The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature


Dig into almost 2,000 entries in this bulging resource, where Anne of Green Gables rubs elbows with the Lord of the Rings, Mother Goose with Punch and Judy, Hans Christian Andersen with Christina Rossetti, and Maurice Sendak with Kate Greenaway. It's thorough -- and indispensable for teachers, librarians, and parents.


In November 1958 Iona and Peter Opie proposed to their publishers, the Oxford University Press, a work to follow their book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, which was then complete and due out the following year. Their first work for the Press, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, had been published seven years earlier, and their house already contained a rich collection of children's books, begun in 1945 when their eldest child was a year old and Peter Opie bought, a little guiltily because it was not relevant to the task in hand, a chapbook called The Cheerful Warbler. Now, since their chosen subject of study was the whole of childhood, and not just its folklore, they wanted to turn to its literature.

Taking as their model Harvey Oxford Companion to English Literature, the Opies proposed a reference book dealing equally with both English and American children's books and authors, and including articles on traditional materials, illustrators, characters from cartoons, films, radio and television, and the recurrent subjects of children's reading-matter. 'In short,' they wrote, 'it is proposed that this work should be a true companion to children's literature, and that its wide scope would also make it an interesting and entertaining book in itself, for it would contain much out-of-the-way information on juvenile pursuits and the lore of childhood.'

The response from the Press was comparatively cool. An alternative suggestion by the Opies, for a book on children's games (a subject set aside during their work on Lore and Language as deserving independent treatment), was thought to be more likely to win readers, and so the Opies pressed on with folklore, leaving the Companion to Children's Literature as a possible project for the more distant future.

During the twenty or so years that followed, the status of children's literature as a subject changed dramatically. From being the concern of a few brave individuals, who were often on the defensive against charges of triviality and were as likely to be collectors as critics, children's books became the focus of countless courses, conferences, centres of study, and works of scholarship. It might be said that the subject reached maturity. In the late 1970s the Oxford University Press and the Opies looked again at the notion of publishing a Companion to Children's Literature, and it was concluded that the time for it had certainly arrived. But by then the Opies were fully committed to other projects, and, after various forms of collaboration with other authors or researchers had been considered and rejected as impractical, the proposed book passed, with the Opies' most generous blessing, into our hands.

A part of our inheritance from the Opies was their assumption that the book should, like most Oxford Companions, be written entirely by its compilers, and should not be made up of contributions by a large number of hands: and so it has remained. Naturally such a form of authorship, for a subject so large, has . . .

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