This course will take a thematic approach to the gnawed, rubbed and roughly handled material object of the children’s book from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, covering topics such as alphabet books and primers, moveables and paper engineering, paratexts, child-made things and books-as-toys. Over five days, we will examine children’s books and other printed objects intended for ‘instruction and delight’, both fiction and non-fiction, including the intriguing subset of children’s books and comics which seek to explain printing history and the history of the book to young readers. We will consider inclusivity and diversity in children’s publishing, the surprising political force of children’s literature – including recurring controversies over banned books – and our affective and emotional investments in these deceptively simple objects. Drawing on recent approaches from childhood studies, book history and bibliography, and informed by critical work in children’s librarianship and pedagogy, this course will explore how children’s print culture can push us to think about the limits of the page, the object of the book, and the complicated act we call ‘reading’. 

Teaching will be both theoretical and practical, with site visits and handling sessions at institutional collections and rare booksellers. Course materials and preparatory readings will demonstrate how critical concepts can be grounded in and developed through haptic experiences with physical printed matter. Of interest to students of children’s literature, publishing and the history of the book, and to librarians, teachers, writers, illustrators and children’s books enthusiasts, this course will provide attendees with a good grounding in current debates and developments in the field of children’s literature, enabling them to pursue their personal and professional interests.

Course convenor