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Genres in Children's Literature!
Children's Bookshelf
Genres in Children's Literature

We mentioned mystery, romance, and personal essay as three examples of literary genres above. Now, let's take a look at some of the most popular genres in children's literature. This scope of this lesson could not possibly list each and every genre in children's literature, but these are the most prevalent.

Contemporary Fiction

Books that take place in the present day yet are not based on actual events are referred to as contemporary fiction. These types of books are very popular selections in children's literature because young readers can usually connect with the characters who may be very similar to them or someone they know. Readers also identify with the events of the story because they may be representative of things that are happening in their own lives.

Historical Fiction

On the opposite end of the spectrum from contemporary fiction lies historical fiction. These stories share the relatable characters of contemporary fiction, but the time period is of days gone by. These are very helpful in teaching young readers about what life was like in specific periods throughout history because they are often based on or inspired by events throughout history.

Science Fiction

Spaceships, time travel, and countless other fascinating scientific possibilities are presented in science fiction. This type of children's literature is among the most popular yet is not based on fact. These works may include actual or imagined scientific principles, though. Just as with the previous examples, identifiable characters are central to science fiction works as young readers quickly engage with and attach to them.


Nonfiction books are very different from the previously mentioned genres. They present factual information to young readers. These may be instructional books or they may explain some event or phenomenon. Biographies and autobiographies are also included in the nonfiction genre as they tell the true-life events of another person. Athletes, war heroes, and other powerful leaders are frequently the focus of children's nonfiction literature.

Picture books are books that focus more on the illustrations than the words. The book can be understood without the words because the text is just a complementary feature. Rhythmic books rhyme or have a musical component.

Folklore tales are stories that are orally passed down from generation to generation. The purpose of these tales is to educate listeners about different aspects of life. Myths are often bundled under the folklore genre.

Fairy tales are stories where Prince Charming comes in to save the troubled princess so that the two can live happily ever after. These tales put a magical spin on the world while trying to explain it. Fantasies are magical stories where a struggle of good and evil occurs. This genre also has themes related to common life.

1646 1st Children's Book

The first book to be published for the North Americans. John Cotton's Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes, London 1646 (page 5, para 7)

1700 The beginning

It is Britain in 1800's where children's literature began. Overtime, the longing for children's learning and enjoyment grew and fairytale books began to print.

1744 John Newbery

John Newbery created a little pocket book for enjoyment in 1744

1799 18th Century Popular Books

Towards the end of the eighteenth century children's books such as the alphabet, nursery rhymes and poetry were available. Keifer, 2010 (p 69)

1800 Book production

Books such as fairytales, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were published and printed in mass throughout Britain and a need grew in USA.

1817 1st Book Society

The missionaries in Calcutta set up the School Book Society

1824 1st English Dominance Book

The Cherupaithangaikku Upakaratham Kathaka (c. 1824) book listed stories translated from the english language to Kerala the Malayalam language (page 5 para 4)

1870 19th Century Rise of the Novel

Novels consisting of family stories, animal stories and adventure stories. Magazines such as St. Nicholas Magazine were also popular. Keifler, 2010 (p 69)

1890 Printing

19th century printing technology improved and colour printing techniques were introduced by Edmund Evans. Keifer, 2010 (p 69)

1900 Recognition of Literacy

Twentieth century, publishers, authors, and illustrators recognise children's literature reflects the many faces and cultures of American society. Keifer, 2010 (p 70)

1919 Book Week

Federick Melcher established Children's Book Week as a project of the American Booksellers Association. Keifer, 2010 (p70)

1928 1st American Picture Book

First American picture book Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats. Keifer, 2010 (p 71)

1930 - 1940 Artists Refuge in US

European artists seek refuge in the US. Their unique contributions greatly enriched the world of picture storybooks. Keifer, 2010 (p 72)

1945 -1970 Racist stereotypes

Books portrayed people of various culture's, depicting racist stereotypes. This began before the 1950's well into the 1970's. Kiefer, 2010 (p 73)

1990 Censorship book condemned

Judy Blume's book Forever (1995) has been condemned worldwide as it is the first book which describes sexual intercourse in a children's book. Forever..._(novel)

1993 - 1995 Worldwide tension

Children's literature overtime developed tension between religion, education and political power on one hand and various concepts associated with 'freedom' (notably fantasy and the imagination) (page 5, para 5). Well known English-Histories include Darton 1932/1982 to Avery 1994 (USA) and many more in-between.

1995 - 1997 Constructions of History

Feminism and homosexuality had viewpoints from many yet weren't written about until 1995 Lynne Vallone's Disciplines of Virtue, Girls' Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Para 1 page 4).

1995 - 2001 Adult vs Children

The following books found in Hunt (2005) Chapter 1 Introduction: The expanding world of literature studies; Chris Jenk's Childhood (1996), Colin Heywood's A History of Childhood (2001), and Carol Garhart Mooney's Theories of Childhood (2000), discusses the difference between adult book and children's books and how childhood changes over time.

2004 Banned books

Educational Research Analysts provided evidence for local campaigners to ban books in Texas. Books include The Diary of Anne Frank, The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter literature (page 6, para 8).

1900 - 1952 Fantasy literature: 20th Century

Fantasy books were mainly written by English writers. Keifer, 2010 (p 77):
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows 1908 pictures by Ernest Shepard
A play written by J.M. Barrie, 1904, Never Never Land, Peter Pan. Book written in 1906 called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens illustrations by Arthur Rackham
L.Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, published 1900 - first American fantasy
Hugh Lofting, Dr Dolittle
Hugh Lofting, 1922, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle - Newbery Medal
P.L. Travers, 1920's, Mary Poppins
Margery Williams, 1922, The Velveteen Rabbit
A.A. Milne, 1926, Winnie the Pooh. Illustrations by Ernest Shepard
E.B. White, 1952, Charlotte's Web
J.R.R. Tolkein, 1937 The Hobbit
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943 translated, The Little Prince - written primarily to adults

1950 - 2000 Fantasy Literature: 2nd half of 20th Century

The 2nd half of the twentieth century emphasised serious themes. Keifer, 2010 (p 77)
C.S. Lewis, 1950, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe - imaginary kingdom of Narnia
Madeline L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper and Ursula K. Le Guin wrote literature in the 1960's about battle between good and evil (high fantasy)
1980's Hamilton's The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, 1983
Lawrence Yep, Dragon of the Lost Sea, 1982
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter series in the 21st Century

1902 20th Century: 1st work rare poet

Walter de la Mare's Songs of Childhood (1902)
"This poet understood the importance and meaning of early childhood experiences" Keifer, 2010 (p 78)

1924 Poems: Enjoyment

A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young (1924)
Now We Are Six (1927) Keifer, 2010 (p 78)

1932 - 1956 African American Poets

Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper (1932)
Countee Cullen, The Lost Zoo (1940)
Gwendolyn Brooks, Bronzeville Boys and Gils (1956)

Historical Fiction

To provide children with a view of the past reading historical fiction
Hendrik Van Loon won the Newbery Medal for the book titled The Story of Mankind (1921)

1932 Life in midwestern frontier

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House in the Big Woods books. These books gave the reader a view of what white males believed made them superior over other races and their lands.

1970 Misguided

William H Armstrong on the Newbery award for the Sounder book. This book demonstrated a misguided view of African Americans, portraying them as nameless figures.

1974 Face up to wrongs

Paula Fox, The Slave Dancer Newbery Medal. Paula tried to "face up to the wrongs in the past" Keifer, 2010 (p 79) yet failed somewhat.

1975 Success

Mildred Taylor wrote Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1975) which successfully portrayed an "accurate account of the African American experience in the Jim Crow South." Keifer, 2010 (p 79)

Contemporary Realistic Fiction
1908 L.M. Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables
1910 The beginning

A little Princess written by Frances Hodgson in 1905 and The Secret Garden in 1910.
Teachers need to ensure they ask children questions about these books and books from earlier eras through a critical lens. Keifer, 2010 (p 79)

1945 Prejudice openly discussed

Jesse Jackson wrote Call Me Charley, openly discussing prejudice for the first time

1945 Realistic fiction reflects war

As time passes, "fiction now reflects war, depression and contemporary social problems" Keifer, 2010 (p 79)
Strawberry Girl written in 1945 by Lois Lenski won the Newbery Medal

1975 At last, cultural recognition

Literature such as M.C. Higgins the Great written by Virginia Hamilton had finally brought about "people of colour representing authenticity of cultural experiences, at long last received recognition" Keifer, 2010 (p 79)