History of Children’s Literature

Sample Syllabus One for teaching with Crosscurrents of Children's Literature, Oxford University Press

This course traces the history of children’s literature in English from its beginnings through contemporary movements. It examines movements such as Romanticism, Rationalism and postmodernism as well as changing trends over the years.


Demers, Patricia. Heaven upon Earth: The Form of Moral and Religious Children's Literature to 1850. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Demers, Patricia, ed. From Instruction to Delight: An Anthology of Children’s Literature to 1850. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.

Dalby, Richard. The Golden Age of Children’s Book Illustration. New York: W. H. Smith Publishers, 1991.

Hunt, Peter. Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

Jackson, Mary V. Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin. “Essentials: What is Children’s Literature? What is Childhood?” Understanding Children’s Literature. Ed. Peter Hunt. New York: Routledge, 1999. 15-29.


Critical Review Paper:  This paper serves multiple purposes: first, to familiarize students with the journals that publish articles on children’s literature; second, to get students to begin to think about topics they find interesting in children’s literature; third, to have students begin thinking about their own assumptions regarding children and children’s literature. First, students will pick an author, book or topic in children’s literature that they would like to read about.  It can be a book read for class; however, it does not have to be. At this point, explain to the students whatever library resources are available that can help the students with this project. In the paper, the students will do three things. First, they will explain how they found their articles; then they will write a quick summary of the article.  The final part of the paper will focus on the students’ response. Students can focus on what aspects of the article were difficult to understand, and show exactly what was unclear. Students can choose to explain why they feel that the article is either right or wrong. Students can also choose to write about what they would do next if they wanted to continue researching this particular topic. 

Annotated Bibliography: Have the students choose one text that was read for class, and then search for every piece of critical material that they can find on the text. The students will write one-paragraph summaries of the articles that they found.  This can be used as a springboard for a later paper, or it can be an ending point itself as an exercise in research and learning the topics and issues in children’s literature. You may want to consider having the students give presentations on what they found, to expose the class to different aspects of children’s literature studies.

Fairy Tale Project: Students will choose one fairy tale, and find at three to five versions of it. They will then write a paper with three parts: first, they will introduce the time and place in which each version was produced. Then they will write about changes that have occurred across time and culture.  Finally, the students will spend time analyzing the cultural implications of the variations. The students don’t need sources other than the variants of the fairy tales, but if they want to use them, that is fine. Be sure to discuss dangers of oversimplifying the cultural significance of fairy-tale images before students complete this paper. SurLaLuneFairyTales.com by Heidi Anne Heiner is a great source for locating variants of classic fairy tales.

Response Papers: Either once a week or every other week the students will hand in a one-to-two-page response paper. In these papers the students will apply terms and concepts that have been discussed  in class. Students can have a lot of freedom in these responses–the purpose is to get them thinking about the texts that they are reading for class. For one example, they may compare a text read for class with a story they have encountered elsewhere. The goal here is to spend some time thinking about and working with the things we deal with in class. Bear in mind that “I like/I don’t like” are not valid responses in an academic setting.

Research paper:  Students will pick one text for a close reading. Students will need at least three sources besides the primary text; it may be important to make sure that they do not rely solely on web sites.


Week 1:  Introduction


Introduction to Part 1: “To Teach or Entertain?”

“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” C. S. Lewis

Week 2:  Introduction to  Oral Tradition

Introduction to Part 3, “Oral and Written Literary Traditions”

From The World of Storytelling Anne Pellowski

“How Spider Obtained the Sky-god’s Stories” Ashanti Tribe

From Aesop’s Fables “The Cat and Venus”… “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”

“John Henry”  African American Ballad

“How Tortoise Cracked His Shell” Chinua Achebe

“Munsmeg” Folktale

“Mutsmag” R. Rex Stephenson

Week 3:  Nursery Rhymes

“The Oral Tradition: Alive, Alive-oh” John Langstaff

From The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes Iona and Peter Opie

From An Appalachian Mother Goose James Still

Week 4:  Fairy Tales

“Reflections: The Uses of Enchantment” Bruno Bettelheim

“Reading Fairy Tales” Maria Tatar

“Little Red Riding-Hood,” “The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots,”

“Blue Beard” Charles Perrault

“Snow-white and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Rapunzel,” “The Water of Life” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

“Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper” Charles Perrault

“Ashputtle” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

“The Indian Cinderella” Cyrus Macmillan

“Cinderella: Saturday Afternoon at the Movies” Louise Bernikow

Week 5: Early Texts for Children

“Precepts, Pleasures and Portents: Changing Emphasis in Children’s Literature” Sheila Egoff

“The Relationship of Pictures and Words” Perry Nodelman

“Carius est nobis flagellari pro doctrina quam nescire” Aelfric

“The Shipwreck” Johan Amos Comenius

From A General History of Quadrupeds Thomas Bewick

From A History of British Birds, Vol 1 Thomas Bewick

From A History of British Birds, Vol 2 Thomas Bewick

Week 6:  The Enlightenment

“Of the Danger of Pleasure” John Huddlestone Wynne

“On The Care Which is Requisite in the Choice of Books for Children” Sarah Trimmer

“Against Idleness and Mischief,” “The Sluggard,” “Obedience to Parents” Issac Watts

“The Purple Jar,” “The Birthday Present” Maria Edgeworth

“The Old man’s Comforts and how he Gained Them” Robert Southey

Week 7: Romanticism, or The Golden Age of Children’s Literature

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” William Wordsworth

From Alice’s Adventure’s In Wonderland Lewis Carroll

“The Sad Tale of the Matchbox” Heinrich Hoffman

From A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The Owl and the Pussycat,” “The Broom, the Shovel, the Poker, and the Tongs,” There was an Old Man with a Beard,”  “There was an Old Man of Bohemia,” “There was a Young Lady Whose Nose” Edward Lear

From Caldecott & Co: Notes on Books and Pictures Maurice Sendak 

Week 8: Gendered Books

Intro to part 5: Boys' Books and Girls' Books

“‘As the Twig is Bent…’ Gender and Childhood Reading” Elizabeth Segel

“Review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” William Dean Howells

“Huck, Continued” E. L. Doctorow and David Bradley

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 12, “Tom Shows His Generosity” Mark Twain

From Little Women “Jo Meets Apollyon” Louisa May Alcott

From Anne of Green Gables Chapter 10 “Anne’s Apology” Lucy Maude Montgomery

Week 9: Fantasy

“Fantasy” C. W. Sullivan

“Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Liking and Not Liking Fantasy” Perry Nodelman

From The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum

From The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

Week 10: Mysteries and Series Books

“A Little Ghostly History” Leslie McFarlane

“Keeping Nancy Drew Alive” Sara Paretsky

From The Tower Treasure Franklin W. Dixon

From The Secret of the Old Clock Carolyn Keene

Week 11: 20th-Century Didacticism

“Didacticism in Modern Dress” John Rowe Townsend

“Little Angels, Little Monsters: Keeping Childhood Innocent” Marina Warner

From The Saturdays Elizabeth Enright 

From Ramona the Pest, Chapter 1 “Ramona’s Great Day” Beverly Cleary

From Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Trusting the Words” Michael Dorris

Week 12: Multiculturalism, Part 1

“Insiders, Outsiders and the Question of Authenticity: Who Shall Write for African American Children?”  Nina Mikkelsen

From New Boy in School May Justice

From Nobody’s Family is Going to Change Louise Fitzhugh

Week 13: Multiculturalism, Part 2

“Is that Book Politically Correct? Truth and Trends in Historical Literature for Young People” Hazel Rochman, Masha Kabakow, Diane Stanley

From The Birchbark House Louise Erdrich

“Discovery and Recovery in Children’s Novels by Native Writers” Jon Stott

Week 14: Realism

“Realism and Children’s Literature:  Notes from a Historical Perspective” Elizabeth Segel

From Forever… A Novel Judy Blume

From The Man Without a Face Isabelle Holland

From The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Christopher Paul Curtis

Week 15: Politics and Recent Trends

“Teaching Banned Children’s Books” Mark I. West

From Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

From A Wreath for Emmett Till Marilyn Nelson

From Be Careful What You Wish For… R. L. Stine

Return to list of sample syllabi

Sample syllabus prepared by Melody Green

Contact Tina L. Hanlon with questions or comments on this site.

Updated: August 16, 2010   |   Return to Home Page: Crosscurrents of Children's Literature