion: a review of Zohar Shavit’s Poetics of Children’s Literature

The Silver Honkabeest: Children and the Meaning of Childhood: A discussion of some poems for children by the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, focussing on how “childhood” in these poems develops symbolic meanings for audiences of both adults and children

Sneaking Past the Border Guards: Children’s Book Awards and National Borders ((a consideration of a range of borders that relate to children’s literature studies: between children’s and adult literature, between children’s literatures produced in different countries, between children’s and YA literature, between the kinds of children’s books deemed eligible for various awards. etc.))

Some Heroes Have Freckles (from 1983: a survey of the characteristics of the heroes of a range of well-known texts of children’s literature)

Some Presumptuous Generalizations about Fantasy: as the title says: presumptuous, outrageously general, and about what fantasy is. It was written by a very young and callow scholar in 1979

Something Fishy Going On: Child Readers and Narrative Literacy

Teaching Children’s Literature: An Intellectual Snob Confronts Some Generalizers

Teaching a Unit of Fairy Tales: circa 1982

Teaching Girls about Men: Attitudes to Maleness in Teen Magazines

Text as Teacher: the Beginning of Charlotte’s Web

Thirty Writers Talk about Writing (an exploration of how children’s writers talk about their work and why a focus on what they have to say about it might be counterproductive )

Through a Glass Intimately: The Distant Closeness of Paula Fox’s One-Eyed Cat

“Touching Art: The Art Museum as a Picture Book, and the Picture Book as Art.” Journal of Literary Education 1 (2018). 6-25

Touchstones: A List of Distinguished Children’s Books (This pamphlet, published in 1982, lists the books chosen by a committee of the Children’s Literature Association as an effort to identify especially noteworthy texts for young readers. It was the basis for the three volume collection of essays about each of the title. for more information about the reasoning behind the project, see the introduction to that series): Matthew Arnold, A Teddy Bear . . .

Toy and Dress Porn (some thoughts about the moral and sexual implications of photographic and other visual depictions of clothed and naked children)

‘Twas Ever Thus–And What to Do About It: A contribution to a roundtable on what children’s literature criticism is and isn’t doing (circa 2003), and what it ought to be doing, this piece encourages more attentiveness to the many texts for children that are more typical than distinguished or extraordinary.

Understandable Children and the Enigma of Childhood: a discussion of an unconvincing book about literary portrayals of childhood that ignores children’s literature altogether–and a consideration of how knowledge of children’s literature might have benefited its argument: “What he is really saying is the childhood is enigmatic because it is delightfully devoid of meaning—utter chaos. To praise children for being ignorant is dreadful insult to them.”

We Are All Censors

What Are We After: Children’s Literature Studies and Literary Theory Now

What’s Canadian about Canadian Children’s Literature? A Compendium of Answers to the Question (A number of authors, academics, and others involved with Canadian literature for young people offer answers to the question)

What Children Are or Should Be: In addition to the 80 picture books reviewed in “As Canadian as Apple Pie and Old Glory” (listed with a link here also) this essay discusses 40 more, especially in terms of the assumptions they make about their child audience

What Makes a Fairy Tale Good: the Queer Kindness of “The Golden Bird” (my first academic publication, based on my first conference paper)

Who the Boys Are: Thinking about Masculinity in Children’s Fiction

Who’s Speaking: the Voices of Dennis Lee’s Poems for Children

Writing for the Childhood Police: An Academic’s Adventures in Children’s Publishing (After some years as an academic specialist in children’s literature, I published my first novel for children. In this talk, I discuss how my experiences as an author changed my ideas about what children’s literature is and about how it functions, with a special focus on how the “children imagined as readers by people in publishing help to shape both specific books and what gets published generally

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