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The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature [Paperback]

Perry Nodelman

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Book Description

26 Aug 2008

What exactly is a children’s book? How is children’s literature defined as a genre? A leading scholar presents close readings of six classic stories to answer these questions and offer a clear definition of children’s writing as a distinct literary form.

Perry Nodelman begins by considering the plots, themes, and structures of six works: "The Purple Jar," Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Doolittle, Henry Huggins, The Snowy Day, and Plain City—all written for young people of varying ages in different times and places—to identify shared characteristics. He points out markers in each work that allow the adult reader to understand it as a children’s story, shedding light on ingrained adult assumptions and revealing the ways in which adult knowledge and experience remain hidden in apparently simple and innocent texts.

Nodelman then engages a wide range of views of children's literature from authors, literary critics, cultural theorists, and specialists in education and information sciences. Through this informed dialogue, Nodelman develops a comprehensive theory of children's literature, exploring its commonalities and shared themes.

The Hidden Adult is a focused and sophisticated analysis of children’s literature and a major contribution to the theory and criticism of the genre.

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The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature + Radical Children's Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction + Understanding Children's Literature: Key Essays from the Second Edition of the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature
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More About the Author

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Perry Nodelman is a leading scholar of children’s literature and The Hidden Adult is arguably his magnum opus.

(Beverly Lyon Clark, author of Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America)

A 'must' for any collection catering to librarians or any studying children's literature, especially at the college level.

(Midwest Book Review)

Without question essential reading for professionals of all stripes engaged in the study of children's literature.

(BCCB, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books)

Drawing on his deep understanding of literary scholarship, postmodern theory, and children's literature for this learned work, Nodelman builds extensive arguments informed by philosophy, psychology, and culture studies as well as literary criticism. Highly recommended.


The capstone of a long and distinguished career, by an author who relishes the complexity and ambiguity he finds inherent in books intended for children.

(School Library Journal)

The Hidden Adult is ground breaking; it will inform the study of children's literature for a long time to come.

(Children's Literature)

This is a massively important book. Go buy it.

(Peter Hunt Children's Literature Association Quarterly)

It is without question essential reading for professionals of all stripes engaged in the study of children's literature.

(Professional Connections: Resources for Teachers and Librarians)

Orbiting around children and their books are hundreds of academic books and courses, puzzling out what children’s literature is, and what it does, and how it works. A lot has been thought and written about this (some good, some bad) – and Perry Nodelman’s brilliantly comprehensive and accessible analysis pulls it all together. No need to keep re-inventing the wheel of defining children, children’s books, response, literature, value, or why and how we talk about these books... it’s all here. This book shows the kind of knowledge that I only wish I had – and it’s a model of readability and generosity of spirit. Anyone who wants to know what has been thought about children and books – from the absolutely essential to the rather strange – could not find a better place to start.

(Peter Hunt Books For Keeps, The Children's Book Magazine Online)

About the Author

Perry Nodelman is professor emeritus of English at the University of Winnipeg and author of The Pleasure of Children’s Literature and Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. Professor Nodelman is also an accomplished author of children’s books such as Behaving Bradley.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must' for any collection catering to librarians or any studying children's literature, especially at the college level 15 Dec 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
THE HIDDEN ADULT: DEFINING CHILDREN'S LITERATURE surveys the plots, themes, approaches and structures of six major works in his efforts to define the shared characteristics of children's literature. From ALICE IN WONDERLAND to DR. DOOLITTLE and HENRY HUGGINS, these classics are analyzed with attention to the 'markers' that point out this is children's literature - and then uses a rang of critical and culture viewpoints to define a theory of children's literature. A 'must' for any collection catering to librarians or any studying children's literature, especially at the college level.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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