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Take a close look at the subject of children’s and young adult literature, also known as juvenile literature, which are written works (including poetry, short stories, novels, picture books, and chapter books) created to be read either to or by children and teenagers. Generally, this genre of literature has a lower reading level and focuses on age-appropriate subjects. It should be recognized, however, that many adults enjoy reading books that target younger people.
Early works for youth tended to focus on the improvement of the child, with an emphasis on educational books, religious texts, and books on conduct. John Newbery has been credited with creating the first children’s book designed for the enjoyment of youth with the publication of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1744.
Children’s literature became a distinct literary form in the second half of the nineteenth century as major social changes—including a growing middle class and increased literacy—also brought about a recognition of youth as unique readers. Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) signaled a change in children’s literature to a focus on fantasy and imagination, with Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories as stand-outs. Realistic novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure stories Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women were also popular.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, English children’s author Beatrix Potter has been credited with being the first to use pictures as well as words to tell the stories of her animal characters such as Peter Rabbit. A. A. Milne also made use of illustrations to tell the stories of his most famous character, Winnie-the-Pooh, in the years between World War I and World War II. One of the most famous children’s book authors and illustrators is known as “Dr. Seuss”; he produced more than sixty books after World War II, including the classics The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.
The years around and after World War II were especially fertile for young adult fantasies, with the publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, and the whimsical novels of Roald Dahl. Fantasy continued to be an important medium, particularly for young adults, into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Two of the most famous modern fantasy series for young adults are the Harry Potter series written by J. K. Rowling (1997–2007) and the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (2005–2008).
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