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Making Grateful Kids
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Children's LiteratureChildren's Literature

A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter

Seth Lerer

Choice Outstanding Academic Title; National Book Critics Circle Award

Narrated by Tony Craine

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Chicago Press

Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children’s literature. Children’s Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter.

The only single-volume work to capture the rich and diverse history of children’s literature in its full panorama, this extraordinary book reveals why J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and many others, despite their divergent styles and subject matter, have all resonated with generations of readers. Children’s Literature is an exhilarating quest across centuries, continents, and genres to discover how, and why, we first fall in love with the written word.

Seth Lerer is dean of arts and humanities at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of many books, including Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language, and the editor of several collections, including The Yale Companion to Chaucer.


“Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre.... Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.”

Library Journal

“Lerer’s history reminds us of the wealth of literature written during the past 2,600 years.... With his vast and multidimensional knowledge of literature, he underscores the vital role it plays in forming a child’s imagination. We are made, he suggests, by the books we read.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer’s most interesting chapter focuses on girls’ fiction.... A brilliant series of readings.”

—Diane Purkiss, Times Literary Supplement

“Lerer's Olympian survey of more than 2,000 years leaves the reader with a stimulating vision of history.... His narrative swells and ebbs like a symphony.... To find Pilgrim's Progress and Weetzie Bat in a single volume is itself a pleasure. ”

—Michael Sims, Washington Post Book World


Introduction. Toward a New History of Children’s Literature

1. Speak, Child: Children’s Literature in Classical Antiquity

2. Ingenuity and Authority: Aesop’s Fables and Their Afterlives

3. Court, Commerce, and Cloister: The Literatures of Medieval Childhood

4. From Alphabet to Elegy: The Puritan Impact on Children’s Literature

5. Playthings of the Mind: John Locke and Children’s Literature 

6. Canoes and Cannibals: Robinson Crusoe and Its Legacies

7. From Islands to Empires: Storytelling for a Boy’s World

8. On beyond Darwin: From Kingsley to Seuss

9. Ill-Tempered and Queer: Sense and Nonsense, from Victorian to Modern

10. Straw into Gold: Fairy-Tale Philology

11. Theaters of Girlhood: Domesticity, Desire, and Performance in Female Fiction

12. Pan in the Garden: The Edwardian Turn in Children’s Literature

13. Good Feeling: Prizes, Libraries, and the Institutions of American Children’s Literature

14. Keeping Things Straight: Style and the Child

15. Tap Your Pencil on the Paper: Children’s Literature in an Ironic Age

Epilogue. Children’s Literature and the History of the Book

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks