The purpose of this book is to provide a very particular context for understanding the developments and shifting concerns of children's literature throughout its history. While children's texts will be considered within an historical context, the focus of this study will also consider the extent to which some children's texts contain an awareness of the implications of writing for children. Such a focus embraces a range of definitions of 'authorship', 'reading', 'the child' and 'the literary', which can be best understood by relating children's literature to a wider understanding of literary history as a whole.
There have already been a number of 'histories' of children's literature, notably Townsend's Written for Children (1976) and, more recently, Hunt's Introduction to Children's Literature (1994) and Children's Literature, An Illustrated History (1995), and this book is intended to complement these, rather than to offer another version of them. While such histories give a shape to the wide range of works available to children, and provide useful contextual information for those studying children's literature, their specialist focus reinforces the separateness of the texts considered from any notion of literary history as a whole. This will not, therefore, be an account of the wide range of children's books on offer, nor will it provide lists of texts according to the historical period in which they were first published. There is already a large area of scholarship devoted to investigating the roots of this prolific area of literary production, and many scholars provide critical readings of children's texts within an historical context. Again, the discussion in the pages that follow is intended to acknowledge the importance of that work and to frame the observations made in previous scholarship in order to relate children's literature to a wider understanding of literary history.