children's literature

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 Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (1927), P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins (1934), J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937), C. S. Lewis's "Narnia" series, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web (1952) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), Madeleine L'Engle's science-fiction A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three (1964), Brian Jacques's Redwall series (1987–), and J. K. Rowling'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 Cleary, which portray the lives of ordinary children. Popular collections of humorous verse include Laura Richards's Tirra Lirra (1932), Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses (1941), John Ciardi'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 Grahame'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 Say'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 Sendak, 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.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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