The History of Children's Literature

The development of literature

Oral Stories were heard

401 - 1500

Before man learned to write, he had to rely on his memory to learn anything. The oldest surviving tale in the storytelling history is the epic, Gilgamesh, relating to the deeds of a famous Sumerian king. The earliest known record in the origin of storytelling can be found in the Egypt, when the sons of Cheops entertained their father with stories.
Songs and stories would also be told sat next to fires by the castles.

Greeks & Romans


The Greeks & Romans would recite poetry and drama as a form of story telling and creating fantasies.

Religious & Instructional Natures of Literature

700 - 1744

Children was of a religious and instructional nature. Books taught children the behaviour that was expected within the society.

The Elucidarium


“Elucidarium” or book of general information for young students was developed by Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury. This was a type of encyclopaedia and covered topics such as manners, children’s duties, the properties of animals and plants, and religious precepts.

Origin of Western Printing

1380 - 1420

Historians uphold that Holland began printing between 1380 - 1420

The Hornbook


Young children learned to read from a “hornbook”. This was a small wooden paddle with parchment paper attached. On this paper the alphabet, the vowels and the Lord’s Prayer were printed

Lullabies were sung


During Medieval Europe, children started to listen to lullabies before bed time

A Chapbook

1501 - 1549

A chapbook is “a small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts”. They were cheaply produced. The term is still used today to refer to short, inexpensive booklets.

Johann Amos Comenius


Johann Amos Comenius’s, “Orbis Pictus”, is often referred to as the first picture book for children.

A Book for Boys & Girls


John Bunyan's book for Boys & Girls was published in 1686

Gulliver's Travels in published


Jonathan Swift (1976)

A Little Pretty Pocket Book


Known as the first book for entertainment. Author - John Newberry

The Changes in Literature for Children

1744 - Present

Beliefs about child rearing began to change due to thoughts of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and David Hume. John Locke maintained that as soon as children knew their alphabet they should be led to read for pleasure. This began a change in the literature written for children.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Author - Lewis Carroll. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre, and its narrative course and structure, characters and imagery have been enormously influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


Frank Baum.
The Classic fantasy Novel written by an American

Marie Shedlock


In the 1900s the importance of oral storytelling was recognised by storytellers such as Marie Shedlock, a retired English schoolteacher. She made several tours to the United States to lecture on the art of storytelling emphasising the importance of storytelling as a natural way to introduce literature to children.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

1902 - Present

Beatrix Potter - the start of a tale about Peter Rabbit. Became very successful

Book Week

1919 - Present

Children’s book week was promoted in 1919 by Frederick Melcher. Schools, libraries, newspapers and book stores supported the event

The Caldecott Medal & Honor


The Caldecott Medal was given for the most distinguished illustration of the year. It was first awarded in 1938 for Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book , illustrated by Dorothy P.

Crocodile Tears


André François's Crocodile Tears (Universe Books NY, 1956) uses an extreme landscape format to reflect and emphasize the subject matter. It was François's first picture book as author-artist.

Jungle Book


Walk Disney started publishing cartoon coloured stories for children

Newberry Medal


The Newberry Medal was the first award in the world to be given for “distinguished contribution to literature for children”. It was first awarded in 1921 to Van Look for the "Story of Mankind."