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Children's literature and theory

Lesnik-Oberstein, K. ORCID: (2023) Children's literature and theory. In: Wesseling, L., Nelson, C. and Wu, A. (eds.) Routledge Companion to Children’s Literature and Culture. Routledge, London. (In Press)

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At first sight, children’s literature and what is broadly called “theory” are often assumed to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with children’s literature being seen as accessible, simple, easy, and clear and theory as inaccessible, complex, difficult, and obscure. But as this chapter will explain, this first impression is deceiving, as from its earliest origins children’s literature has in fact been the topic of extensive theoretical discussion and debate, while theory in turn has been affected by the issues raised by children’s literature. The key reason for this interconnection is that children’s literature is a genre almost always written, published, marketed, and sold by adults for and often about children. This means that issues of power and of “otherness” are intrinsically embedded in this field: how and why do adults write for child readers? Usually, this is asserted to happen through adult authors either remembering their own childhoods or through a knowledge of children gathered from the authors’ experiences and observations. But such “common sense” assertions often turn out to lead after all to different ideas of childhood and literature, resulting in different ways of writing, marketing, and selling – and researching and teaching – children’s literature, as this chapter will explore. Our consideration, then, will be what “theory” is for or about, especially but not only in relation to children’s literature. In this sense, “theory” in this chapter is understood from the perspective of literary and critical theory, not from the perspective of some social scientists who would rather define it as a set of universalizing tenets based on empirical evidence, that have passed critical experimenting and testing. The specific reasons for choosing to focus on “theory” from the literary and critical perspectives is because these have specific relevance for issues in children’s literature (criticism), including in fact in relation to social science research in these areas, as will be explained also in this chapter further.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood (CIRCL)
ID Code:108244
Uncontrolled Keywords:children's literature; literary theory; critical theory; childhood; gender; race

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