Genre as Nexus

The Novel for Children and Young Adults

Authored by: Mike Cadden

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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In considering the many factors that go into the definition of the children’s novel, literary critic Mike Cadden addresses a range of issues that link his discussion to other chapters in this volume. How, for instance, do children’s novels engage their readership in ways that are different from picturebooks? What distinguishes a children’s novel from a young adult novel? Why and for whom do these distinctions matter? What remains the same when surface features of children’s books change and new forms emerge? His discussion of mode is especially helpful in bringing a conscious and critical awareness to the question of just how we know a children’s novel when we see one, even when the children’s novels in question are as complex and challenging as Philip Pullman’s work. Pullman’s Point of Departure, then, picks up the discussion from the point of view of an author whose work has been challenged with the same vexing question: Is this really a children’s book?

When literary critics look at children’s novels, they often struggle with what defines the genre: What makes a book marketed to children and packaged in a certain format a children’s novel, and not something else? What are the characteristics, formal and thematic, that distinguish it from other kinds of writing for children or adults? Are all of the various categories, modes, and forms traditionally and historically identified in the study of “the novel” present and accounted for in books written for children? Whereas librarians, educators, publishers, and children themselves might know a “chapter book” when they see one, and be content to distinguish it from a picturebook or a YA novel, literary critics are keen to parse fine distinctions and come up with definitions and genre categories that place children’s books within the larger contexts of literary studies. This kind of work helps them understand their field better, and tracking changes and innovations in literary genres gives scholars insight into shifting cultural and aesthetic values as well.

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