Children's Literature

The story of children’s fiction: organising a special collection

The Education Faculty Library team are always discussing and exploring ways that we can make our physical & electronic resources more user friendly & easily accessible to our student groups and academics. We have a growing collection of children’s fiction which spans from early years to young adult and is organised in alphabetical order by the author’s surname. We have separate sections for short stories, poetry & fairytales but we weren’t sure that one sequence of material for the main collection was the most helpful way it could be organised.

We discussed the following ideas: could we separate the books by theme? Or should we divide them by reader ability or by the age of the aimed readership? Should we split picture books from the rest of the collection, and display them face on to facilitate browsing – the spines of these books are often so thin that they become ‘invisible’ on the shelves. If we did that should we then separate out fiction books aimed at primary and secondary school children too?

We took a selection of the books from authors with surnames beginning with ‘a’ and tried to categorise them according to the above criteria and encountered our first problem: what constitutes a picture book and how does this differ from books aimed at younger readers? It also quickly became apparent that it was going to be difficult to split the collection into primary and secondary subsections. After some discussion, we realised that our existing knowledge of the collection was not specialised enough for the task and so we asked one of our Children’s Literature PhD students, Ashley Wilson, for advice.

Ashley’s response:Wilson photo

“When Lauren contacted me about children’s fiction, I was just working on a talk to give to Year 10 students about children’s literature research. In that lecture I had the students read a picture book in pairs, and then answer several questions I had prepared, including ‘What age level is this book appropriate for?’ This question can be controversial in children’s literature research. It’s a pragmatic question in terms of teacher training: what level reading is this? Will all of the students in my classroom be able to read it, or just the higher achieving ones? For this reason I wanted to include it in a lecture aimed toward potential education undergraduates.

In research, we often find that picture books are pushed to the side when it comes to the actual child once they reach a certain age and ability level. In reality, these books offer a chance for the child to not only practice reading words, but also read images, something that in today’s visual culture happens all the time, from advertisements on the sides of buses to the new Captain America film, and everything in-between. Even the simplest picture book text-wise can have a lot to offer a reader of all ages and abilities, and as was pointed out by one of the Library team, Amy, certain picture books can address difficult or scary topics that might be more appropriate for more mature children.

Though the picture book and the YA novel are certainly two different kinds of fiction, separating the two runs the risk of mimicking what is done in the real world all too often, withholding the picture book from anyone who is not a young child.”

Following Ashley’s comments we decided to keep the collection in one sequence and instead to concentrate our efforts on producing displays on different themes to improve accessibility – for example we are currently displaying a selection of books Shortlisted for Awards:

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For those of you who haven’t already discovered our lovely Children’s Literature collection you will find it in the Library on the lower ground floor behind the Issue & Enquiry Desk – the themed displays are on the bookcase on the curving ramp.