This essay is an investigation into how learning is portrayed in children's books. It starts from two premises: first, that at least one origin of children's literature is in didacticism, and that learning and pedagogy continue to be important in much of the literature we provide for children today. Thus, for example, David Rudd claims that most histories of children's literature on "the tension between instruction and entertainment," and that the genre as we know it develops within, among other things, "an educational system promoting literacy" (29, 34). Seth Lerer's recent Children's Literature: A Reader's History similarly traces the origins of children's literature in didacticism, as does Peter Hunt in his very different Introduction to Children's Literature. Hunt writes, for example, that "it is arguably impossible for a children's book (especially one being read by a child) not to be educational or influential in some way; it cannot help but reflect an ideology and, by extension, didacticism" (3). Even critics who emphasize the subversive or nondidactic nature of literature for children, such as Alison Lurie, must nonetheless implicitly recognize its pedagogic value, noting that it can "appeal to the imaginative, questioning" child--the child who learns, in other words--and "act as a force for change" (xi).

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Copyright © 2009 Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Children's Literature 37 (2009), 216-235.

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