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Children's Literature

M.O. Grenby

Hardback i (Printed to Order)
eBook (PDF) i

This critical guide provides a concise yet comprehensive history of British and North American children's literature from its seventeenth-century origins to the present day.

Each chapter focuses on one of the main genres of children's literature: fables, fantasy, adventure stories, moral tales, family stories, the school story, and poetry. M. O. Grenby shows how these forms have evolved over three hundred years as well as asking why most children's books, even today, continue to fall into one or other of these generic categories. Why, for instance, has fantasy been so appealing to both Victorian and twenty-first-century children? Are the religious and moral stories written in the eighteenth century really so different from the teenage problem novels of today? The book answers questions like these with a combination of detailed analysis of particular key texts and a broad survey of hundreds of children's books, both famous and forgotten.

Key Features

  • The first concise history of children's literature to be published for more than a decade
  • Extensive coverage of children's literature, across genres, continents and from the beginnings of the form to Harry Potter and Philip Pullman
  • Links close reading of texts with the historical and cultural context of their production and reception


Chapter 1: Fables
Definitions, early history and audience
The evolution of Aesop
Humanitarian and pantheistic fables
Dystopian and environmentalist fables
Political fables
Fables and race
Fables of personal fulfilment
Chapter 2: Poetry
Definitions and early history
Devotional, vernacular and cautionary verse
Nonsense and narrative verse
Sentimental cynicism
'Urchin verse'
Chapter 3: Moral and Instructive Tales
Realism and didacticism
The eighteenth-century moral tale
The modern moral tale
The moral tale in the nineteenth century
Chapter 4: The School Story
Definitions, national tradition and early history
The individual and the community
The school ethos
The politics of school: class and empire
The modern school story: challenging the conventions

Chapter 5: The Family Story
The instructive family
The imperialist family
The confining family
The political family
Non-traditional families
The vertical family
Chapter 6: Fantasy
Fantasy, reality and the interface between them
Fantasy, history, ideology
Fantasy and the politics of gender
Fantasy, freedom, order and empowerment
Fantasy, didacticism and the search for selfhood
Chapter 7: The Adventure Story
Definitions and blurred boundaries
The fantasy of empowerment
Adventure and Morality
Authenticity and Exoticism
The politics of adventure: gender and empire
Student Resources
Further Reading

About the Author

M. O. Grenby is Reader in Children's Literature in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Author of The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution (CUP, 2001) and editor, with Julia Briggs and Denis Butts, of A History of Popular Children's Literature (Ashgate Press, 2004).


A confident kaleidoscope of a book... Grenby is a world-class scholar of earlier children's literature—and it shows in the array of less familiar material on view—but that does not stop him taking on the moderns... We can only hope that copies of it will lodge in libraries everywhere to provide a sourcebook for students.
- Peter Hunt, Cardiff University, Modern Language Review
[Grenby] has devised a cunning circuit of discussion which aims to shed light on his subject through seven genres: fables, poetry, moral and instructive tales, the school story, the family story, fantasy, and the adventure story... Above all this though is the wisdom of Dr Grenby's Conclusion where he strikes a grand blow at the all-to-frequent belittlement of children's literature among the world in general.
- Children's Book History Society

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