The aim of this Critical Guide is to deepen understanding of individual children’s books, and of children’s literature as a whole, by examining the history of the form and, especially, the generic traditions that have emerged over the course of the last three hundred years. The idea is not that a great deal of detailed information about particular books or authors will be found here. Specific texts will certainly be discussed, often in some depth. But this short survey is primarily intended as an introduction to the subject, providing a sound foundation for further study. This is a book that explores how particular texts and authors fit into the wider pattern.
Each of the main chapters examines one of the major genres of children’s literature. These genres have existed since children’s literature was first established as a separate part of print culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and sometimes even before that. What a short study like this cannot do is to provide a complete account of children’s literature. After all, it is a vast subject: texts have been read by children from the very earliest periods of recorded history to today, across all continents and there are important genres besides those covered here. To attempt to consider all this would be preposterous – as preposterous as trying to cover all of ‘adult literature’ in a few dozen pages. Some limits, then, have been necessary. First, in general it is only the children’s books of Britain and North America that will be considered here. Occasionally, some authors from outside these geographical limits have been discussed – Jules