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Class Time:
Monday 11-13 - Room 312 Monday 7-9 Room 301

By Mr. Abdelkader Ben Rhit




Ben Rhit



is a literature class first, and a class about childrens literature second. Our focus here is on


literature as art. What are these texts saying and how do they say it? How do we understand texts for children? What are their qualities and characteristics?

Course aims

EA300 Childrens Literature has the following aims:

To introduce you to key critical and theoretical debates in the field of childrens literature, and to important classic and contemporary texts.
To introduce ideas about the relationship of childrens literature, and of its history, with ideas about children and childhood. To enable you to understand the ideological nature of childrens literature. To enable you to explore how childrens literature represents change and diversity in childrens lives. To develop your knowledge about how literary conventions and illustration are used in different genres of childrens literature.


To become critical (intelligent) readers. To be able to converse and write critically about childrens literature. To articulate and modify your own framework for understanding childrens literature and culture.


To understand the traditions of English language childrens literature from a historical perspective. To understand the basic conventions of childrens literature. To understand the basic genres of childrens literature. To challenge common assumptions about childrens literature by knowing where they come from. To learn important vocabulary for discussing childrens literature. To learn about authors in conjunction with their works.


10% Participation (attendance, discussion, group work, and presentations) 20% TMA (2000 words) 30% Midterm (Essay questions) 50% Final (essay questions covering everything from the beginning of the semester but focusing more on the second half.)


Keep track of the weekly schedule by checking the LMS regularly. You should do all reading and hand in all work according the schedule on the COURSE CALENDAR/ LMS whether I remind you or not. For next week
Check out the COURSE CALENDAR. Here you will find the weekly schedule, and homework for each week. Start reading Philip Pullmans Northern Lights and think about your ideas of what childhood is and childrens literature is.

What are we studying?

Lets start with our assumptions. What do we think or believe about children and childrens literature? Such questions can be difficult because even though we have many ideas and beliefs, we may have never thought about them consciously. Answer the following questions: 1. What is a child? How are children different from adults? 2. What is the best way for children to learn? 3. What are the most important things for children to learn?

What about childrens literature?

Answer these questions based on your ideas of children.
What are the qualities of good childrens books? Why should children read books? What kinds of books should children read? Do we really need childrens literature? Why or why not?

The Ideal Child

Children in childrens literature are constructed in two ways:
As characters As implied readers

Concepts of what children are or should be are constructed not by peers, but by adults. The fictional child, both as character and reader are informed by changeable assumptions about the nature and value of children and childhood.

Jan van Eyck Madonna with the Child Reading circa 1435

What different ideas about children and childhood do these photos bring to your mind?


An audience defined genre


Childrens literature is defined by its readers, not its writers.

Adults are in complete control of its production: writers, editors, publishers, reviewers, purchasers. Its always, at some level, concerned with instruction.

The relationship between author and reader should be one of respect, not condescension.

Our views of childhood change, mesh, and intermingle.

Six Western Conceptions of Childhood

A Confused Mix
I will move chronologically. New concepts do not replace the old but add to them. Each new idea builds upon enriches, and confuses our ideas about childhood

Concepts of childhood
1. Sinful The Puritans (1550s -1700s)
2. Rational John Locke (late 17


3. Natural Jean-Jacques Rousseau (early 18 5. Pure William Blake (early 19



4. Consumer John Newberry (early 18th century)


6. Intelligent Lewis Carroll (mid 19



1. The Sinful Child

The Puritans (1500s through 1600s)
Children are born sinful. That sin needs to be purged Children learn through fear. Children should learn to read to study the Bible. Stories of martyrs detailing horrible deaths were thought especially appropriate for children. Strict learning environment.


Recommended Reading
The protagonists in these books provide models to aspire to. They died slow, gruesome deaths, but were spiritually strong

Foxes Book of Martyrs (1563)


A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1672),

The New England Primer (1683-1830)

Sin begins the alphabet

Importance on books and the Bible

Harsh laws of nature

Punishment for those who do wrong

Natural beauty

Corporal punishment for laziness


Idealistically Virtuous Children

Today, books like William Bennetts The Childrens Book of Virtues (1998) are extremely popular, especially with religious families. Children, like those on the cover, are idealistically virtuous.


2. The Rational Child

John Locke (1632-1704)
Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1693 The mind of a child is a blank slate. Tabula Rasa.
People are born without innate ideas. People are NOT born sinful (Augustine & The Puritans). People are NOT born with a certain logic (Cartesian).


Training children
Children need to learn how to become rational people in order to be good adults in a well-ordered community. Children need to learn to resist their natural impulses in favor or reason. Curb natural desire. Locke recommended
instruction with delight. Locke recommended moral fables because of their simple causeeffect relationship. Reynard the Fox and Aesops Fables

Moral tales are still common

Murcus Pfisters The Rainbow Fish follows Lockes idea by presenting a lesson about sharing through a beautifully illustrated book about fish.


3. The Natural Child

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
French Philosopher & Educational Thinker Emile: or, On Education 1762 Directly challenged Lockes ideas. Its most important to developing the pupils character and moral sense. Society corrupts. Children learn best by figuring things out for themselves naturally.


Robinson Crusoe (1726)

Natural Man. The Noble Savage. Primitive people are more pure. Children are more pure. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is the best book for children. It provides the best model.


A Modern Robinson
In Maurice Sendaks Where the Wild Things Are, Max works out his feelings of anger on his own by traveling to an island of wild things and subduing them.


4. The Child Consumer

John Newbery (1713-1767)
Sometimes thought of as the first publisher of children's books. He recognized children as a valuable market. He knew middle class parents want to raise their children well.


A Little Pretty Pocket-book. (1744)

John Newberrys first big publishing success for children. These were packaged with a ball for boys and a pincushion for girls.


Children have influence

Childrens voices carry weight in society. Pester Power Newbery flattered children by appealing directly to them. Children in stories start to determine their own fate.


A Child-centered Economy
In Dav Pilkeys The Adventures of Captain Underpants (1997), children produce goods, buy, and sell them independent of (and in opposition to) adult control.


5. The Pure & Innocent Child

William Blake (1757-1827)
Songs of innocence (1789) Child is symbolic of the best of humanity. Children come from heaven. The child in you needs to be cherished. Childrens purity and innocence gives them a kind of wisdom. Knowledge of the cruel world forever corrupts this innocence. It is impossible to reclaim. Also William Wordsworth.



The boy who never grew up

J. M. Barries Peter Pan 1911
He is innocent and heartless. To stay innocent, he has no memory and he is entirely self-centered. But he is also represents an object of desire. Adults attracted to his perpetual childhood more than children.


Childrens fiction impossible?

Rose insists that books written for children serve adult interests by helping make sure that child readers conceive of themselves in ways that fulfill societys expectations, and not according to what is necessarily true about childhood


6. The Intelligent Child

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
Alices Adventures in Wonderland 1865 Children recognizes and laugh at adult attempts to socialize her The adult world is strange and curious place, but children can figure things out for themselves. Children react against societal pressures to conform. Adults arent always right.

Parody of moralistic poem

Sir Isaac Watts
Against Idleness and Mischief (industrious) How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From every opening flower!

Lewis Carroll
How Doth the Little Crocodile (lazy) How doth the little crocodile Improve his shining tail, And pour the waters of the Nile On every golden scale!


Two more wise kids

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
The good-bad boy He lies, cheats, and disobeys, and is universally loved, while at the end, he gets both the gold and the girl.

The Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum

Uncovers the adult fraud The great and mighty Oz is exposed as an adult fraud by a young girl and her little dog Toto.


Children subversively powerful

Peter disobeys mother. This visual pun from Peter Rabbit makes fun of the adult human. Who is on four legs and who is on two?


An intelligent child
In Beverly Clearys Ramona the Pest, Ramona hears her teacher read the story on the first day of kindergarten. She asks, How did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom when he was digging the basement of the town hall?


1. Sinful child: Puritans
Moralistic literature with pre-deterimined truth. Reading is good for all children Teach with delight Create reasonable, ethical adults Children have more agency since they learn on their own. Society corrupts, also confuses.

2. Rational child: Locke

3. Natural Child: Rousseau

Review, continued
4. Child Consumer: Newbery
Children can enjoy and want (buy) books. Children have economic and social power. Children are models of purity and goodness Childhood serves adult objectives. Opens door to vast array of childrens stories. Society corrupts, also confuses.

5. Pure Child: Blake

6. Intelligent Child: Carroll

Societys conception of childhood continues to change and adapt, and its these ideas as confused as they sometimes may be, that form the basis for constructing child characters and readers in childrens literature.


The (First) Golden Age of Childrens Literature

From Alice and to Pooh (1924-1928) Idealized the child as fanciful and free Children can best learn how to be good through an appeal to the imagination rather than through asserting rules of behavior
Liberation from didacticism, these texts broke the rules for childrens writing by blurring traditional rules of right and wrong

Why the golden age

Books cheaper, less precious Smaller families Universal education for both genders Good authors Advances in printing technology a pleasurable alternatives to the "dull reality"


Nonsense! Foolishness!
Power of nonsense. Some books give readers credit for being able to discern what is appropriate and inappropriate. Understanding nonsense as nonsense is a fundamental critical skill.
We can laugh at foolishness without imitating it. The best books examine the boundaries.


Common situations for children in literature

Escaping danger Peter Rabbit (1902) By Beatrix Potter

Fighting for justice Charlottes Web (1952) By E. B. White


Trying to fit in Ramona the Pest (1968) By Beverly Cleary

Two terms for today

Didactic = oriented toward teaching Condescend = to look down on

To what extent does the author take on the same

questions s/he wishes the reader to consider?

The question in childrens literature is not usually

whether or not these exist, but to what extent they exist.

Adult authors often condescend to child readers (they look down on their readers)
The implication is that the writer/narrator knows

better than the reader. The story implies that to read correctly, readers will accept all words unquestioningly from the writer/narrator. Treats readers as inferior. The voice of the narrator may sound like a teacher, or parent talking to someone much younger who has trouble understanding.

What is childrens literature about?
To delight. To be enjoyed. To instruct. To teach. To help people learn.

Being didactic
When the main point is to teach a lesson rather

than to tell a story. Writers focus on making their views work out more than making the story consistent and developed.

Think about the narrative tone.

Is it didactic? Is it condescending?

What do you think came first in the

authors mind?
Write an interesting story. Write a story to teach a lesson.

What do you think?

What is the story about? Is the tone condescending? How didactic is it? (Is the purpose of the story

to teach a lesson?) If so, whats the lesson? What actions are considered right and wrong? What else is the story about?