Justice for Juniors: Trends in Children’s Literature

By: Molly Boylan

No longer can children just cuddle up with a nice novel without being infiltrated with double meanings and hidden statements. Nope, there is always a double meaning attached to these materials. For many years, the Journal of Children’s Literature has been decoding and exploring the different genres and themes of children’s and young adult literature with the help of scholars, teachers, librarians and students submitting their papers and research. In turn, this is the same audience for the journal. The articles that are commonly accepted in the journal are ones dealing with “research, theory, content analysis, instruction, and critical issues in children’s literature,” (Albright). The main trends among the most recent issues are children’s involvement in reading, social justice, and multiculturalism.

Foremost, a theme that I noticed to be throughout the journal is children’s involvement with the texts and in the journal articles. It seems as though some of the articles have acquired and synthesized what children are saying about the texts given to them.  By looking at the titles we can see this pattern: “In Search of the Ideal reader for Nonfiction Children’s Books about Dia de los Muertes” and “Becoming Characters: Deepening Young Children’s Literary Understanding through Drama,” (Journal of Children’s Literature Vols. 37-38). These articles seem to be asking the question: how can I get the students involved? Here, we can see the large emphasis put on understanding the readers. No longer is the child just reading the book, but they are becoming an active member in the discussions. There is great stress on having the children be able to analyze and read into the text. This would cultivate active learners rather than passive learners. Getting the children involved in the reading and implementation of the materials could be a reason why the following trends have also come about.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Children’s Literature from Fall 2012, the most noticeable trend is social justice. Evidence of this trend can be seen in the titles of the various published articles: “Developing Understandings of Social Justice: Critical Thinking in Action Literature Discussion Group”, “Injustice and Irony: Student’s Respond to Japanese American Internment Picturebooks”, “Freedom Riders: A National Geographic Journey in Social Justice through Imagery”, and a poem entitled “The Activist” (Journal of Children’s Literature Vol.38). This trend can be derived from the recent social changes that are going on. For example, in movies such as The Hunger Games and The Batman series the main protagonist is pitted against a powerful source of injustice. For Katniss, it is the strongly unjust Capital making children fight to the death. For Batman, he is forcefully fighting against whatever villain is trying to take over Gotham. While watching the movie, the audience is silently cheering for justice to prevail over the antagonist. Thus, when goodness prevails the crowd is pleased. In the same way, novels and children’s books can be the source of this morality and activism being found in today’s generation.

Another trend that I found in the journal was an emphasis on the readers acceptance of multiculturalism. For example, titles like: “Some People Do Things Different Than Us: Exploring Personal and Global Cultures in the First Grade Classroom,” “My Story, Your Story, Our Story: Cultural Connections and Issues on Children’s Literature” and “I Have a Dream Too!: The American Dream in Coretta Scott King Award-Winning Books,” all have to deal with different cultures other than what the reader may be used to (Journal of Children’s Literature Vols. 37-38). These titles were taken from the 2011 and 2012 issues of the Journal of Children’s Literature. I theorize that this trend is in conjunction with the political debates and social debates of today. Furthermore, at the time, the acceptance of people “different than me” seems to be reigning in the newspaper headlines. Everyone has been calling for acceptance of other people beliefs, sexuality, religion, skin color and others, which is still happening today. By the children’s book being able to start this conversation, children will be able to grow up learning about acceptance and how there are different stories in life other than their own.

In closing, noticing the trends of young reader’s involvement, social justice, and acceptance of culture, will bring about a new understanding of the power of literature for children. There is a grand influence in the books children are reading. We need to accept it, step into the conversation, and act on it; just like the young readers are doing.



Works Cited

Albright, Lettie K.1. “Call For Manuscripts.” Journal Of Children’s Literature 38.2 (2012): 3-4. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

The Journal of Children’s Literature 38.1 (2012): n. pag. Education Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

The Journal of Children’s Literature 38.2 (2012): n. pag. Education Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

The Journal of Children’s Literature 37.1 (2011): n. pag. Education Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

The Journal of Children’s Literature 37.2 (2011): n. pag. Education Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

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