The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature
Julia Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone have compiled an engaging, scholarly and thought-provoking collection of essays, covering a wide range of approaches to the academic study of children’s literature. Their handbook is an excellent resource for postgraduate or advanced undergraduate students, scholars who are new to the field, and anyone who wishes to keep abreast of new research and innovative approaches to children’s literature. It ambitiously aims to put forward the possibilities of children’s literature scholarship and focuses on a wide and diverse range of literary texts to introduce theoretical, methodological and critical approaches, as well as historical, social and political themes. In so doing it includes, but also moves well beyond, what is usually accepted as ‘literature’ and presents twenty-six essays on, for instance, children’s classics, popular fiction, comics, early readers, audience, theatre and film.
The book, though substantial and sophisticated, is appealing and accessible. The editors’ concise introduction provides a useful compass for those who might be relatively new to the field. Further, the essays are usefully arranged within four sections that help the reader navigate the complex and diverse criticism on offer. A reader who wishes to develop a clear appreciation of the various theoretical models and approaches that have been invigorating the field will want to read the book at length, but it also rewards the reader who wishes to ‘dip in’ in order to explore specific texts or themes.
The focus, throughout, is on raising thought-provoking questions about the boundaries, values and challenges of children’s literature and here the genuinely interdisciplinary nature of the handbook is a particularly rewarding feature. ‘Childhood’ is usefully presented as a problematic and contested term, and issues relating to diverse representations of childhood are highlighted and threaded throughout. This gives the book a dynamism and theoretical sophistication that will help provoke further debate and enquiry.
Review by Kay Sambell
This review was published online in