Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults

Term Paper 2007 33 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. What are „Children’s Literature“ and „Young Adult Literature“?
2.1 Definitions
2.2 Historical developments in Great Britain, USA and Germany

3. What are “Fantasy” and “Fantasy Literature”?
3.1 Definitions
3.2 Sub-genres of Fantasy Literature
3.2.1 Allegorical Fantasy and Literary Fairy Tales
3.2.2 Animal Fantasy
3.2.3 Ghost Fantasy
3.2.4 Alternate Worlds or Histories
3.2.5 Myth Fantasy
3.2.6 Humorous Fantasy
3.2.7 Magic Adventure Fantasy
3.2.8 Time Travel Fantasy
3.2.9 Witchcraft and Sorcery Fantasy

4. Development of Fantasy Literature for children and young adults in Great Britain, the United States and Germany

5. Analysis of fantastic children’s and young adult literature
5.1 Motifs
5.2 Figures
5.3 Narrating techniques

6. Intentions, functions and perception

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This paper presents the fields of Children’s and Young Adult Literature[1], Fantasy Literature and both fields in context. It will firstly discuss different approaches to these fields and specify them with a description of their historical developments – especially in Great Britain, the US and Germany. The focus will lie on a specific literary piece of work – the “Harry Potter” series, containing 7 volumes, written by Joanne K. Rowling, and firstly published originally in England in 1997. This series shall be applied to the theoretical background of fantastic ChL and YAL, so that motifs, figures, narrating techniques, and intentions are considered. The paper will conclude with a justification about what “Harry Potter” really is in a literary sense: A work of fantastic ChL and YAL.

2. What are „Children’s Literature“ and „Young Adult Literature“?

2.1 Definitions

Both terms “Children’s Literature” and “Young Adult Literature” are ambiguous and thus not very easy to define. For instance, one may ask, whether ChL is written by children, read by children, written about children, written about what interests children, or written for children. One might generally answer that the notion of “Children’s Literature” includes a bit of everything (except the first aspect because children usually do not write literature).

Hunt (1996: 17) also refers to these controversies when attempting to define the term. Firstly, he puts it in rather general words: “it is a category of books the existence of which absolutely depends on supposed relationships with a particular reading audience: children.” This statement defines the target group of ChL what means that Hunt sees it as literature which is read by children. However, this definition does not clarify the notion regarding the characteristics of its field. Many critiques say that the term includes “books which are good for children and most particularly good in terms of emotional and moral values” (Hunt, 1996: 17). But what are emotionally and morally good values, and who decides what they are? This leads to the question, whether ChL is specifically written for children. In this case, authors of such literature decide what is good as well as the parents or teachers who decide to let children read it.

The German professional for ChL and YAL Ewers (1997: 5) defines the terms ChL and also YAL with two concepts: The narrower concept, which had been popular for a long time, refers to it as literature which is specifically addressed to the target group of either children or young adults. But today it is rather understood as literature which is also regarded as dealing with childhood and youth, presenting children’s and adolescents’ worlds, dealing with their problems and topics that interest the target group. This broader concept enlarges the field of specific ChL and YAL so that it includes not only literature for children and young adults but also literature that, for instance, might have been written for an adult readership but is also capable of being read by younger people due various motives.

This definition can either apply for ChL but also be adapted for the term YAL. However, it still leaves the following questions unanswered: What is childhood and youth? When does the first end and the other start? One may propose that youth starts when the child grows into puberty. But when does this end and adulthood start? It is not simply to define by age as these phases of development are personal and individual and cannot be generalised. Moreover, childhood ends increasingly earlier nowadays than it did some decades ago, and therefore, adolescence starts earlier but lasts longer. Due to these difficulties in defining and distinguishing ChL and YAL, I will refer to both not synonymously but not very distinctly either. In this paper, ChL will simply be the kind of literature which is read earlier in life and before a reader reads YAL. A more specific distinction would be rather artificial. However, both are categories of general literature with mainly independent systems of authors, publishers, distributional institutions, literary criticism, and audience (Hurrelmann, 2002: 139).

2.2 Historical developments in Great Britain, USA and Germany

ChL and YAL are both quite young in comparison to other forms of art or literature. Whereas “[m]usic, dance, drama, storytelling, the visual arts, and poetry have existed for thousands of years in diverse cultures” (Gangi, 2004: 34), ChL and YAL have only risen since “changes in the media of communication” have happened during the last several centuries. Changes such as literacy, writing, printing, electronic devices etc. continuously change the world of communication, and thus, also the world of literature.

Within the British history of ChL and YAL I will focus on the most important developments since the late medieval times. During those times, literature for children and young people consisted mainly of moral instructions and lessons which parents read to their children (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 85). Moreover, the English publisher Caxton distributed various kinds of stories and fables – often translated from other languages – to an adult readership. These stories were also often read by children and young people (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 85).

In the middle of the 16th century, several pedagogical books for children were published. Above all, the Hornbook and Primes were very popular for spreading elementary knowledge, the alphabet, numbers and prayers. However, they cannot be called literature.

The initial development of specific ChL happened during the 16th, 17th and early 18th century. “Chapbooks” were small cheap and easy books of stories and ballads which were particularly published for children (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 86). Moreover, rhymed stories became very popular amongst children and young adults. Nursery rhymes, moral and teaching verses and also religious stories were broadly distributed in Great Britain. Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was a religious book for adults but the equivalent for children was his “Book for Boys and Girls” (1686) (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 89).

Social and pedagogical developments during the period of Enlightenment (Gangi, 2004: 37) caused changes in the “conception of the child”. Above all, John Locke achieved popularity with his new statements on children’s education. He considered it good when children are not only educated through morale and discipline but also through entertaining literature and activities which promote imagination (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 89f). His main idea was to let children learn by playing and entertainment. These developments led to a general change in understanding ChL and YAL and also in referring to childhood. Therefore for instance, John Newbury opened the “Juvenile Library” in London in 1744, which was well visited by children and also parents (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 91). The continuously growing book market gave more children access to books which were originally written for adults. But stories such as “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe or “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift were often part of children’s adventure games.

During the 19th century didactical and instructional literature composed to prevent children from dangers and dangerous games became very popular. At that time also illustrations supported children’s books in their achievements of moral aims (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 101f). One of the major authors of ChL and YAL in this development was Charles Dickens. The protagonists of his novels were mainly children and young people. Therefore, Dickens’ books were read mainly, but not only by children. His realistic stories were interesting for both readerships – children and adults.

Other genres of ChL and YAL emerged during the second half of the 19th century. On the one hand, Grimm’s popular stories were translated from German into English and distributed all over Britain. But also “Nonsense Literature”, fantastic stories and humorous nursery rhymes found their ways into children’s bedrooms. Catherine Sinclair, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Rudyard Kipling and Anna Sewell are only a few famous authors of that period, who wrote for adults but also specifically for children.

The beginning of the 20th century brought aesthetic movements among ChL and YAL (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 116). Oscar Wilde and J. M. Barrie composed stories for children that were meant to on the one hand be humorous and intellectually demanding but on the other hand also fulfil certain aesthetic standards.

The decades before World Wars I and II are often called “the golden age of children’s literature” (Townsend, 1996: 682) since highly credited works by authors such as Tolkien, Nesbit, Blyton, Milne and Travers were texts for children and young people, and because the book market of ChL and YAL expanded continuously. The time between the two wars in the 20th century was not very successful in terms of ChL and YAL.

Only after “A New Age” (Townsend, 1996: 683f) had begun. An “expanding school and library work with children” specialised the book market further so that “specialist children’s editors” worked on specific ChL and YAL. Major authors of the beginning of this new period were for instance, C. S. Lewis and Roald Dahl with their fantastic stories about and for children. Since the development of multimedia devices such as TV, video, PC and CD there is a shift in communication and the use of literature. Children do not only have books as mass media products for entertainment and education, but also other forms of media, so that books have become only one of many products to consume. However, the book market is still growing and because ChL and YAL are also increasingly used in schools, literature is still read by children and young adults. Also an increasing number of international works are nowadays translated into English for the British book market.

The history of North American ChL and YAL starts slightly later than in Britain. Due to migration processes from Europe to North America, European settlers brought European literature with them (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 273). Therefore, British literature had major influence on the development of original North American literature. Because there were no laws and copyrights for book publishers in North America, people could therefore easily purchase British or other European books, and as such people in North America did not need their own literature. It was only after a while that independent and original literature developed.

One of the first independently developed works from Europe was the “New England Primer” of 1691, which was based on the English version (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 273). Having taken European books as models, North American authors wrote various books with advice and instructions to teach their young readers behavioural and moral lessons; e. g. “Almanach des armen Richard” (1732). After that literature for children and young adults became continuously more specific and diverse. For instance, magazines such as “The American Boy” (1827) were published particularly for a young target group. Another very popular genre of literature amongst young people was a type of travel literature. Books such as “The Tales of Peter Parley about America” (1827) and later stories about other parts of the world gave their young readers the opportunity to gain geographical knowledge more pleasantly than through normal school education (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 274).

From the beginning of the 19th century onwards especially, many female authors such as Lydia Maria Child, dedicated their literary works to families and children. Moreover, literature which promotes children’s emotions, imagination and taste became more and more important at that time. This was one of the main reasons why there were more authors of ChL who wrote exclusively for children – apart from those who wrote pedagogical and didactical literature (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 275). Adventure stories and stories about Native American people were very popular genres, e. g. “Last of the Mohicans” by J. F. Cooper. Another genre that gained importance was the realistic narrative, which is typically American. In stories such as “Uncle Tom’s cabin” by Harriet Beecher-Stowe authors worked with real material of the contemporary America, its people and zeitgeist. Such books were originally not mainly written for children or young adults but were frequently read by them.

After another emergence of educational literature during the end of the 19th century, in which questions about education were discussed (e. g. “Young women” and “Young men” by L. M. Alcott), the golden age of the North American ChL began. Although books such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain (1876) were not specifically written for a young readership, they quickly became classics of ChL and YAL. These realistic materials should mainly entertain young people but also to remind adults of their youth (Bravo-Villasante, 1977: 285). In this “era of the child” (Griswold, 1996: 876) between the American Civil war and World War I people understood that children have their own “unique needs”. During this time some of the most popular and famous works were published: e. g. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” or “The Secret Garden”.

The modern period of ChL and YAL started after the First World War (Griswold, 1996: 878). Since 1925 illustrated books and picture books for the pre-school and elementary education of little children emerged more frequently (e. g. books by L. Frank Baum).

The time after World War II brought more stories with international topics into the children’s and young adult book market. Moreover, this literary field became even more specific. This led to an increasing importance of young adult novels where “adolescent suffering maturation or puberty” (Griswold, 1996: 878) play a major role. One of the classics of this period is J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”.

Griswold (1996: 881) describes the developments of America’s late 20th century as follows: “[Its] acute interest in children’s literature reminds us how much the subject is entwined with presentiments of morality and sentiments of nostalgia.”

The German tradition of ChL and YAL developed particularly during the last third of the 18th century. There had been literature for and read by children and young adults before but this specific period was the beginning of ChL and YAL in a modern sense (Hurrelmann, 2002: 135). Since then professionals speak of “Specific ChL and YAL”. The developments that have taken place until today can be described in three phases (Hurrelmann, 2002: 135):

The first phase during the German Enlightenment was characterised through pedagogic professionals and so-called “philanthropists” such as John Locke. They promoted a more realistic, illustrative and independent learning process of children. This also meant that the aims of texts were moral education, and imagination and enjoyment of reading were only permitted as long as these aims were not endangered. Texts were therefore quite indoctrinating (Hurrelmann, 2002: 136). Many books and magazines were translated from French into German as France used to be the “model for German literature” (Ewers, 1996: 735). Only 1772 the “first independent German children’s magazine” was published. Towards the end of the 18th century first picture books for children, e. g. the “Bilderbuch für Kinder” appeared in Germany (Ewers, 1996: 736). One of the most important writers for children at that time was Joachim Heinrich Campe. He postulated that children’s literature should be restricted “to the child’s concerns and [concentrate] on the child’s environment” (Ewers, 1996: 736). Further developments in ChL were characterised by a process of becoming independent from French and British ideals. “[F]rom this time, the history of European children’s literature was largely written in Germany” (Ewers, 1996: 737).


[1] I will refer to Children’s Literature and Young Adult Literature from now on with the abbreviations ChL and YAL.


ISBN (eBook)
File size
433 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Frankfurt (Main) – IEAS
Fantasy Literature Children Young Adults Hauptseminar Book Bites From Alice Wonderland Harry Potter



Title: Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults