Children's Literature: Collections
To twenty-first-century readers familiar with the overwhelming success of children’s books, such as the Harry Potter series and the iconic stories created by Roald Dahl, it might be surprising to learn that children's literature as a genre did not truly emerge until the 1700s. Due to Puritan influence, early children's tales were both entertaining and moralistic, intended to teach and shape the character of a child through the story—Aesop's Fables and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are good examples. It was not until the late 1800s that children's literature lost its didactic style, and stories designed purely for entertainment began to emerge. During this time, children's books also became more available as improved printing technologies made books more affordable and literacy rates increased. Having lost their didacticism, books like The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia Peabody Hale, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett emerged, leading many to consider the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the golden age of children's literature. It wasn't until the creation of the Newbery Medal in the 1920s however, that publishers finally began to take children's literature seriously as a marketable genre.
The early history of children's literature in America was closely tied to the preferences that came out of England. It was not until the end of the Civil War that American children's books began to develop their own style. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was revolutionary in creating interest in realistic family-oriented books, while The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was central to popularizing realistic fiction for children. Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, influenced the development of beginner's books and the fantastical in children's literature. Children's magazines were also important in circulating and popularizing stories aimed specifically at children.