Posted by: eheino | November 22, 2013

What is Children’s Literature?

The definition of ‘children’s literature’ is widely contested. Some argue that there is no such thing as children’s literature, as all literature can be read by all people, and books shouldn’t be limited to certain age ranges. I can see their point, as many advanced children can read and understand concepts well beyond their years, and some ‘children’s books’ can be equally appreciated by adults. However I think there is still a need for a classification system, even if the lines are a little blurry. Here’s why: Although some children and young adults may be capable of reading well beyond their years, some themes are not appropriate for them. For example, it isn’t appropriate or necessary for children/tweens to be reading graphic sex, violence or drug scenes just because they are capable of reading the words. Maturity needs to come into it. I think by classifying books as children’s, young adult, or adult literature, it gives parents, teachers and students an idea about what to expect inside the book, and gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision.

I was asked what the key elements of any definition of children’s literature should be.I basically agree with Saxby (1987) who says: “When the image or metaphor is within a child’s range of sensory, emotional, cognitive and moral experience and is expressed in linguistic terms that can be apprehended and comprehended by young readers, a book becomes classed as a children’s one.” I think that primary school libraries should include a selection of young adult/adult literature in their collections as well to accommodate more advanced readers and thinkers, as long as the content is appropriate for their maturity. I think this is the key rather than removing the distinction between the genres. Children’s literature that can also be appreciated by adults, or that adults would get more from than children, should be promoted for an adult audience as well so that they don’t miss out on what could be an enlightening or enjoyable experience.

The next question is, are all children’s books children’s literature? What is literature? This one I’m not sure about at the moment. Some argue that all books are literature, and some argue that only quality stories should be included under this umbrella. At the moment I lean more towards literature being a more exclusive group of books that force children to think more deeply, that take them on a journey. Or perhaps literature is something of cultural significance, that paints a picture of the times/times gone by.  (Cairney, 1994; Otley, 1992)These are important points, and certainly many of the best titles in children’s literature do these things. But should other texts be excluded? I’m not sure yet. Perhaps this subject will help me decide.


Cairney, T.H. (1994). Literacy acquisition and literature: Teaching and learning. Teacher and Librarian, (115), 6-7, 13

Otley, C. (1992). What is children’s literature? Unpublished manuscript,  CSU Wagga Wagga.

Saxby, M. (1987). The gift of wings:  The value of literature to children. In Saxby, G. & Winch, G. (Eds.), Give them wings: The experience of children’s literature, (p. 4). Melbourne: Macmillan.


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