Children's Literature

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children's literature,

writing whose primary audience is children.

See also children's book illustrationchildren's book illustration,
any type of picture or decorative work produced for books specifically intended for a youthful audience. Beginnings of a Genre

Among the first picture books produced in the West and intended for children is Comenius's
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The Beginnings of Children's Literature

The earliest of what came to be regarded as children's literature was first meant for adults. Among this ancient body of oral literature were myths and legends created to explain the natural phenomena of night and day and the changing seasons. Ballads, sagas, and epic tales were told by the fireside or in courts to an audience of adults and children eager to hear of the adventures of heroes. Many of these tales were later written down and are enjoyed by children today.

The first literature written specifically for children was intended to instruct them. During the Middle Ages the Venerable BedeBede, Saint
, or Baeda
(St. Bede the Venerable), 673?–735, English historian and Benedictine monk, Doctor of the Church, also called the Venerable Bede. He spent his whole life at the monasteries of Wearmouth (at Sunderland) and Jarrow and became probably the
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, Aelfric, St. AldhelmAldhelm, Saint
, 639?–709, English churchman and scholar. He was abbot of Malmesbury (from 675) and became the first bishop of Sherborne (705). A distinguished student of the classics whose own Latin prose style was widely imitated, he was also a skilled musician and wrote
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, and St. AnselmAnselm, Saint
, 1033?–1109, prelate in Normandy and England, archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church (1720), b. Aosta, Piedmont. After a carefree youth of travel and schooling in Burgundy he became a disciple and companion of Lanfranc, the famed theologian and prior
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 all wrote school texts in Latin, some of which were later used in schools in England and colonial America. More enjoyable and enduring fare came later when William CaxtonCaxton, William,
c.1421–91, English printer, the first to print books in English. He served apprenticeship as a mercer and from 1463 to 1469 was at Bruges as governor of the Merchants Adventurers in the Low Countries, serving as a diplomat for the English king.
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, England's first printer, published Aesop's Fables (1484) and Sir Thomas MaloryMalory, Sir Thomas
, d. 1471, English author of Morte d'Arthur. It is almost certain that he was Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revell, Warwickshire. Knighted in 1442, he served in the parliament of 1445.
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's Morte d'Arthur (1485). The hornbookhornbook,
primer of a kind in use from the 15th to the 18th cent. On one side of a sheet of parchment or paper the matter to be learned was written or printed; over the sheet, for its protection, a transparent sheet of horn was placed; and the two were fastened to a thin board,
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, invented at the end of the 15th cent., taught children the alphabet, numerals, and the Lord's Prayer. Alphabet books were popular in battledores, a paddle similar to a hornbook, and in chapbookchapbook,
one of the pamphlets formerly sold in Europe and America by itinerant agents, or "chapmen." Chapbooks were inexpensive—in England often costing only a penny—and, like the broadside, they were usually anonymous and undated.
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 form. The New England Primer (1689), the first children's book published in the American colonies, taught the alphabet along with prayers and religious exhortations.

The first distinctly juvenile literature in England and the United States consisted of gloomy and pious tales—mostly recounting the deaths of sanctimonious children—written for the edification of Puritan boys and girls. Out of this period came one classic for both children and adults, John BunyanBunyan, John
, 1628–88, English author, b. Elstow, Bedfordshire. After a brief period at the village free school, Bunyan learned the tinker's trade, which he followed intermittently throughout his life. Joining the parliamentary army in 1644, he served until 1647.
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's Pilgrim's Progress (1678). Later works written for adults but adapted for children were Daniel DefoeDefoe or De Foe, Daniel
, 1660?–1731, English writer, b. London. Early Life and Works

The son of a London butcher, and educated at a Dissenters' academy, he was typical of the new kind of man
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's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan SwiftSwift, Jonathan,
1667–1745, English author, b. Dublin. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest satirists in the English language. Early Life and Works
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's Gulliver's Travels (1726).

In 1729 the English translation of Charles PerraultPerrault, Charles
, 1628–1703, French poet. His collections of eight fairy tales, Histoires ou contes du temps passé [stories or tales of olden times] (1697) gave classic form to the traditional stories of Bluebeard, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Puss in
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's Tales of Mother Goose became popular in England. A collection of Mother GooseMother Goose,
name associated with nursery rhymes. Most English nursery rhymes have been ascribed to Mother Goose. The origin of the name is still a matter of dispute. Some trace it to a French collection of tales by Charles Perrault (1697) that had the subtitle
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 rhymes was published in 1765 by John NewberyNewbery, John,
1713–67, English publisher and bookseller. He established juvenile literature as an important branch of the publishing business. Included among his publications is Little Goody Two Shoes (1766).
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, an English author and bookseller. Newbery was the first publisher to devote himself seriously to publishing for children. Among his publications were A Pretty Little Pocket Book (1744) and The Renowned History of Little Goody Two Shoes (1765). Pirated editions of Newbery's works were soon published in the United States by Isaiah ThomasThomas, Isaiah,
1749–1831, American patriot and printer, from Worcester, Mass. Thomas printed outspoken Whig editorials in the Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper that he helped to found.
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 and others.

By the end of the 18th cent., juvenile literature, partly under the influence of LockeLocke, John
, 1632–1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke summed up the Enlightenment in his belief in the middle class and its right to freedom of conscience and right to property, in his faith in science, and in his confidence in the goodness of
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 and RousseauRousseau, Jean Jacques
, 1712–78, Swiss-French philosopher, author, political theorist, and composer. Life and Works

Rousseau was born at Geneva, the son of a Calvinist watchmaker.
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, had again become didactic. This time the didacticism was of an intellectual and moralistic variety, as evidenced in the sober, uplifting books of such authors as Thomas DayDay, Thomas,
1748–89, English social reformer and author. He supported the American Revolution and the abolition of slavery and was interested in improving the lot of the small farmer. His moralistic History of Sandford and Merton (3 vol.
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, Mary Sherwood, and Maria EdgeworthEdgeworth, Maria,
1767–1849, Irish novelist; daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. She lived practically her entire life on her father's estate in Ireland. Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), her first publication, argued for the education of women.
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 in England and in the United States by Samuel Goodrich (pseud. Peter Parley) and Martha Finley (pseud. Martha Farquarson), who wrote the famous Elsie Dinsmore series.

A Flowering of Children's Literature

Contrasting with the didactic movement was 19th-century romanticism, which produced a body of literature that genuinely belonged to children. For the first time children's books contained fantasy and realism, fun and adventure, and many of the books written at that time are still popular today. Folk tales collected in Germany by the brothers GrimmGrimm, Jakob
, 1785–1863, German philologist and folklorist, a founder of comparative philology. His interest in the relationship among Germanic languages led to his formulation of Grimm's law. His German grammar (1819–37) and his German Mythology (1835, tr.
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 were translated into English in 1823. The fairy stories of Hans Christian AndersenAndersen, Hans Christian,
1805–75, Danish poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales. Born to an illiterate washerwoman and reared in poverty, he left Odense at 14 for Copenhagen, where he lived with a wealthy family.
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 appeared in England in 1846. At the end of the 19th cent. Joseph JacobsJacobs, Joseph,
1854–1916, Jewish writer, historian, and folklorist, b. Australia. He lived in England until 1900, when he went to the United States to edit a revision of The Jewish Encyclopedia.
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 compiled English folk tales. Andrew LangLang, Andrew,
1844–1912, English scholar and man of letters, b. Scotland. His poetry, much of it written in the forms of ballades, triolets, and rondeaux, appeared in such volumes as his Ballads in Blue China (2 vol., 1880–81).
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, a folklorist, began a series of fairy tales. Edward LearLear, Edward,
1812–88, English humorist and artist. At 19 he was employed as a draftsman by the London Zoological Society; the paintings of parrots that he produced for The Family of the Psittacidae
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's Book of Nonsense (1846) and Robert Louis StevensonStevenson, Robert Louis,
1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced.
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's Child's Garden of Verses (1885) set the style for much of the poetry written for children today. Lewis CarrollCarroll, Lewis,
pseud. of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson,
1832–98, English writer, mathematician, and amateur photographer, b. near Daresbury, Cheshire (now in Halton).
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's twin masterpieces Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) combine lunacy and fantasy with satire and word games.

Victorian family life is realistically depicted in Louisa May AlcottAlcott, Louisa May,
1832–88, American author, b. Germantown, Pa.; daughter of Bronson Alcott. Mostly educated by her father, she was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau, and her first book, Flower Fables
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's Little Women (1868), whereas Mark TwainTwain, Mark,
pseud. of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,
1835–1910, American author, b. Florida, Mo. As humorist, narrator, and social observer, Twain is unsurpassed in American literature.
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's Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1880) emphasize adventure; all three books present fully developed characters. At the turn of the century several children's magazines were being published, the most important being the St. Nicholas Magazine (1887–1943).

Meanwhile, translations widened the world of the English-speaking child from the 19th cent. on; popular translated works include J. D. WyssWyss, Johann David
, 1743–1818, Swiss author. His Swiss Family Robinson (1813, tr. 1814), an internationally popular classic for children, relates the adventures of a shipwrecked family. It is based on Robinson Crusoe.
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's Swiss Family Robinson (tr. from the German, 1814); Carlo CollodiCollodi, Carlo
, pseud. of Carlo Lorenzini
, 1826–90, Italian author. A prolific journalist, he also wrote didactic tales for children, the most famous of which is Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet.
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's Pinocchio (tr. from the Italian, 1892); Felix Salten's Bambi (tr. from the German, 1928); Antoine de Saint-ExupérySaint-Exupéry, Antoine de
(Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupéry) , 1900–1944, French aviator and writer. He became a commercial pilot and published his first story in 1926.
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's Little Prince (tr. from the French, 1943); Astrid LindgrenLindgren, Astrid,
1907–2002, Swedish author of children's fiction, b. Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson. She worked as a secretary before turning to writing as a profession and later was a children's book editor.
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's Pippi Longstocking (tr. from the Swedish, 1950); and Herta von Gebhardt's The Girl from Nowhere (tr. from the German, 1959).

The Twentieth Century

The contributions and innovations of the 19th cent. continued into the 20th cent., achieving a distinct place in literature for children's books, and spawning innumerable genres of children's literature. Fantasy written for children includes L. Frank BaumBaum, L. Frank
(Lyman Frank Baum) , 1856–1919, American journalist, playwright, and author of children's stories, b. Chittenango, N.Y. He and his family moved to South Dakota in 1888, where he ran a newspaper, and to Chicago in 1891, where he worked as a journalist.
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's Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), A. A. MilneMilne, A. A.
(Alan Alexander Milne) , 1882–1956, English author. Milne began his literary career as a journalist and later became a regular contributor to Punch.
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's Winnie-the-Pooh (1927), P. L. TraversTravers, P. L.
(Pamela Lyndon Travers), 1899–1996, British author best known for her Mary Poppins children's books, b. Australia as Helen Lyndon Goff. She worked as an actress and journalist and moved to London in 1924.
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's Mary Poppins (1934), J. R. R. TolkienTolkien, J. R. R.
(John Ronald Reuel Tolkien) , 1892–1973, British novelist, b. South Africa. A fantasy writer and Oxford don, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit (1937), adapted from stories he told his children.
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's The Hobbit (1937), C. S. LewisLewis, C. S.
(Clive Staples Lewis), 1898–1963, English author, b. Belfast, Ireland. A fellow and tutor of English at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1954, C. S.
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's "Narnia" series, E. B. WhiteWhite, E. B.
(Elwyn Brooks White), 1899–1985, American writer, b. Mt. Vernon, N.Y., grad. Cornell, 1921. A witty, satiric observer of contemporary society, White was a member of the staff of the early New Yorker;
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's Charlotte's Web (1952) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), Madeleine L'EngleL'Engle, Madeleine,
1918–2007, American writer, b. New York City, grad. Smith College, 1941. A devout Episcopalian, L'Engle served as librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City, for more than 30 years.
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's science-fiction A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three (1964), Brian Jacques's Redwall series (1987–), and J. K. RowlingRowling, J. K.
(Joanne Kathleen Rowling) , 1965–, English author known for her popular children's books. While unemployed she completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
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's Harry Potter books (7 vol., 1997–2007). Among the most popular and influential books in the last half of the 20th cent. are the many novels of Beverly ClearyCleary, Beverly,
1916–, American children's books author, b. McMinnville, Ore. as Beverly Atlee Bunn. She began her career as a children's librarian and realized the need for books about the lives of ordinary children.
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, which portray the lives of ordinary children. Popular collections of humorous verse include Laura Richards's Tirra Lirra (1932), Hilaire BellocBelloc, Hilaire
(Joseph Hilaire Pierre Belloc) , 1870–1953, English author, b. France. He became a British subject in 1902, and from 1906 to 1910 was a Liberal member of Parliament for South Salford.
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's Cautionary Verses (1941), John CiardiCiardi, John
, 1916–86, American poet, b. Boston, grad. Tufts College, B.A., 1938, Univ. of Michigan, M.A., 1939. His poetry, noted for its wit and perception, includes Homeward to America (1940), Live Another Day (1949), In the Stoneworks
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's Reason for the Pelican (1959), and Arnold Spilka's Rumbudgin of Nonsense (1970).

Adventure and mystery are found in such works as Armstrong Sperry's Call It Courage (1941) and E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968). The novel for children now includes many of the literary, psychological, and social elements found in its adult counterpart. Books with sophisticated emphasis on plot, mood, characterization, or setting are Kenneth GrahameGrahame, Kenneth
, 1859–1931, English author. He was a secretary in the Bank of England from 1908 until 1918. His works, noted for their humor and charm, include The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days
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's Wind in the Willows (1908), Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain (1944), Joseph Krumgold's And Now Miguel (1953), and Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins (1961). Mature treatment of the emotions of growing up characterizes Irene Hunt's Up a Road Slowly (1966), whereas William Armstrong's Sounder (1970) realistically portrays the experiences of a black sharecropper and his family.

From the 1960s through the 90s "socially relevant" children's books have appeared, treating subjects like death, drugs, sex, urban crisis, discrimination, the environment, and women's liberation. S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1980) and Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese (1977) are two novels that offer vivid portrayals of the sometimes unpleasant aspects of maturing. These books also reveal the trend toward a growing literature for teenagers. Other novelists that write convincingly of growing up in contemporary society include Ellen Raskin, Judy Blume, and Cynthia Voigt. Some critics consider these books as didactic as the children's books of the 17th and early 19th cent.

Another trend has been books written by children, especially poetry, such as Richard Lewis's Miracles (1966), a collection of poems written by children of many countries. During the 20th cent. in particular, new collections of tales that reach back to the oral roots of literature have come from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. International folktales have also received increasing attention. Among the many authors pursuing these themes, Verna Aardema compiles African folktales and Yoko Kawashima Watkins studies Asian oral traditions. During the 1980s and 90s in particular, multicultural concerns became an important aspect of the new realistic tradition in children's literature, as in Allen SaySay, Allen,
1937–, Japanese-American writer and illustrator of children's books, b. Yokohama, Japan, as James Allen Koichi Moriwaki Seii. After an apprentceship with a well-known cartoonist, the basis for his semi-autobiographical novel The Ink-keeper's Apprentice
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's tales of the Japanese-American immigrant experience.

The Newbery Medal, an award for the most distinguished work of literature for children, was established by Frederic Melcher in 1922; in 1938 he established a second award, the Caldecott Medal, for the best picture book of the year. An international children's book award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, was given in 1970 for the first time to an American, Maurice SendakSendak, Maurice Bernard,
1928–2012, American writer and illustrator of children's books, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Largely self-taught, he was widely acclaimed as the 20th-century's most important childrens' book artist.
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, in recognition of his contribution to children's literature. His Where the Wild Things Are (1963) won him international acclaim and was followed by two sequels, In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981).

Magazines that review and discuss children's literature include The Horn Book, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and the School Library Journal in the United States and The Junior Bookshelf in Great Britain.


See B. Hürlimann, Three Centuries of Children's Books in Europe (1967); S. Egoff et al., Only Connect (1969); C. Meigs, A Critical History of Children's Literature (rev. ed. 1969); J. Karl, From Childhood to Childhood (1970); M. Lystad, From Dr. Mather to Dr. Seuss (1980); S. Egoff, Thursday's Child: Trends and Patterns in Contemporary Children's Literature (1981) and World Within: Children's Fantasy from the Middle Ages to Today (1988); D. E. Norton, Through the Eyes of a Child (1983); F. Butler and R. W. Robert, ed., Reflections on Literature for Children (1984); C. Frey and J. Griffith, The Literary Heritage of Childhood (1987); M. West, Before Oz: Juvenile Fantasy Stories from 19th-Century America (1989); M. H. Arbuthnot et al., Children and Books (8th ed. 1991); J. Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne (1995); J. Goldthwaite, The Natural History of Make-Believe: Tracing the Literature of Imagination for Children (1996); J. Zipes et al., The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature (2005); L. S. Marcus, Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepeneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature (2008); S. Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History (2008).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Children’s Literature


works of fiction, including fictional science literature, and popular science written especially for children of preschool age to secondary school age.

In the USSR children’s literature has become one of the major branches of literature, bringing together the literary forces of the peoples of all the republics. Like adult literature, Soviet children’s literature deals with a wide variety of questions in the life of the people and especially of the children, but in a form corresponding to the age level of the reader, of course. Fiction for children deals with many themes and appears in many genres, and fictional scientific literature explains all branches of knowledge. Children’s literature has been developed on a scientifically pedagogical basis, and publishing plans are organized according to age level, subject, and genre. A wide range of works for adults that have become established items on children’s reading lists are usually included in the category of children’s literature—above all, works from folklore and the classics.

The adult works commonly read by Russian children include the fairy tales and poems of A. S. Pushkin, the ballads of V. A. Zhukovskii, the fables of I. A. Krylov, and the verses and narrative poems of M. Iu. Lermontov. Some other favorite poets include N. A. Nekrasov, T. G. Shevchenko, Sh. Rustaveli, V. V. Mayakovsky, N. S. Tikhonov, la. Kupala, la. Kolas, M. V. Isakovskii, A. A. Surkov, A. T. Tvardovskii, K. M. Simonov, and R. Gamzatov. Also widely read are the short stories and novellas of N. V. Gogol, I. S. Turgenev, I. A. Goncharov, L. N. Tolstoy, A. P. Chekhov, V. G. Korolenko, V. M. Garshin, N. G. Garin, A. I. Kuprin, A. N. Tolstoy, M. A. Sholokhov, A. A. Fadeev, D. A. Furmanov, M. M. Prishvin, K. G. Paustovskii, B. S. Zhitkov, V. P. Kataev, N. A. Ostrovskii, L. S. Sobolev, and B. N. Polevoi.

Some books are popular with children virtually all over the world; for example, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, D. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, J. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, R. E. Raspe’s Baron Münchausen’s Narrative of His Marvelous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, and Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel (all usually in abridged editions). Other favorites are Uncle Tom’s Cabin by H. Beecher Stowe, The True Story of a Little Ragamuffin by J. Greenwood, Nobody’s Boy by H. Malot, The Gadfly by E. Voinich, the stories of E. Seton-Thompson, L. Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Mark Twain’s novels; also, the novels of W. Scott, C. Dickens, J. Verne, and F. Cooper and the fairy tales of H. C. Andersen, C. Perrault, the brothers Grimm, and W. Hauff. English poetry is especially rich in verses for children, and the traditions of folklore for children are especially strong in England in comparison with other countries. Many prominent writers have produced works for children—for example, in Poland, H. Sienkiewicz, M. Konopnicka, J. Tuwim, and J. Korczak; in Bulgaria, Elrn Pelin; and in Czechoslovakia, M. Majerova and J. Pleva. In many countries the tales of the Swedish writer A. Lindgren and the merry verses and tales of the progressive Italian writer G. Rodari are popular.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the artistic level of literature written for children was considerably lower than that of adult literature. The main deficiencies in children’s books in many countries were their sentimentality, the primitive nature of their plots and characters, and their obtrusive didacticism. Many books were steeped in chauvinistic attitudes or religious values that they attempted to instill in their readers. Books for children of peasants and workers, aside from works of folklore, were usually cheaply made and of poor quality. In capitalist countries, especially the USA, low-quality detective literature has become especially widespread, exerting a corrupting influence upon young readers.

In Russia, books for children began to be published in the 18th century. The first Russian magazine for children, Detskoe chtenie dlia serdtsa i razuma (1785-89), was initiated by N. I. Novikov. He was a pioneer of popular science for children in Russian. Such leading figures in Russian culture as A. S. Pushkin, V. G. Belinskii, N. A. Dobroliubov, and N. G. Chernyshevskii combated the lack of ideas and artistic qualities in the children’s literature of their time.

An important milestone in the development of Russian children’s literature was the New Alphabet series (1875) and the four Russian Readers (books 1-4; 1875-85) by L. N. Tolstoy included in that series. Especially important principles in Tolstoy’s works were his concern that he express a sense of identification with the people in his children’s literature and that he find an artistic means to communicate with children through literature. During the same years, the outstanding educator K. D. Ushinskii wrote short stories especially adapted for children. In the 19th and early 20th century N. A. Nekrasov, A. N. Pleshcheev, A. N. Maikov, la. P. Polonskii, and A. A. Blok wrote poetry for children. Russian writers of fairy tales, short stories, and novellas for children in the same period included V. F. Odoevskii, V. I. Dal’, A. A. Pogorel’skii, D. V. Grigorovich, K. M. Staniukovich, D. N. Mamin-Sibiriak, A. P. Chekhov, A. S. Serafimovich, A. I. Kuprin, and A. I. Svirskii. The Ukrainian writers M. Kotsiubinskii and Lesia Ukrainka and the Armenian poet O. Tumanian also wrote for children. All of these writers attempted to counterpose their work to the reactionary and purely commercial trend in children’s literature.

In the Soviet period, children’s literature faced new tasks of enormous importance. They were the logical outcome of Lenin’s recommendation that “the entire purpose of training, educating, and teaching the youth of today should be to imbue them with communist ethics” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 309). Writers were called upon to find new forms of expression for the new themes, basing themselves on the experience of the realistic school in literature.

At the fountainhead of Soviet children’s literature stand M. Gorky and N. K. Krupskaia. They played a role of tremendous importance in gathering the forces to produce children’s literature, working out thematic plans, and fighting for the raising of the ideological and artistic levels of children’s literature. With the benefit of their untiring concern, children’s literature effectively solved the problem of showing the life of the people in a truthful way and clarifying the problems of the modern world and the class struggle. In later years, and for quite a long time, A. A. Fadeev made children’s literature a special concern of his.

Like adult literature, Soviet children’s literature reflects the different stages of Soviet history, with works on the Revolution, the Civil War, economic reconstruction, the fulfillment of the first five-year plans, the industrialization of the country, the collectivization of agriculture, the Great Patriotic War, and the years of building communism. But there is an essential difference between the early period of Soviet children’s literature and its later state. In the early years of Soviet power there were few children’s writers, and they were unable to take on the task of illuminating a whole range of important questions. As a result, children’s literature lagged behind real life. Moreover, theoretical confusion in defining the specific nature and tasks of children’s literature led to many prolonged problems, such as excessive “infantilism,” primitivism, artificial plots, and attempts of a number of writers to show life only through the eyes of a child hero. All of this lowered the artistic level of children’s literature.

A decisive change took place when highly talented writers began to participate. V. V. Mayakovsky brought social and political themes, embodied in truly artistic form, into children’s poetry. He revealed to children the meaning of the social struggle going on in the world and taught them to love labor, for example, in Firehorse (1927) and What To Be (1929). In his poem What Is Good and What Is Bad? (1925). the poet talks with his young readers about courage, justice, and industriousness.

Soviet children’s literature owes a lot to S. la. Marshak for many features of its development. His poetic, publishing-organizational, and editorial work hastened the flowering of literature for children and young people in the USSR. The emotional richness, humor, and dynamism of such works as The Fire (1923) and The Post Office (1927), which celebrated the nobility of şelfless labor, won the hearts of Marshak’s young readers. In 1924-25 he was in charge of the magazine Novyi Robinzon. In 1924 he became the head of the children’s department of the Unified State Publishing House and continued in this position for a number of years. A group of talented young poets, prose writers, scholars, and artists gathered around Marshak in the late 1920’s and in the 1930’s, many of whom later established permanent connections with children’s literature.

One of the first people to write for children in the Soviet period was K. I. Chukovskii. He fought against the static, limp verse of prerevolutionary children’s poetry and created in its place a kind of mischievous, rhythmically exact verse, with lilting rhymes, that he used in his tales for small children, such as The Crocodile (1917), Moidodyr (1923), and The Giant Roach (1923). After Chukovskii there were many Soviet children’s writers, among whom were A. Gaidar, A. Barto, V. Kataev, L. Kassil’, M. Prishvin, K. Paustovskii, S. Mikhalkov, R. Fraerman, Iu. Olesha, L. Voronkova, A. Musatov, L. Kvitko, A. Kozhevnikov, I. Vasilenko, V. Bianki, E. Charushin, O. Ivanenko, la. Mavr, and V. Oseeva. These writers learned to communicate with children of various ages in an interesting and readable manner about all the important things that have gone on or are going on in the world, in the country, within the family, in the pioneers organization, and in school.

In the 1930’s the themes of socialist construction and communist ethics predominated in children’s literature. Marshak, in his War with the Dnieper (1931), told about the building of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Power Plant. In his sharply satirical narrative poem Mister Twister (1933) he ridiculed the deformed and distorted life of the millionaire. Later on, Marshak wrote narrative poems about the heroism of the Soviet people in wartime (Military Mail, 1944) and in peacetime (Ice Island, 1947). A. Barto writes cheerful, often sharply satirical verses about Soviet children, their relationships with adults, and their attitudes toward their own affairs, for example in Zvenigorod (1948) and He Is Fourteen Years Old (1949). In the books of S. Mikhalkov, N. Nosov, Iu. Sotnik, and A. Aleksin, humor is accompanied by a concern with instructing children in the highest moral principles. Mikhalkov in his poem Uncle Stepa (1936) creates the memorable figure of the positive hero imbued with lofty moral qualities. A poetic vision of the world and love for the Soviet people, who are brave at work and in war—these are the lessons conveyed by the optimistic, lyrical poetry of such writers as Z. Aleksandrova, E. Blaginina, N. Zabila, E. Tarakhbvskaia, N. Sakonskaia, N. Konchalovskaia, B. Zakhoder, and I. Tokmakova.

The short stories and novellas of B. Zhitkov were of great importance to the development of the realistic trend in prose for children. His characters reveal their moral make-up in the difficult situations that show one’s true mettle. Two novellas, one by G. Belykh and L. Panteleev called The Republic of Shkid (1927) and one by L. Panteleev called Standing Guard (1928), deal with the way the lives of formerly homeless children changes under the influence of the reality of Soviet life. A. Makarenko’s Pedagogical Poem (1933-35), which has become a standard work for young readers, was especially important in the way it showed the complex process of reeducation of formerly homeless children and young offenders through labor, study, and self-discipline. At the same time, N. Ostrovskii’s celebrated novella How the Steel Was Tempered (1932-34) was added to the reading list for adolescents.

Young people whose characters were formed in the crucible of the first years of the Civil War are the theme of one of the most important books in Soviet children’s literature, A. Gaidar’s School (1930). Here, as in his other novellas (Faraway Countries, 1932; Military Secret, 1935; The Fate of a Drummer, 1939; and Chuk and Gek, 1939, for example), the themes of self-education and responsibility for one’s own actions are stressed consistently. Many of Gaidar’s novellas are filled with adventures, although they remain realistic. They show how character is formed under difficult conditions. The impact of his novella Timur and His Team (1941), which gave rise to the Timurite movement, testifies to the effectiveness of the best works in Soviet children’s literature.

The formation of character in Soviet youth is the subject of L. Kassil’s provocative books with their sharply stated themes, such as Conduit (1930), Shvambrania (1933), and Cheremysh, Brother of a Hero (1938). K. Paustovskii describes scenes of heroic labor in his Kara-bugaz (1932) and Kolkhida (1934). Lonely White Sail by V. Kataev (1936) is a novella devoted to revolutionary and historical themes. R. Fraerman discusses young people’s love and friendship with great psychological depth in Wild Dog Dingo, or A Tale of First Love (1939). The formation of a young person’s character in socialist society is described in V. Kaverin’s novel Two Captains (parts 1-2, 1940-45), which combines scenes from everyday life with adventure. The stories of V. Bianki and E. Charushin help to awaken young people’s love of nature and their native land.

With the coming of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, children’s literature faced the task of strengthening its civic inspiration with a special urgency. Two main themes became the center of attention for the writers of children’s literature: the heroism of the soldiers at the front and the heroism of the laboring people, including the young people, on the home front.

Two books written for adults quickly became young people’s favorites: The Young Guard (1945, revised 1951) by A. Fadeev and The Tale of a Real Man (1946) by B. Polevoi. V. Kataev’s Son of the Regiment (1945) tells of the people’s heroic struggle against the German fascist invaders. L. Kassil’ and M. Polianovskii compiled a documentary novel called Street of the Younger Son (1949) about a youthful reconnaissance man in a partisan detachment. L. Voronkova’s profound psychological novella about the humanism of the Soviet people, Girl From the City (1943), has been translated into many languages. Some novellas relate how children did the work of their fathers and brothers who had gone off to the front lines: My Dear Lads by L. Kassil’ (1944), I. Likstanov’s Little Man (1947), and V. Oseeva’s Vasek Trubachev and His Buddies (books 1-2, 1947-51). Since the war, the themes of labor, feats of patriotism, and the role children play in the good causes of their parents have been predominant in children’s literature. In the novella Little Star (1948), I. Vasilenko tells of the life of students at a trade school, and L. Voronkova’s novella The Village of Gorodishche (1947) and A. Musatov’s Stozhary (1948) describe the postwar countryside and reconstruction of the economy. Many writers with experience in teaching have written about the life of Soviet schoolchildren and the work of Soviet teachers, among them M. Prilezhaeva (The Youth of Masha Strogova and Your Comrades Are With You) and F. Vigdorova (My Class and Road to Life). Among the many writers whose novellas and tales deal with Soviet children and communist ethics and morality are V. Beliaev, S. Baruzdin, A. Batrov, L. Budogosskaia, Iu. Sotnik, la. Taits, E. Ryss, N. Pecherskii, R. Pogodin, Iu. Tomin, and Iu. lakovlev.

Biographical works about Lenin and his closest coworkers have been very important in training young readers in the spirit of communism. Some works of this nature written in the 1930’s were Tales of Lenin by A. Kononov, A. Golubeva’s novella about S. M. Kirov’s childhood, The Boy From Urzhum, stories about F. E. Dzerzhinskii by Iu. German, and S. Mstislavskii’s novella about N. E. Bauman’s life, entitled The Rook Is a Bird of Spring. An especially large number of books on historical-revolutionary subjects were written in the postwar years, particularly on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet state and the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth.

Material for children about Lenin is represented by the memoirs of N. K. Krupskaia, M. I. Ul’ianova, A. I. Ul’ianova-Elizarova, N. I. Veretennikov, G. M. Krzhizhanovskii, V. D. Bonch-Bruevich, and E. D. Stasova, as well as by the books Our Lenin by B. Polevoi and N. Zhukov, M. Prilezhaeva’s The Life of Lenin and her novellas Three Weeks of Rest and Remarkable Year, and Z. Voskresenskaia’s books A Mother’s Heart, Through the Icy Gloom, Meeting, and Morning. Other works on Lenin are Ballad of the Bolshevik Underground by E. Drabkina, A. Rut’ko’s Childhood on the Volga, V. Kataev’s The Little Iron Door in the Wall, L. Radishchev’s Your Whole Life Long, S. Dangulov’s Path, S. Mikhalkov’s In the Lenin Museum, L. Savel’ev’s Clock and Map of October, and S. Vinogradskaia’s Little Spark. The Children’s Literature Publishing House puts out a series called Historical-Revolutionary Library for the Schoolchild. It includes works elucidating the life and activities of Lenin’s co-workers and the struggle of the Communist Party against tsarism and for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Others who have written in the genre of historical and documentary stories are S. Golubov, S. Grigor’ev, S. Zlobin, N. Konchalovskaia, A. Slonimskii, and V. Shklovskii; and later, S. Alekseev, L. Voronkova, A. Gessen, and L. Rubinshtein. The autobiographical trilogy by A. Brushtein entitled The Road Goes Off Into the Distance, dealing with the events leading up to the 1905-07. revolution, has been especially popular.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, writers paid increased attention to the inner world of children and to their civic-mindedness. The formation of ethical feelings and principles in children and adolescents is the subject of N. Dubov’s novel Woe Unto One and some of his novellas, such as Fires on the River, Boy by the Sea, and Fugitive. Other writers who dealt with similar themes were S. Georgievskaia in the novella Adolescents, L. Voronkova in the novellas The Elder Sister and Personal Happiness, A. Kuznetsova in Komsomol Word of Honor and The World Has Many Roads, V. Kiselev in The Girl and the Bird Plane, A. Rybakov in The Adventures of Krosh and The Unknown Soldier, G. Fedoseev in By the Path of Experience and Pashka From Bear Ravine, and A. Aleksin in At the Same Time, Somewhere and My Brother Plays the Clarinet.

An enormous amount of work in collecting and adopting folk tales has been done for children by such writers as A. N. Tolstoy, D. Nagishkin, M. Bulatov, T. Gabbe, A. Liubarskaia, V. Vazhdaev, and A. Nechaev. Some of the most popular fairy tales composed by individual writers have been The Little Golden Key by A. Tolstoy, based on motifs from C. Collodi’s Pinocchio, Three Fat Men by Iu. Olesha, Tale of Mal’chish-Kibal’chish by A. Gaidar, and the fairy tale trilogy about Know-Nothing by N. Nosov.

Fictional scientific literature for Soviet children has been of major importance. The pioneers in this field were B. Zhitkov, M. Il’in, and L. Gumilevskii. M. Il’in’s Story of the Great Plan (1930) and Hills and People (1935), which were written for children and describe the first five-year plan, have also found wide acceptance among adult readers. Books on nature lore by V. Bianki, N. Plavil’shchikov, N. Mikhailov, G. Skrebitskii, I. Khalifman, and N. Sladkov have been very well received, as have been those dealing with science and technology by O. Pisarzhevskii, V. Bolkhovitinov, V. Pekelis, V. Veber, V. Zakharchenko, and Iu. Fialkov. Such prominent scientists as V. A. Obruchev and A. E. Fersman have also taken part in creating this type of science literature. Works about the science and technology of the future by G. Adamov, A. Beliaev, and A. Kazantsev opened up the genre of science fiction. Among those writing in this genre in the postwar years have been I. Efremov, V. Nemtsov, L. Platov, the brothers A. and B. Strugatskii, and N. Toman.

Works by writers from the Union republics and autonomous republics have also become standard reading for Soviet children. Among these are the Ukrainian writers P. Panch, N. Trublaini, P. Voron’ko, M. Stel’makh, V. Bychko, and Iu. Zbanatskii. Some other favorites are the Byelorussians Ia. Mavr, A. Iakimovich, and V. Dubovka; the Georgians N. Nakashidze, Maridzhan, and N. Dumbadze; the Armenians S. Kaputikian and V. Ananian; the Azerbaijanis S. Veliev and M. Dil’bazi; the Kazakh writers S. Mukanov and S. Begalin; the Turkmen writers B. Kerbabaev and K. Tangrykuliev; the Uzbeks K. Mukhammadi and Khakim Nazir; the Tadzhiks S. Aini and M. Mirshakar; the Estonian Eno Raud; the Moldavian E. Bukov; the Kirghiz Ch. Aitmatov and Sh. Beishenaliev; the Latvians Iu. Vanag, V. Luks, and A. Grigulis; the Lithuanians K. Kubilinskas and M. Slutskis; the Dagestanians R. Gamzatov and R. Rashidov; the Bashkirs M. Karim and A. Bikchentaev; the Tatar G. Gubai; the Mari K. Vasin; the Mordvinian N. Erkai; and the Yakut S. Danilov.

Magazines for children have played an important role in bringing together the best Soviet children’s writers. Among these have been Ezh (1928-35), Chizh (1930-41), Murzilka and Pioneer (both from 1924), Druzhnye rebiata (1927-53), and Koster (1936-47, revived in 1956).

The pioneer of Soviet playwrights for children was A. Brushtein. She organized many theaters for young audiences and wrote more than 60 plays. Others who have written for the children’s theater over the years have included S. Marshak, S. Mikhalkov, V. Kataev, V. Liubimova, A. Barto, E. Shvarts, V. Rozov, and T. Gabbe. In the USSR there is an especially large network of children’s theaters.

Young readers in the USSR can also enjoy many classical works and contemporary books from other countries that are published in translation. The new books are by authors from other socialist countries and contemporary progressive writers in the West. Soviet children’s literature and the principles upon which it is based constitute a new phenomenon in the history of world culture. It is the first such literature in the world to be truly “of the people.” In its ideological and artistic level, it ranks side by side with adult literature. It educates its readers in the spirit of revolutionary tradition and is a key part of the moral and ethical public education of the new generation. The Communist Party and the government of the USSR have untiringly demonstrated their concern for children’s literature. (See the statement adopted in 1969 by the Central Committee of the CPSU entitled On Measures for the Further Development of Soviet Children’s Literature.) Translations of the best examples of this literature are published in virtually all the world’s languages.


Belinskii, V. G., N. G. Chernyshevskii, and N. A. Dobroliubov. O detskoi literature. Moscow, 1954.
Krupskaia, N. K. O detskoi literature i detskom chtenii: Stat’i i vyskazyvaniia. Moscow, 1954.
Gorky, M. O detskoi literature: Stat’i i vyskazyvaniia, pis’ma, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Marshak, S. la. “O bol’shoi literature dlia malen’kikh.” In Pervyi s”ezd sov. pisatelei: Stenograficheskii otchet. Moscow, 1934.
Marshak, S. la. Vospitanie slovom: Stat’i, Zametki, Vospominaniia. Moscow, 1964.
Babushkina, A. P. Istoriia russkoi detskoi literatury. Moscow, 1948.
Fuchik, Iu. “O detskoi literature.” In his Izbr. ocherki i stat’i. Moscow, 1950.
Makarenko, A. S. O detskoi literature i detskom chtenii. (Stat’i, retsenzii, pis’ma). Moscow, 1955.
Kon, L. F. Sovetskaia detskaia literatura, 1917-1929. Moscow, 1960.
Shklovskii, V. Staroe i novoe. Moscow, 1966.
Smirnova, V. V. O detiakh i dlia detei, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Brandis, E. Ot Ezopa do Dzhanni Rodari. Moscow, 1965.
Ivich, A. Vospitanie pokolenii: O sovetskoi literature dlia detei [4th ed.]. Moscow, 1969.
Lupanova, I. Polveka: Sovetskaia detskaia literatura. 1917-1967. Ocherki. Moscow, 1969.
Startsev, I. I. Detskaia literatura: Bibliografiia. (1918-1966) [issues 1-11]. Moscow-Leningrad, 1933-70.
Startsev, I. I. Voprosy detskoi literatury i detskogo chteniia [issues 1-2]. Moscow, 1962-67.
Sovetskie detskie pisateli: Biobibliografich. slovar’ (1917-1957). Moscow, 1961.
Hürlimann, B. Europäische Kinderbücher in drei Jahrhunderten [2nd enlarged ed.]. Zürich-Freiburg im Breisgau, 1963.
Pellowski, A. The World of Children’s Literature. New York-London, 1968.
Doyle, B. The Who’s Who of Children’s Literature. London, 1968
A Critical History of Children’s Literature. London, 1969.


Children’s Literature


the largest specialized publishing house in the USSR, which publishes books for children and teen-agers. The Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) founded it in 1933, and until 1963 it was known as the State Publishing House of Children’s Literature. M. Gorky took an active part in the organization and work of the publishing house. The advice and aid of N. K. Krupskaia, A. V. Lunacharskii, A. A. Fadeev, and S. la. Marshak contributed greatly to the progressive artistic and creative tradition that developed in the publishing house.

Children’s Literature publishes the classics of Russian and world literature, works of the peoples of the USSR, and books by Soviet writers and progressive contemporary writers abroad. It publishes in great quantity the books of the most popular Soviet children’s writers—S. Marshak, K. Chukovskii, A. Gaidar, S. Mikhalkov, L. Kassil’, A. Barto, M. Il’in, and N. Nosov. These books are illustrated by the finest graphic artists—V. Lebedev, V. Konashevich, V. Favorskii, Iu. Vasnetsov, E. Charushin, D. Shmarinov, and B. Dekhterev. In 1970, Children’s Literature issued 163,173,000 copies of 588 books. From 1933 to 1970 it published 2,645,000,000 copies of 17,103 books.

In 1969 it earned the Order of the Red Banner of Labor for its active contribution to the development of Soviet children’s literature. It created the House of Children’s Books, which studies the problems of children’s literature and children’s reading. It has a section in Leningrad, with a branch there of the House of Children’s Books.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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