Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

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University of Chicago Press, Apr 1, 2009 - Literary Criticism - 396 pages

Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children’s literature. Children’s Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter.

The only single-volume work to capture the rich and diverse history of children’s literature in its full panorama, this extraordinary book reveals why J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and many others, despite their divergent styles and subject matter, have all resonated with generations of readers. Children’s Literature is an exhilarating quest across centuries, continents, and genres to discover how, and why, we first fall in love with the written word.

“Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre. . . . Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Lerer’s history reminds us of the wealth of literature written during the past 2,600 years. . . . With his vast and multidimensional knowledge of literature, he underscores the vital role it plays in forming a child’s imagination. We are made, he suggests, by the books we read.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer’s most interesting chapter focuses on girls’ fiction. . . . A brilliant series of readings.”—Diane Purkiss, Times Literary Supplement


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Eoin - LibraryThing

An excellent scholarly work on the subject. This book traces the idea of childhood through Western history (Ancient Greece to now) via selected literature read by those children. Engagingly written ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - soniaandree - LibraryThing

This is a chronological account of the development of the genre, with some thematic discussions and pointers as to the subjetcs raised on some key books. It was very useful as to the didacticism of ... Read full review


1 Speak Child
2 Ingenuity and Authority
3 Court Commerce and Cloister
4 From Alphabet to Elegy
5 Playthings of the Mind
6 Canoes and Cannibals
7 From Islands to Empires
11 Theaters of Girlhood
12 Pan in the Garden
13 Good Feeling
14 Keeping things Straight
15 Tap your Pencil on the Paper

8 On Beyond Darwin
9 IllTempered and Queer
10 Straw into Gold

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About the author (2009)

Seth Lerer is dean of arts and humanities at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of many books, including Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language, and the editor of several collections, including The Yale Companion to Chaucer.

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