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Children's Literature

This is a guide to the study of children's literature at Wayne State University.


Genres of Children's Literature

Like adult literature, children's literature can be categorized into a wide variety of genres. Some adult genres, like Romance or Thrillers, do not translate well into children's books because the themes are too mature. And some genres, like animal stories, are much more popular in children's literature than in books for adults. However, generally speaking, the range of children's genres should feel familiar to adult readers.



Special Forms in Children's Literature

Children's literature is full of novels like those on adult bookshelves, but certain special book formats are more prevalent in the kidlit world. 

  • Board Books - These are babies' first books. Made of cardboard or other durable material to prevent infants from ripping pages, board books are usually small and square. Most board books feature minimal text and focus on teaching basic concepts like colors or numbers. Sometimes successful picture books are reformatted and published as board books.
  • Picture Books - One of the hallmarks of picture books is that they are designed to be read aloud. Though anyone can enjoy picture books, they are most often read by an adult to a pre-literate child. Picture books often feature rhymes, onomatopoeia, or other wordplay meant to amuse listeners. Picture books are also unique in the way they are illustrated. Unlike illustrated novels, the illustrations in picture books have narrative purpose -- the book can't be fully understood by only reading the words or only looking at the pictures. The two elements work together to tell the story. Classic examples include Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Early Readers - As children begin to gain literacy skills, they start to tackle their first chapter books. These early readers are broken into very short chapters with limited vocabulary and usually include illustrations to help beginning readers decipher the words. Publishers sometimes market these books with levels, such as the I Can Read! series which has Levels 1-3 based on the skill required to independently read the text. Popular examples include the Frog and Toad series and Amelia Bedelia series.
  • Graphic Novels - Graphic novels are a relatively newer book form which uses sequential art to tell a story. Graphic novels are particularly trendy with young readers, but many graphic novels are published for adults, as well. Just because a book is illustrated doesn't mean it is appropriate for children! Manga, a distinctive style of Japanese graphic novels, is very popular among teen readers. Examples of graphic novels include Maus and American Born Chinese.