Literature for children
Literature for children, a special branch of creative writing that is geared to young readers, ranging from the preschool age to the teenage years. The literature consists of almost every genre used in adult literature: novels, plays, biographies, poetry, collections of folk tales, and informative works on the arts, science, and social affairs. These works for children are written expressly at their level, and they are designed and illustrated to capture the imagination of young readers. Some books that were written for adults have taken on the status of children's literature because of their popularity with young people. Among these are the collection of folk tales assembled by the brothers Grimm (Grimm's Fairy Tales), Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (and to a lesser extent Huckleberry Finn), Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Also, many adult works have been adapted for children in different versions, for example, the ever-popuar story of King Arthur and his knights, from Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur. Adults, of course, have told stories to children from time immemorial. It must be remembered that before the invention of printing in Europe (around the mid-1500s), there was little literacy in the general population. The ability to read was confined largely to the clergy and the nobility. Moreover, books were copied out laboriously by hand and were much prized by the few who could afford them or use them. Children's literature, under those circumstances, was, like the literature of the general public, based on an oral tradition, which consisted for the most part of myths, fables, ballads, and poems. Some early books for children were produced, but they were primarily instructional in nature. Saint Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, is thought to have written the first such text for children in English sometime during the A.D. 600s. It was written in catechism style, that is question and answer, and that format for children's instructional and devotional texts remained popular for the next 1,000 years. The first recognized classic of children's literature appeared in France in 1697, a book of eight tales collected by Charles Perrault entitled Stories and Tales of Times Past with Morals; or, Tales of Mother Goose. In England, in 1744, John Newbury published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, one of the first children's books designed primarily to amuse rather than to educate. Newbury was also one of the first important publishers of children's books.
During the 1800s, publishing and writing for children became a distinct branch of literature. Also at that time, illustration developed as a major feature of books for children, as exemplified by John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It was the 20th century that saw an explosive growth in children's books. The picture book, a book where illustrations carry the story and interest as much as the text, developed in the 20th century. Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901) is the first of this genre. Books are now available for almost every stage of childhood, covering almost every possible subject. Fantasy and adventure are always popular, but children's books today deal with social problems (race, drugs, sex) as well as with history and biography. Children's books are now available in all formats and price ranges, and they are very much a part of growing up in the modern world.