Several things make children’s literature unique among the many branches of academic literary study. First, as is often pointed out, it is the only category of literature that is defined in terms of its intended readership. Canadian literature, for instance, does not consist of all, or only, books read by Canadians. And crime fiction, to take another example, is not defined as those novels read by criminals. But children’s literature is not children’s literature because it is written by children, nor because it is about children, but only because of who it was ostensibly written for. This is connected with a second peculiar characteristic of children’s books: that the intended audience is seldom actively involved in studying it academically. If we attempt to view books through children’s eyes, or try to analyse texts on their behalf, we must remain aware that this is at best a kind of ventriloquism. Perhaps, as some critics suggest, we should acknowledge that children’s books never really become the cultural property of children at all: they are written by adults, to suit adult purposes, and for kinds of children that adults construct to be the perfect readers of their books. If this is the case, there is no inconsistency whatsoever in adult critics discussing children’s books, on their own terms, and without the least reference to any real children.
Another important difference between children’s literature and the main body of literary studies is the condescension, even disdain, with which it has sometimes been greeted. Sustained study of