module specification

SJ5059 - The Literature of Childhood (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title The Literature of Childhood
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 15
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Group Presentation 20%   Contribution to group presentation and supporting material
Coursework 80%   2,000-word essay with creative option
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Morning

Module summary

The Literature of Childhood is a 15 credit, level 5 module that looks at how literature written for and about children over the last two hundred years has given voice to the changing concept of childhood and the values, ideals and fears that have been associated with childhood throughout this period. The module will be delivered in weekly classes and tutorials over a 15 week period. Assessment is based on an oral presentation and a 3,000 word assignment.

Module aims

The Literature of Childhood aims:
1. To give students a basic understanding of how the idea of childhood has evolved in response to historical and cultural developments from the late 18th century onwards.
2. To give students an understanding of the role of literature in shaping the concept of childhood and the experience of being a child.
3. To encourage students to explore and understand the connections between works of literature and other media such as, visual art, advertising and journalism.
4. To enhance their ability to use historical research as a way of exploring and understanding literary texts.
5. To encourage students to explore the key ideas and themes that have characterised fiction written about and for children, over the last two hundred years.


What is childhood and what kinds of values, fears and fantasies do we associate with it? How and why does the meaning of childhood change in different cultural and historical contexts? What can its representations of children reveal about a society’s values and ideals? What are the roles of literature and culture more broadly, in shaping the experience of childhood?

This module seeks to answer and explore these questions via comparative analysis of a wide range of texts from the 18th century to the present day.  For the most part students will be focussing on works of literature written for or about children, but these will be discussed alongside historical artefacts such as clothes and toys, advertising, works of visual art, newspaper reports, legal and medical documents.
Texts will vary, but key themes covered may include: the emergence of childhood as a response to the growth of the modern city and the rise of industrial capitalism, the changing function and status of the fairy tale, the influence of psychoanalysis on the idea of childhood, alternate worlds in children’s fiction, the association of childhood with both innocence and evil, the Bildungsroman (novel of growing up), the child as consumer.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered in weekly classes over a 15 week period. The format of classes will vary from week to week, but mostly classes will combine lectures, which will be supplemented by notes available on weblearn, whole seminar discussion and small group work, and weekly sessions of guided blended learning. Students will need to complete tasks prior to classes which may include, reading set texts, undertaking online research, taking part in online discussion via weblearn and identifying relevant artefacts or documents. Classes will be enhanced by various activities. One week may be used to visit the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green, artefacts from which students will be asked to discuss and explore in relation to other texts from the module. Students will also be encouraged to visit The Foundling Museum at Coram Fields.  Some weeks will also include student presentations and during two of the weeks, the two hour session will be divided into small group or individual tutorial sessions. During these weeks students will be encouraged to reflect on their progress and work on their PDP, while museum visits and research tasks will enhance their employability skills. With its particular focus on representations of childhood and on children’s fiction, this module will particularly strengthen the employability of students interested in pursuing a career in education.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
1. Evaluate the historical evolution of childhood as a key concept in modern western culture.
2. Distinguish specific aspects of the role of literature in shaping the concept of childhood and the experience of being a child.
3. Draw and explain productive connections between works of literature and other media.
4. Identify relevant historical sources and use them effectively in their analysis and evaluation of works of literature.
5. Discuss, analyse and evaluate the key themes and ideas that characterise literature for and about children.

Assessment strategy

Formative assessment will be based on:
In-class writing exercises
Essay planning

Summative assessment will be based on:
Group presentation, supported by written material
2,000-word essay with the option to write a creative piece with accompanying critical commentary


Indicative Primary texts
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Charles Dickens Oliver Twist
Henry James The Turn of the Screw
J. M. Barrie Peter Pan
Philip Pullman Northern Lights
John Boyne The Boy in Striped Pyjamas

Secondary Reading
Jackie Horne History and The Construction of the Child in Early British Children’s Literature, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011
Andrew O’Malley and Jack Zipes The Making of the Modern Child: Children’s Literature and Childhood in the Late Eighteenth Century,  Routledge: London 2003
Jacqueline Rose The Case of Peter Pan: Or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1993
Sally Shuttleworth The Mind of the Child: Child development in Literature, Science and Medicine, 1840-1900, Oxford U P, 2010
Jack Zipes Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children’s Literature, Fairy Tales and Storytelling, London: Routledge 2009

Electronic Resources
Peter Hunt Understanding Children’s Literature (e-book), London: Routledge 2005
Journal of Children’s Literature (journal)
Children’s Literature (journal)  (Victoria and Albert National Art Library: Children’s Literature collections