12 Professional Reading Titles That Focus on Children’s Literature

These recent and forthcoming titles celebrate the possibilities of children’s literature to support transformation, global consciousness, and creativity.

From three collections of essays celebrating three iconic titles for children to deep dives into tropes and genres in various spaces of children’s literature, these 12 recent and forthcoming titles show that scholarship and criticism about children’s media continues to flourish. 


Roald Dahl by Matthew Dennison. Pegasus. ISBN 9781639363322.
The chronicler of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame turns to Roald Dahl (1916–1990) in his latest literary biography. Dennison presents the often divisive author as a man full of contradictions who believed the main purpose of his children’s books is to turn kids into readers and not necessarily teach them a lesson. The book follows his journey as an ace pilot, husband, and father. Eventually, Dahl gains a reputation for his writing and turns to children’s books in 1961 with the publication of James and the Giant Peach. Dennison is not shy about discussing Dahl’s marital issues and reputation as a bully. The biographer is squarely on Dahl’s side though, and some readers might be turned off by his sometimes gush-filled treatment of the subject. Also, Dennison briefly mentions some of the critiques about Dahl’s anti-Semitism, thoughts on Israel, and his characterization of the Oompa-Loompas without judgment, which may doesn’t sit well. VERDICT With the resurgence of Matilda’s popularity, this biography will most likely find a home on most biography shelves for book-loving adults.Shelley M. Diaz 

Open at the Close: Literary Essays on Harry Potter by Cecilia Konchar Farr, ed. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496839312.
A collection of essays centered around the iconic “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling. With explorations on the way the series presents trauma, empathy, and sociopolitical concerns, among other topics, this work delves deeply into the literary impact of the Wizarding World as opposed to its cultural influence. Fifteen contributors from diverse background provide in-depth looks at why the series continues to fascinate so many. Although not focused on the recent cultural issues of the text, the coda by Tolonda Henderson exploring the harm perpetuated by the comments of “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” through her increasing anti-trans statements roots this collection in contemporary awareness.VERDICT A well-done if not completely up-to-the-minute discussion of the popular series. Read alongside Harry Potter and the Other, edited by Sarah Park Dahlen and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.Jen McConnel 

 A Centennial Celebration of The Brownies’ Book by Dianne Johnson-Feelings & Jonda C. McNair, eds. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496841230.
“To make them familiar with the history and achievements of the Negro race” and “To make colored children realize that being ‘colored’ is a beautiful, normal thing.” That was the impetus behind the informal children’s counterpart to NAACP’s The Crisis. In addition to the essays examining the context and impact of The Brownies’ Book, the foundational publication of Black children’s literature in the United States, this collection also reproduces the full first and last issues, from January 1920 to December 1921. Essays explore identity and empowerment of Black children and the impact of diverse literary representations. They also explore conversations around Afrofuturism and critical race theory. This rich volume is a celebration, indeed! Rudine Sims Bishop wrote the foreword. It features over 70 black-and-white images. VERDICT Revelatory and illuminating, this is a must-purchase.Jen McConnel  

 The Green Mister Rogers: Environmentalism in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood by Sara Lindey & Jason King. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496838667.
Coauthors Lindey and King devote careful attention to the five episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that aired to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990 under the theme “Caring for the Environment.” This book expands on the impassioned, environmental teachings of Fred Rogers throughout his life. It offers yet another way to approach the work Rogers did, emphasizing his commitment to the connection and care for human and non-human relations and ecosystems. The steep price might be prohibitive, but the paperback edition could fit the bill. Over 30 color images are spread throughout, making this an even more appealing read. VERDICT This book is a must-read, and al rich addition to any collection on children's media.Jen McConnel  

Pictured Worlds: Masterpieces of Children’s Book Art by 101 Essential Illustrators from Around the World by Leonard S. Marcus. Abrams. ISBN 9781419738982.
A stunning collection that presents a treasure trove of children’s books’ history. The 101 artists featured each made an extraordinary contribution to the illustrated children’s book form. Most of them have been lauded with Caldecotts, Hans Christian Awards, or Kate Greenaway Medals. Featured are many familiar creators, such as Eric Carle, Ashley Bryan, Virginia Lee Burton, and Yuyi Morales. Renowned international artists include Akaba Suekichi, Elsa Beskow, and Christian Epanya. Unfortunately, only a handful of the subjects are BIPOC, reflective of the very white children’s books publishing landscape. Each person is accompanied by an example of their work. Photos, reproductions, biographies, and publication histories are shared for each. These elements prove why the artists merit inclusion in this compendium of greats. The impeccable design and author’s expertise will delight children’s lit aficionados and academics. VERDICT A work of art in itself, this volume about the picture book art form is a must-have for shelves celebrating children’s books.Shelley M. Diaz 


Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children by Emily Midkiff. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496839022.
Starting from the history of both children’s literature and science fiction, this title builds a compelling case for adult gatekeepers to reconsider any resistance they may have to the idea of science fiction for children. Midkiff emphasizes the speculative power of science fiction to support young readers as they develop their own reasoning skills, and she argues that children have the capacity to understand science and technology in their narratives and are eager to do so, despite the scarcity she identifies in genre titles geared at children. The work highlights over 350 children’s books through three empirical studies. Even better, it presents the voices of real children and practitioners. Black-and-white images and over 21 charts break up the text. VERDICT A good choice for genre studies shelves.Jen McConnel  

The Transformative Potential of LGBTQ+ Children’s Picture Books by Jennifer Miller. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496839992.
This offering presents an in-depth analysis of over 40 years of children’s books. Rooted in a cultural studies perspective, Miller has compiled an archive of over 150 books published between 1972 and 2018, which is included in the appendix of this book. Miller’s deep exploration of this archive includes attention to dominant and shifting tropes in LGBTQIA+ texts for children, as well as a call for others to continue to approach LGBTQIA+ picture books with what she terms “critical optimism” to propel scholarship and understanding moving forward. It discusses the power that these works have in world-making and identity-forming. Over 15 black-and-white images and five charts break up the text. VERDICT Recommended for all academic shelves serving adolescent literature scholars.Jen McConnel  

Containing Childhood: Space and Identity in Children’s Literature by Danielle Russell, ed. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496841179.
Considering titles from The Giver to Harriet the Spy to The Hate U Give, this edited collection presents diverse perspectives on the importance of place in literature for children and how these spaces reflect larger cultural perceptions of childhood. These essays also consider questions of censorship and the space of the story as a place for readers to engage and transform. This collection is thought-provoking and timely as we have spent the past three years reimagining the shape of our spaces in the pandemic. VERDICT A fascinating and timely text from a range of contributors and perspectives.Jen McConnel   

Little Women at 150 by Daniel Shealy, ed. Univ. of Mississippi. (Children’s Literature Association). ISBN 9781496837998.
This collection explores the long-ranging cultural impact of Alcott’s novel, considered one of the first realistic novels for kids. With eight essays from a range of children’s literature scholars that examine historical influences on Alcott, the impact of illustrations in the various editions of the text, and the global reach and continued impact of the story of the March sisters, this is a valuable addition to the shelves of children’s literature enthusiasts. Topics covered include class, feminism, Marxism, and Transcendentalism. The steep price might encourage buyers to purchase the paperback VERDICT Recommended for all children’s literature–centered studies.Jen McConnel    

Hervé Tullet’s Art of Play: Creative Liberation from an Iconoclast of Children’s Books (and Beyond!) by Hervé Tullet & Sophie Van Der Linden. Chronicle. ISBN 9781797206110.
Hervé Tullet’s Let’s Play is a modern and much-loved classic. This autobiographical exploration goes beyond basic facts of Tullet’s life, sharing aspects of his craft, publishing history, and creative philosophy. The book bursts with color and movement, filled with images of Tullet’s art and workshops. Readers who have never encountered his books will close the text in search of the color and energy of his playful art. Fans will treasure this peek into the inner workings of this master artist’s process. It features commentary from curator Aaron Ott and children’s literature expert Leonard S. Marcus. Aimed at an adult audience, this book will be appreciated by educators and art aficionados. VERDICT An excellent choice for art classes, courses on writing and craft, and biography shelves.Jen McConnel   

The Quentin Blake Book by Jenny Uglow. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500094358.
A visual feast and an engaging biography of the artist most known for illustrating Roald Dahl’s books. From Blake’s start as the youngest artist to draw for Punch magazine at the age of 16 to his collection of imaginary portraits created during the early lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uglow’s book offers a creative look at his life’s work—still in progress. The use of Blake’s art throughout makes this a work of art to slowly take in and a fascinating peek into the life of an iconic artist. VERDICT Recommended purchase for art and children’s books scholarship.Jen McConnel    

The Necessity of Young Adult Fiction by Deborah Lindsay Williams. Oxford Univ. (Literary Agenda). ISBN 9780192848970.
A rich exploration of YA literature as a category of books that “offers interventions in the pressing crises that emerge from climate catastrophe and from the rise of xenophobia and nationalism,” nestled within the practice of cosmopolitanism that emphasizes community beyond borders and relationships rooted in dialogue. Williams invites readers to consider how YA literature may present opportunities to participate in “cosmopolitan reading practices”—her term throughout this book for the engagement, conversation across difference, and potential to be impacted by the text in a way that encourages readers to make changes in the world beyond the book. This accessible book presents discussions about contemporary issues, such as the climate crisis and activism, and contemporary novels, such as Nnedi Okorafor’s “Akata Witch” series set in present-day Nigeria. VERDICT Recommended children’s and YA lit courses.Jen McConnel     

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