Children's Literature Timeline Literature for Children A Essay

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Children's Literature Timeline


Charles Perrault. Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe: Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oie. (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose.) France.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Kinder- und Haus-marchen. (Children's and Household Tales.) Germany.

Hans Christian Andersen. Eventyr Fortalte For Born (Fairy Tales Told To Children.) First and Second Volumes. Denmark.

Heinrich Hoffmann, Struwwelpeter (Shock-Headed Peter). Germany.

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Britain.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women. U.S.A.

Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. U.S.A.

Carlo Collodi. Le Avventure di Pinocchio. (The Adventures of Pinocchio.) Italy.

1900. L. Frank Baum. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. U.S.A.

1926. A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh. Britain.

1937. J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit. Britain.

1944. Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Langstrump. (Pippi Longstocking.). Sweden.

1952. E.B. White. Charlotte's Web. U.S.A.

1957. Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat. U.S.A.

1963. Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are. U.S.A.

1964. Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Britain.

1970. Judy Blume. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. U.S.A.

1976. Mildred D. Taylor. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. U.S.A.

1997. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Britain.

2005. Stephenie Meyer. Twilight.

Any timeline of western children's literature is obliged to be selective. Because so much of children's literature derives from the tradition of folktales and folklore, it derives from unwritten forms of storytelling, and in many places and cultures stories for children remain unwritten. Folktales tend to be dramatic, with clear-cut morality and little in the way of deep characterization, and are generally located in far-off fictional kingdoms. Their stories downplay sex or complicated relationships, and instead offer a form of narrative which is at once mythic and archetypal, while at the same time remaining suitable for young readers. I have begun my own timeline with the two magisterial collections of children's fairy-tales -- the first in France by Charles Perrault in 1697, the other in Germany by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm -- that represent the emergence of a modern children's literature out of the folk tradition of oral storytelling. To this day many parents will tell their kids their own versions of some of the tales collected by these men: we have Perrault to thank for "Little Red Riding Hood," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Cinderella" (among many others) while the Grimms collected German versions of those three, in addition to other classics like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Rapunzel," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Rumplestiltskin." The publication of Perrault's collection came over a century before the Grimms', but the Grimms took an academic and antiquarian approach to their material, making note of which tales they recorded had already been recorded by others (uncluding Perrault). The timeline given does not genuinely mean that there was no literature for children before Perrault -- it was simply not "literature" per se, it was folklore or tales.

But to look at reactions in the wake of the publication of the Grimm's collection, we can see an interesting trend taking place. Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark would go on to produce numerous volumes of folktales not unlike the Grimms -- Andersen's collections offer such famous folktales as "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Little Mermaid," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Ugly Duckling" -- which the reader might well have assumed were collected like the Grimms' or Perrault's, but which were in fact invented by Andersen on the model of existing fairy-tales. Andersen to some degree represents the imitative response to the collected folktales of the Grimms; I have included Heinrich Hoffmann's notorious Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter or Shock-headed Peter) in order to recall the way in which children's literature was often more broadly conceived: as manuals of strict moral instruction, issuing dire warnings to small children about the potentially disastrous or fatal consequences of their misbehavior. The title character is merely an insufficiently tidy boy -- but soon he will become filthy, with long overgrown fingernails and a wild mane of hair. Hoffmann gives obviously moralistic lessons intended to improve children's behavior, often with a gruesome warning -- Little Johnny Suck-A-Thumb in Hoffman's book will end up having his thumbs cut off.

If Hoffmann's work sounds both moralistic and bizarre, it is. I do not include it as a model of "good" children's literature but rather because it represents so often the things that adults believe children's literature needs to be: morally…[continue]

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