Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

Synopsis

Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children's literature. Children's Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop's fables to Mother Goose, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter.

The only single-volume work to capture the rich and diverse history of children's literature in its full panorama, this extraordinary book reveals why J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and many others, despite their divergent styles and subject matter, have all resonated with generations of readers. Children's Literature is an exhilarating quest across centuries, continents, and genres to discover how, and why, we first fall in love with the written word.

"Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children's literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre.... Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull."- Library Journal (starred review)

"Lerer's history reminds us of the wealth of literature written during the past 2,600 years.... With his vast and multidimensional knowledge of literature, he underscores the vital role it plays in forming a child's imagination. We are made, he suggests, by the books we read."- San Francisco Chronicle

"There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer's most interesting chapter focuses on girls' fiction.... A brilliant series of readings."- Diane Purkiss, Times Literary Supplement

Excerpt

Ever since there were children, there has been children's literature. Long before John Newbery established the first press devoted to children's books, stories were told and written for the young, and books originally offered to mature readers were carefully recast or excerpted for youthful audiences. Greek and Roman educational traditions grounded themselves in reading and reciting poetry and drama. Aesop's fables lived for two millennia on classroom and family shelves. And thinkers from Quintilian to John Locke, from St. Augustine to Dr. Seuss, speculated on the ways in which we learn about our language and our lives from literature.

The history of children's literature is inseparable from the history of childhood, for the child was made through texts and tales he or she studied, heard, and told back. Learning how to read is a lifetime, and lifedefining, experience. “We can remember,” writes Francis Spufford in his exquisite memoir The Child That Books Built, “readings that acted like transformations. There were times when a particular book, like a seed crystal, dropped into our minds when they were exactly ready for it, like a supersaturated solution, and suddenly we changed.” Mine is a book about such transformations. It offers more than just a chronicle of forms of fiction or the arts of illustration. It charts the makings of the literate imagination. It shows children finding worlds within the book and books in the world. It addresses the changing environments of family life and human growth, schooling and scholarship, publishing and publicity in which children—at times suddenly, at times subtly—found themselves changed by literature. Mine is, therefore, a reader's history of children's literature: a study of the figurations of the reading child from antiquity . . .

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