Saturday, 14 May 2011

What is children's literature anyway? 32 definitions and counting...

This list arose out of a workshop on Writing for Children and Young People, delivered yesterday to MA in Writing students at the University of Warwick, along with Karen Ball and Sara Grant. As I planned it, I found myself wondering: what is children’s literature anyway? How can one define and describe it in all its rich complexity? How can one explain a kind of writing that encompasses everything from Rosie's Walk to Twilight?
I came up with a list – and I would love to know what you would add to the list.
1) Children’s literature is not the only kind of literature that that children read. For example, my childhood reading included James Herriot, the Readers’ Digest and Summerhill by A.S. Neill.
2) Children’s literature is commercially successful. I have been told it’s the only sector of publishing that is growing.
3) Children’s literature is highly popular – the most borrowed and sold books in the UK are children’s books.
4) Children’s literature is as easy to write as adult literature. You start with the same things: voice, characters, conflicts, points of view…
5) Children’s literature is as difficult to write as adult literature. You start with the same things: voice, characters, conflicts, points of view…
7) Children’s literature is literature for minds that are growing as fast as humanly possible. Can you keep up with your readers?
8) Children’s literature is literature which forms you whether you/ it like/s it or not.
9) Children’s literature is literature which influences the next generation, therefore determines our future. Those who read Mr Gum today will rule the country tomorrow.
10) Children’s literature is literature which is remembered and loved for a lifetime.
11) Children’s literature is the soil that adult readers grow in.
12) Children’s literature is responsive to the reader.
13) Children’s literature is a tightrope walker: between childhoods (your own and other peoples) and adulthoods (your own and other peoples).
14) Children’s literature is not one single literature but many literatures.
15) Children’s literature is a way to deal with important issues in society.
16) Children’s literature is a way to explore humanity’s most essential psychology.
17) Children’s literature is undoubtedly affected by film and computer games.
18) Children’s literature is changing constantly.
19) Children’s literature is for children.
20) Children’s literature is literature which gives children something to aspire to
21) Children’s literature is literature which empowers and educates children.
22) Children’s literature is interested in the same things children are interested in
23) Children’s literature is true to the emotions and inner lives of children
24) Children’s literature is not judgemental or moralistic.
25) Children’s literature is about children’s lives and interests in the broadest sense.
26) Children’s literature is interested in adults only as far as they relate to children.
27) Children’s literature is fun for children to read!
28) Children’s literature is all about the story.
29) Children’s literature is written by all kinds of people.
30) Children’s literature is not just read by children.
31) Children’s literature is not bought by its intended readers.
32) Children’s literature is a commercial designation.
Add your ‘Children’s Literature is…’ in the comments!

5 comments:

Anne said...

I love this. I'm going to print it out and put it on my wall!

catdownunder said...

Children's literature is for all children, even grown up children!

Leila said...

Glad you like it! And good suggestion, Cat :)

Girl Friday said...

'Children's literature is the last bastion of plot'... I think that was Phillip Pullman :) Great list!

Emma Barnes said...

Great List.

I would add:
Not all children will like the same books, and a book does not need to appeal widely to be children's literature.

or put another way:
Children's literature is just as diverse as adult's literature.

It annoys me sometimes that children seem to be expected to like all the same thing - or a sub-group of them eg "boys age 10" to like all the same thing, when actually boys aged 10 may have just as diverse tastes in books as men aged 40, say.

I read James Herriot and Summerhill as a child too, Leila!