American Children's Literature


Figure 1.--The cover of "Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney" was done by Bill Dodge (1996). The adventure of the book takes place along the Hudson River during World War I. The baseball bats, flat caps, and knickers seem very American. The strong sure fire challenge of the boy prodding his finger into the chest of the defiant though glum looking smaller boy is wonderfully portrayed by the artist. It superbly counteracts the confident expression of the boy in the blue shirt. Their postures are strong and independent. Both are prepared to stand their ground. Ethnic stories have become very popular in America.

We have just vegun to assess American children's lirerature. Early books for children consisted of narratives-fiction as well as non-fiction-pre-dated dime novels. Well before the Civil War, magazines for children offered heavily moralistic stories and features on history as well as current events, natural history, and other topics. The Civil War inspired northern writers for children, especially, to focus even more on exciting stories of adventure and peril, although the old values and standards were often conspicuously and tediously present. After the War there were many periodicals, the most famous was St. Nicholas Magazine.

Authors

An early American children's author was Palmer Cox (1840-1924). Compiling a list of children's books is a little complicated because some authors originally seen as serious adult authors are now seen primarily as authors of children's books. The best example here was Frances Hodgsen Burnett, who wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy. Other early writers are seen as writing both both children's and adult books. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is much more suitable for children than adults. His The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a very different book. It can be read on one level by children. It is in fact a deeply thoughtful adult book, considered by many the greatest American novel. Louisa May Alcott is another important author of children's books. She is best known for Littkle Women and read primarily by girls, but she also wrote Little Men. Pergaps the most poular American children's author at the turn of the 20th century was L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizzard of Oz.

Chronology

Children's narratives-fiction as well as non-fiction-pre-dated dime novels. Well before the Civil War, magazines for children offered heavily moralistic stories and features on history as well as current events, natural history, and other topics. The Civil War inspired northern writers for children, especially, to focus even more on exciting stories of adventure and peril, although the old values and standards were often conspicuously and tediously present. The leading producer of this guns and bugles genre of juvenile literature was Oliver Optic (William Adams), who wrote a number of books during the Civil War, including the Army and Navy Trilogies (which were republished late in the century), and edited the Student and Schoolmate magazine. There were some popular monthly publications with stories by a vaiety of authors. I'm not familiar with annuals which were popular in America. There was a condsiderable differnce with Bitish children's literature. The school stories set n exclusiv private schools seem to have been less common in America. There were notable changes in children's literature after World War II. Children's books by the 1960s began to address more realistically problem of childhood.

Types of Children's Literature

We also note different kind of publications. There were monthlys publications which might combine stories, comics, and activity suggestions. We notice a variety of individual fiction and non- publications. Adventure stories set in the Old West were very popular through the 1940s. Sports were a popular subject. Ethnic stories have become very popular in America. Unlike Britain, school does not appear to have been a common subject. There were many non-fiction books on an increasingly wide range of subjects. There were many multiple-volume productions, and many serialized stories that appeared in children's magazines were, later, published as novels. We are just beginning to acaquire information on American children's periodicals. There were such publications well before the Civil War. We remember reading a series of American primary school books called The Wide Range Readers with child charactors named Dick and Dora, a dog called Nip and a cat called Fluff, Jack' a boy of the 1950s, 60s or 1970s.

Illustrators

Major advances in color lithography were made in the late 19th century which by the turn of the 20th century had made color plates in children's books economically feasible. American children's books were considerably enlivened with the appearance in the early 20th century of a remarkable number of brilliant illustrators, including many women.

International Marketing

Some children's literature is old all over the world. Other children's literature has a more limited national market. We do not yet fully understand the reasons behind this. We have begun to assess the marketing the export of French literature, especially the limited distribution in America and Britain. We hope to eventually expand this assessment.







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Created: May 20, 2002
Last updated: 6:26 AM 9/2/2004