Keywords for Children's Literature

Keywords for Children's Literature

Keywords for Children's Literature

Keywords for Children's Literature

Excerpt

Since about 1970, scholarship in children’s literature has brought together people from the fields of literature, education, library and information science, cultural studies, and media studies. “Children’s literature” itself has become a kind of umbrella term encompassing a wide range of disciplines, genres, and media. One of the challenges of children’s literature studies is that scholars from disparate disciplines use the same terms in different ways. As a result, meanings can be blurred and cross-disciplinary conversations confused. Drawing on the expertise of scholars in many fields, Keywords for Children’s Literature responds to the need for a shared vocabulary by mapping the history of key terms and explaining how they came to be used in conflicted ways.

As Beverly Lyon Clark points out in Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America (2003), the (often male) “professoriate” in English literature departments treated librarians “more as handmaidens than as fellow scholars.”Academics working in education and schoolteachers working with children were regarded with equal suspicion. Yet viable critical vocabularies—including words and phrases such as “postmodern,” “censorship,” “reading,” “liminality,” and “young adult”—were being put into use in several disciplines. Separate vocabularies were also developing in other fields that intersect with children’s literature, including American studies (from the 1950s on), cultural studies (from the 1960s on), and African-American studies and women’s studies (from the 1970s on). The canon-expanding efforts of both cultural studies and feminism were especially influential in bringing terms such as “modernism,” “gender,” “ideology,” and “body” into scholarly conversations about children’s literature and culture.

In Keywords for Children’s Literature, we consciously sought scholars from many disciplines and encouraged them, all experts in their own fields, to move into often-unfamiliar territory and explore their words in other disciplinary contexts. As with all evolving things, individual keywords enter the lexicon and slip away, and we have encouraged authors to follow the growth patterns of their words. In the spirit of Raymond Williams’s original Keywords (1976/1983a), our book is a snapshot of a vocabulary that is changing, expanding, and ever unfinished.

”Keywords” itself is a case in point. Its definition depends on the discipline. For librarians, a “keyword” is a search term that identifies the main content of a document. For educators, it means a high-frequency word. In 1964, Ladybird Books in England launched the “Key Words Reading Scheme” book series, based on the premise that just twelve words make up 25 percent of the words we speak. The books, say the editors, introduce children “to the most commonly used words in the English language (Key Words), plus additional words necessary to tell the story.” (Forty years later, the Key Words reading series is still in print and . . .

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