Children’s literature as such probably started in the 17th century; it is generally believed that before then books were written mainly for adults. Additionally, most printed works were hard to come by due to their cost and were mostly available for purchase only by upper class society. Scholarship on children’s literature includes professional organizations, dedicated publications and university courses. There is some debate on what constitutes children’s literature. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
Children’s literature by genres
A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by technique, tone, content, or length. Nancy Anderson, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of South Florida in Tampa, has delineated six major categories of children’s literature, with some significant subgenres:
- Picture books, including board books, concept books (teaching an alphabet or counting), pattern books, and wordless books
- Traditional literature: there are ten characteristics of traditional literature: (1) unknown authorship, (2) conventional introductions and conclusions, (3) vague settings, (4) stereotyped characters, (5) anthropomorphism, (6) cause and effect, (7) happy ending for the hero, (8) magic accepted as normal, (9) brief stories with simple and direct plots, and (10) repetition of action and verbal patterns. The bulk of traditional Literature consists of folktales, which conveys the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in past times. This large genre can be further broken down into subgenres: myths, fables, ballals, folk music, legends, and fairy tales.
- Fiction, including the sub-genres of fantasy and realistic fiction (both contemporary and historical). This genre would also include the school story, a genre unique to children’s literature in which the boarding school is a common setting.
- Biography, including autobiography
- Poetry and verse.