Children’s literature: what it is, how it arises, main features and authors


What is children’s literature?

When we talk about children’s literature, we refer to a type of literature that is particularly aimed at children. Thus, in this type of stories are included all the texts of literature that society considers allowed for children, although they will also be texts enjoyed by other types of public because of their content, either young or adult public. However, although to a lesser extent, it also includes texts written directly by children.

What is children's literature

In addition to the target audience, children’s literature is also characterized by the type of content used for the creation of the pieces, thus, it is possible to identify human elements, emotions, feelings, abilities, memory, memories, talents, exploration, curiosity, contact with the world and nature, among others. One of the most complete features to define this type of literature would be the attempt to reinvent the world through a new look that the child welcomes with fascination.

How does children’s literature emerge?

The emergence of children’s literature can be dated back to the Middle Ages and also to the Renaissance. During these moments in history, access to books was very limited as far as the common population was concerned, however, what children could have access to, were the texts that the majority of the community could reach, hence they are texts that are nowadays catalogued as children’s literature.

During the period, the texts consisted of catans, alphabets, bestiaries and syllabaries, where there were no great adventure stories, but were limited to the instructions on which it was intended to educate the population, so they included moral teachings that were presented according to religious beliefs. After the invention and use of the printing press, it was possible to start with the edition of stories that were focused on children, especially those that had been spread through oral tradition among the people, which gave rise to works such as Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, Puss in Boots, among others.

Thus, during the 19th century, the movement of Romanticism, of which we have already spoken in another specific section, fantasy was born in the stories and another series of stories began to consolidate, among which was Snow White and the seven dwarfs, stories and works that will allow children to have an approach to an initial literary world created for them where imagination and illusion will be their key pieces.

Development of children’s literature

The most outstanding literary genre in the world of children’s literature is the narrative genre, particularly the short story, which has had the greatest diffusion within the pieces created for children and which often brings together elements of oral tradition as well as popular folklore. Thus, under this format, works have been written that foster children’s imagination, transmit messages and moral values, stimulate effective communication, and enhance their own abilities and skills, among other important processes at this age.

On the other hand, we can classify children’s literature into two main categories. On the one hand, there is the earned literature that gathers all those texts that at the beginning were not intended for children, but later, in the development of various contexts and decisions, are intended for children. Among these works we have the tales of the Brothers Grimm, also The Thousand and One Nights, Treasure Island, Perrault’s traditional tales, Gulliver’s Travels, among others.

The second category is literature created for children. In this category, as the name suggests, are works that were intended from the beginning to be read by children. Often this type of literature adapts the format of stories and novels, but it has also varied its presentation with other genres such as poetry and plays that children can enjoy. Examples in this field include The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, among others.

Characteristics of children's literature

Characteristics of children’s literature

Now, it is time to review what are the most distinctive features of children’s literature that have managed not only to consolidate, but have also served as a guide for writers of posterity who will write for this type of audience. Among them, we find the following:

Objective of children’s literature

One of the main characteristics of this type of literature is that it often surrounds a specific objective. However, this objective may vary. Thus, writers who have developed literary works for children, have established varied purposes such as becoming an instrument for children’s expression and communication, familiarizing the child with the world, developing their curiosity, stimulating their imagination, among others.

Reduction of description

Although the narrative genre has among its characteristics the recurrent and extended use of descriptions not only of the scenarios through which the characters pass, but also of the characters themselves and the elements of space, in this case, authors tend not to spend much time on descriptive details rather than on what is happening, the actions.

Use of dialogue

To facilitate communication and the course of stories and processes, dialogues are one of the elements that appear frequently in texts for children’s audiences, as they allow for a much more direct narrative style.

Theme and identification

Another distinctive feature of this type of literature has to do with the fact that the themes handled in the texts have the possibility of facilitating children’s identification with the characters, with what they think, feel and also with the situations in which they find themselves. This is a resource that often stimulates the child’s interest.

Linear plot

Children’s literature texts have a linear plot, although in many cases authors have opted for plots with a greater degree of complexity, to which they have added the presence of other narrative voices and the existence of additional plots. However, despite the use of these resources, their evolution has not led to the creation of overly complex plots that make it difficult for the reader to understand.

Generic characters

One of the resources used by authors of children’s literature has been the use of generic characters in their works, to which they have associated particular characteristics taken from nature. Among them, there will often be the fox described as agile, but also the innocence of other animals such as the squirrel or the sheep, among others.

Presence of heroism

One of the elements most often present in this type of text are heroes. In the course of a large part of the stories, heroism is present and is represented from the struggle for values such as justice under the desire to make the world a better place.

Refined style

Another of the features through which we can identify children’s literature is the style that authors have been responsible for defining and that has achieved the impact it has on children and its reception for this initial reading stage. This is due to the fact that children’s literature has adopted a very dynamic style, lacks additional or unhelpful elements, as well as maintaining an agile and simple style within its composition.

authors children's literature

Most important authors and works of children’s literature

It is time to look at the most important authors and works of children’s literature that persist today in the teaching and reading of children. Among them we find works such as: The Ballad of Mulan by Monica Rodriguez Suarez, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Silversmith and I by Juan Ramon Jimenez, tales by the Brothers Grimm, The Thousand and One Nights, Treasure Island, traditional tales by Perrault, Gulliver’s Travels, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Adventures of Pinocchio, tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, among others.

Other more recent authors are: Patricia Geis, Inés Garland, Anna Llenas, Ana González Menéndez, Gloria Fuertes, Ana María Matute, Concha López Narváez, Ana María Moix, among others.

To learn more about other types of literature, as well as genres, movements, avant-garde and more from the literary world, visit our section dedicated to this type of art where you can find more information and continue learning.