History of Children’s Literature
In the time when there were no books and not everyone could write and read, mothers and grandmothers were able only to tell their children or grandchildren stories and fairy tales. Even when people became more literate, they did not begin to write down folklore for youngsters.
It was Charles Perrault, who collected and published folk tales for children in 1697. However, speaking about folklore, people imagine more often not Charles Perrault, but the Brothers Grimm (Zipers, 2002). They are considered to be the first collectors of both folk and fairy tales. The reason for this is their huge impact on the process of collecting folk literature for children not only in German, but also in other countries in the world. That is why the Brothers Grimm are usually said to be the founders of the transition from oral tradition of children's literature to written one (Zipers, 2002).
Throughout the country history main themes of children's literature were changed due to different leaders in the country and their views about how child’s life should be developed.
One of the essential periods in the US life was from 1607 to 1776 when the United States was consist of thirteen colonies belonged to the UK. That is why almost all books were firstly published in England and then in the U.S. Before the seventeenth century there was no specific category of children’s literature. Regarding features of such literature, there were three main topics: religion, class division and gender roles. Analyzing the first part of American Colonial period, the style of children books was didactic, not artistic (Marten, 2007). The first book for children was a hornbook, where there was basic information for youngsters, for instance, the alphabet.
Over the eighteenth century the middle class appeared and started to encroach upon the aristocracy. In order to keep this division many books were written to show children class differences. Besides, children’s literature was also devoted to gender roles, concerning every sphere of the US life: political, social and economic (Marten, 2007).
Another crucial period was during the 1960’s, when picture books started to be published throughout the US. The main feature of children’s literature of this time was writing about real life. Nonfiction was extremely popular with both readers and writers. Such literature started to reflect social attitude about different historical events. The purpose for this was to improve children’s skill to read difficult material and build their own conclusion about the history (Kiefer, 2012).
Another theme of the children’s literature over the 1960’s was described in the fiction genre, where concepts of good and right are reflected. The term of high fantasy was firstly used during 60’s, that represented the battle between good and evil and othe essential cosmic issues (Kiefer, 2012).
In addition to this, a wave of the “new freedoms” started to be noticed in children’s literature. This means that writers began to write about protests against sexism and racism, with the new realism in the books for children. However, in the 1960s race issues, alcoholism, drugs, sex, violence, and divorce were not mentioned in the text (Elleman, 1987).
As for modern children’s literature, there are lots of themes presented in it. Among them there are social themes, such as: friendship, buying, tough girls and many others. Also, often children’s literature reflects life of the Native Americans, their traditions and customs in different tribes (Ewers, 2009).
Almost every child will or has already faced or watched the impact of bullying on themselves or their friends. As literature usually shows the current problems in the society, authors of children’s books recognized it to be the main concern for children in the 21st century (Ewers, 2009). The latest stories about bullying are The Meanest Birthday Girl by Josh Schneider and How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying by Scott Starkey.
The latest boom about The Hunger Games created a strong girl protagonist. Thus, writer decided to use this mainstream and started to write about powerful female character that is strong-willed to accept all her life challenges. Another such books are Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein or Legend by Marie Lu.
Nonfiction is also in a great demand, as children of the 21st century have make idols from actors, football players, singers and other famous people (Ewers, 2009). As a result many books about their lives appeared in the book shops. For instance, Beckham: My World by David Beckham and Dean Freeman or The Dark Story of Eminem by Nick Hasted.
Today children can read books online, in libraries, book shops in different forms: text, picture books, illustrations and hornbook. Also, there are a variety of genres in the literature for children: mysteries, adventure stories, fantasy and science fiction and many others. However, years ago, there were only text books for a specific purpose, which showed the most essential problems of the society (Credaro, 2006).
In early American history, children did not have books for reading, except, the Bible and later a primer was published. The only aim of these books was to teach children how to read and write and, of course, to teach them about religious and spiritual life (Credaro, 2006).
During the Colonial period, the purpose of children literature was to show the differences between social classes. That was the period, when picture books appeared.
Later, in the 1960’s controversial issues and real life situations were presented in the books for children. This new literature became entertaining and much easier (Elleman, 1987).
In the 21st century there are a lot of themes authors use for writing books for youngsters. Very often they are not as bright as there were before, maybe, because current times are hard for everyone, but they were never easy.
Marten, J.A. (2007). Children in colonial America. NY: New York University Press
Zipes, Jack (2002). The Brother Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world. NY: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.
Kiefer, Barbara (2010). Charlotte Huck's children's literature. NY: McGraw-Hill Education
Elleman, Barbara (Eds). (1987). Current Trends in Literature for Children. Chicago: American Library Association.
Ewers, Hans-Heino (2009). Fundamental concepts of Children’s literature research: literary and sociological approaches. NY: Routledge.
Credaro, Amanda (2006). The instructional use of children’s literature. Retrieved from http://www.warriorlibrarian.com/LIBRARY/inst_kidlit.html