- The Disappearing Childhood of Children's Literature Studies
In his introduction to The Routledge Companion to Children's Literature, David Rudd remarks that "Children's Literature Studies has seen remarkable progress since the 1980s, when it was very much a minority interest" (xiii), and in their preface to The Cambridge Companion to Children's Literature, M. O. Grenby and Andrea Immel affirm that "children's literature now receives considerable attention from scholars" (xiii). The existence of these two Companions from major presses is itself evidence of these developments, as is the publication in recent years of a number of other important guides to the field: [End Page 149] Philip Nel and Lissa Paul's catalogue of Keywords for Children's Literature from New York University Press, Grenby and Kimberley Reynolds's Children's Literature Studies: A Research Handbook from Palgrave Macmillan, Shelby A. Wolf, Karen Coats, Patricia Enciso, and Christine A. Jenkins's Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature from Routledge, and Julia Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone's The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature. Together, the 150 or so essays by emerging and already prominent scholars of children's literature contained in these volumes offer not just a clear overview of children's literature studies, but also a substantial sense of the strengths and limitations of those studies as currently practised.
In a review of the Cambridge Companion previously published in Jeunesse, Margaret Mackey concludes that, "[i]n terms of a book to 'accompany' the reading or viewing (and, more likely, the study) of children's stories, this collection has much to offer" (180). The same could be said about all these guides. For the most part, the essays in them are clearly written and carefully researched, and they offer important insights into the texts they discuss. Nevertheless, as Mackey says in her review, "the topic is so large and the units of analysis so small that there are bound to be omissions" (180). What interests me most about the guides as a group is how they tend to omit more or less the same aspects of the field. If they do represent children's literature studies accurately, then the discipline seems to be downplaying a range of kinds of texts for young people and a range of ways of thinking about them.
The titles of these books represent them as companions to, handbooks of, and "keywords" for the same subject: "children's literature." As used here, however, the phrase "children's literature" almost always refers not to the literature itself but to the academic subject that concerns itself with that literature—as only the Palgrave Macmillan research handbook acknowledges in its title, children's literature studies. Those studies occur in a variety of academic milieux, but according to the editors of the Routledge Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature, "For far too long the fields of English, Library and Information Science, and Education have pushed ahead in various directions—exploring theoretical ideas, conducting wide-ranging research, writing books and articles, and attending conferences within our...