Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Lerer’s Olympian survey of more than 2,000 years leaves the reader with a stimulating vision of history. . . . His narrative swells and ebbs like a symphony. . . . To find Pilgrim's Progress and Weetzie Bat in a single volume is itself a pleasure.”

— Michael Sims

BBC History Magazine
Lerer has so many unusual insights, and illuminating observations that anyone who loved reading as a child will find his book utterly absorbing.

— Christina Hardyment

New York Sun
There is hardly a children’s classic, from Robinson Crusoe to Where the Wild Things Are to pop-up books, which [Lerer] does not discuss with sympathy and wit.—Eric Ormsby, New York Sun

 

 

— Eric Ormsby

Times Literary Supplement
“There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer’s most interesting chapter focuses on girls’ fiction. In a brilliant series of readings, he uncovers a preoccupation with theatricality in classic fiction for girls, from the melodramatic conduct of Anne of Green Gables to Jo March’s career as dramatist.”

— Diane Purkiss

Sunday Telegraph
A history of children's literature is . . . a history of literature itself and Seth Lerer, by training a medieval philologist like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, has written a very good one.”

— Jonathan Bate

New Haven Review
It's a thick scholarly tome, but also a charming read that revels in children's imaginations and the timeless works that stimulate them. . . . The book's main attraction is its obvious delight in the subject matter: Lerer perfectly captures the love of literature that follows a voracious child reader into adulthood.

— Rachael Scarborough King

Michael Sims
Lerer's Olympian survey of more than 2,000 years leaves the reader with a stimulating vision of history. The book feels unhurried, but somehow he recounts those busy millennia in only 300-plus pages of text. His narrative swells and ebbs like a symphony. Themes are stated early in a chapter; they build and intertwine to end satisfyingly in a return to the opening chord. Concentrating on Western traditions, he ranges from Aesop's sly anti-authority bias to the definition of a "real boy" in Pinocchio to Czech pop-up books after World War II. To find Pilgrim's Progress and Weetzie Bat in a single volume is itself a pleasure.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Apropos of his subject matter, Lerer (English & comparative literature, Stanford; Inventing English) 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, from Aesop to the present. Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull. He asks important questions about writers' intentions and readers' reactions, about why some texts endure and others do not, about the influence of science and religion on children's literature, and even about the impact of libraries and literary prizes upon the genre. He traces the lineage from fairy tales to Philip Pullman, from comic books to anime, analyzing the appeal of the various forms of children's literature, the cultural forces that mold it, and its transformative effect on anyone who has ever been a child. Essential for academic libraries; highly recommended for public libraries.
—Alison M. Lewis

San Francisco Chronicle

“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.”

MLR

"Children''s Literature will make many people reconsider, re-evaluate, and perhaps re-engage with the body of writing that has been generated for the young over the centuries. . . . A well-written and entertaining book."

— Kimberley Reynolds

Washington Post Book World - Michael Sims

“Lerer’s Olympian survey of more than 2,000 years leaves the reader with a stimulating vision of history. . . . His narrative swells and ebbs like a symphony. . . . To find Pilgrim's Progress and Weetzie Bat in a single volume is itself a pleasure.”

New York Sun - Eric Ormsby

“There is hardly a children’s classic, from Robinson Crusoe to Where the Wild Things Are to pop-up books, which [Lerer] does not discuss with sympathy and wit.”
 
 

Times Literary Supplement - Diane Purkiss

“There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer’s most interesting chapter focuses on girls’ fiction. In a brilliant series of readings, he uncovers a preoccupation with theatricality in classic fiction for girls, from the melodramatic conduct of Anne of Green Gables to Jo March’s career as dramatist.”
Sunday Telegraph - Jonathan Bate

“A history of children's literature is . . . a history of literature itself and Seth Lerer, by training a medieval philologist like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, has written a very good one.”
Ellen Handler Spitz

“A dazzling cornucopia of erudition and originality on a subject of grave concern in twenty-first century U.S. education and culture. Every page of Seth Lerer’s brilliant book reminds us of the supreme and enduring value of childhood reading. This volume deserves the attention of all who care about the shaping of lives—educators on all levels, policy makers, psychologists, and parents, as well as scholars. Lerer writes that children's literature is meant ‘docere et delectare’ (to instruct and to delight), and this is precisely what he himself has done in this fascinating book.”
Katie Trumpener

“A wonderful book, with remarkable temporal breadth in its vision of the children’s tradition. Highly effective as a work of synthesis, yet with many, many moments of originality and surprise, even for expert readers. Anyone engaged (whether as scholar, educator, even ‘simply’ as parent) with the psychic life of children will have much to learn from Lerer’s account.”
Maria Tatar

“A breathtakingly powerful and complex history of children’s literature that energizes rather than depletes. Lerer gives us the facts, but he also weaves experiences and stories into an account that moves in registers ranging from the ecstatic to the elegiac. An ideal guide for students new to the field of children’s literature as well as for scholars familiar with the territory.”
Jack Zipes

“Seth Lerer’s Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter is unique in its method, depth, and breadth. Lerer’s comprehensive knowledge of ancient and medieval literature serves him well, for he has a singular understanding of how vernacular literature originated and informed literature for children and adults and how children’s literature informed the construction of both childhood and adult readers. It is a joy to read his study because one can sense a serious and sensitive mind at work, seeking to chart a new path through the history of children’s literature. Lerer mixes his personal reading experience with an astute scholarly appreciation of literary reception, and the result is an original study that will contribute to a greater awareness of the profundity of children’s literature.”
New Haven Review - Rachael Scarborough King

"It's a thick scholarly tome, but also a charming read that revels in children's imaginations and the timeless works that stimulate them. . . . The book's main attraction is its obvious delight in the subject matter: Lerer perfectly captures the love of literature that follows a voracious child reader into adulthood."
BBC History Magazine - Christina Hardyment

"Lerer has so many unusual insights, and illuminating observations that anyone who loved reading as a child will find his book utterly absorbing."
MLR - Kimberley Reynolds

"Children's Literature will make many people reconsider, re-evaluate, and perhaps re-engage with the body of writing that has been generated for the young over the centuries. . . . A well-written and entertaining book."
Choice

"Splendidly well written, and both wide-ranging and comprehensive."
International Research in Children’s Literature

“Lerer makes some smart, timely arguments. Opening up a too-constricted definition of children’s literature is a crucial corrective;

anyone who studies children before the twentieth century already knows that children read and were influenced by far more than so-called children’s books. It is high time that children’s literary histories acknowledged and analyzed those materials.”

International Reserach in Children's Literature
"Lerer makes some smart, timely arguments. Opening up a too-constricted definition of children's literature is a crucial corrective;
anyone who studies children before the twentieth century already knows that children read and were influenced by far more than so-called children's books. It is high time that children's literary histories acknowledged and analyzed those materials."-International Research in Children's Literature
Choice

"Splendidly well written, and both wide-ranging and comprehensive."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226473000
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 396
  • Sales rank: 1,256,203
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Introduction 1

Toward a New History of Children's Literature

1 Speak, Child 17

Children's Literature in Classical Antiquity

2 Ingenuity and Authority 35

Aesop's Fables and Their Afterlives

3 Court, Commerce, and Cloister 57

The Literatures of Medieval Childhood

4 From Alphabet to Elegy 81

The Puritan Impact on Children's Literature

5 Playthings of the Mind 104

John Locke and Children's Literature

6 Canoes and Cannibals 129

Robinson Crusoe and Its Legacies

7 From Islands to Empires 151

Storytelling for a Boy's World

8 On Beyond Darwin 172

From Kingsley to Seuss

9 Ill-Tempered and Queer 190

Sense and Nonsense, from Victorian to Modern

10 Straw Into Gold 209

Fairy-Tale Philology

11 Theaters of Girlhood 228

Domesticity, Desire, and Performance in Female Fiction

12 Pan in the Garden 252

The Edwardian Turn in Children's Literature

13 Good Feeling 274

Prizes, Libraries, and the Institutions of American Children's Literature

14 Keeping Things Straight 288

Style and the Child

15 Tap Your Pencil on the Paper 305

Children's Literature in an Ironic Age

Epilogue Children's Literature and the History of the Book 320

Acknowledgments 333

Notes 337

Index 377

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 20, 2014

    This book is excellent... informed, interesting, well-written, a

    This book is excellent... informed, interesting, well-written, and insightful. One of the very few comprehensive overviews of children's literature.d 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2014

    Elizabeth

    I AM THE FIRST TO WRITE A REVIEW!!!!!!! But its a REALLY bad book!:(

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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