What is children’s literature? How does children’s literature differ from young adult and adult literature? Do authors of children’s literature write for the very young, for adults, or for both? How do our conceptions of childhood shape the production as well as censorship of children’s literature? The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature and Crosscurrents of Children’s Literature both grapple with these and other questions surrounding the genre, and they refrain from providing a clear definition of children’s literature due to the genre’s inherent ambiguities. Yet both anthologies, though different in their selections and approaches, successfully introduce and illuminate children’s literature from varying angles and allow students and scholars alike to further their understanding of this relatively young genre.
Covering the last 350 years and including more than 170 writers and illustrators, The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature represents a significant historical account of the genre that is “designed to introduce students to the variety and abundance of literary works for children” (xxvii). Each of the nearly twenty sections in the table of contents examines a subgenre of children’s literature, including fairy tales, animal fables, legends, fantasy, science fiction, and comics; every section contains a critical introduction, at least one complete reprint of a relevant text, and excerpts of several other works in chronological order. The extensive unit on fairy tales is particularly impressive and contains a detailed study of Little Red Riding Hood that outlines the tale’s development over time, beginning with Charles Perrault’s and the Grimms’ versions and ending with more recent rewritings by authors such as Roald Dahl and Francesca Lia Block. (Surprisingly, however, none of Angela Carter’s tales are included in this collection.) The anthology’s section on picture books, too, is outstanding with its fifty pages of illustrations, many of which are in [End Page 329] color, and points toward the need for scholars to further integrate illustrations into critical discussions of children’s literature.
As the work’s subtitle, The Traditions in English, indicates, this Norton Anthology is concerned primarily with the Anglo-American tradition of children’s literature and consequently incorporates only few works in translation. Indeed, one of the collection’s aims is to trace “the historical development of genres and traditions through 350 years of children’s literature in English” (xxxii), and thus only translated works that have had a significant impact on this development are represented, while some others are referred to in the chapter introductions. The editors’ historical approach to children’s literature, moreover, results in the notable absence of many acclaimed contemporary writers of children’s literature that one might expect to find excerpted in this anthology, such as Phillip Pullman or Lois Lowry. While this focus on the Anglo-American tradition of children’s literature allows the Norton Anthology to present a detailed account of the genre’s history that would hardly be manageable were texts from other countries to be considered, it may be advisable for instructors of children’s literature to supplement selections from this collection with tales from other cultures.
Crosscurrents of Children’s Literature, an anthology that includes both literary texts and criticism, offers such a comparitivist approach, containing a large variety of both works in translation and texts written in English. Thematically organized, this anthology is divided into eight sections, most of which examine a particular tension or apparent binary recurrent in the genre. Part 1 raises the question of how the classic literary principle of prodesse et delectare, instruction and delight, applies to children’s literature, whereas part 2 explores the “subjection of the child and subversion of adult authority” (xxxvi). Subsequent sections focus on more specific issues, including gender, realism and fantasy, and censorship, with each unit...