Theory and Children’s Literature

Click on any of the titles below to reach a downloadable PDF of the piece of writing.

Children’s Literature as Child Pornography

Children’s Literature as Women’s Writing

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

Defining Children’s Literature (published in 1980, i.e., over forty years ago, this essay represents very early steps towards what eventually became my book The Hidden Adult: Defining Children’s Literature. In other words: if you’re looking for the argument I present in The Hidden Adult, this is not it, and not even anything all that much like it.)

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

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)

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

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

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

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.

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

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)

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)

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

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.

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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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 )

‘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.”

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

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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