Children's Literature Association

Children's Literature Association
Logo of the Children's Literature Association

The Children's Literature Association (ChLA) is a non-profit scholarly association dedicated to studying children's literature.[1] Begun in the 1970s to generate interest in children's literature as an academic discipline and to provide a place for those studying children's literature to share ideas, the association spawned an annual conference, a scholarly journal, and a series of awards. The association has also published a series of essays, Touchstones, attempting to establish a canon of children's literature.



In order to stimulate an interest in children's literature among humanities scholars, ChLA was formed in 1972 by Anne Devereaux Jordan, then teaching at Western Michigan University, who was joined by her colleague, Jon Stott.[2]Later that year, she contacted Francelia Butler of the University of Connecticut, who had founded the journal, Children's Literature, in 1971. Francelia Butler, Anne Devereaux Jordan and Jon Stott all felt the need to bring scholars who were interested in children's literature together to "help raise the status of children's literature". As Butler wrote in The New York Times in 1973, "To many languages, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or history, the most embarrassing literature to study is not about autoeroticism or cunnilingus. On such works scholars pride themselves on their broadmindedness. What truly embarrasses them is literature for their own children—'kiddy lit,' they call it."[3] On 20 August 1973, Jordan, Stott, Butler, Bennet Brockman, Glenn Sadler, and John Graham had a meeting to formally found the association, and unite the association and the journal (final board member, Rodney Morissett was unable to attend). As a result, the Children's Literature Association had its first conference the following March. By this time, there was a Board of Directors and a constitution was approved at the conference. Jordan served as the Executive Secretary and conference organizer of the organization until spring of 1976. Jordan subsequently sent out a newsletter to the approximately 200 members. Membership doubled the following year.[3]


In his 1978 presidential address, Stott asked the membership to establish a canon, "which would provide common texts for shared dialogue and curricula and presumably position the field within canonical strata of academic privilege".[2] By 1980, a committee whose responsibility it was to formulate this canon, which consisted of two English professors, two librarians from a public school and one librarian from a public library, presented a panel discussion on the issues surrounding the development of the canon. The committee members had a variety of different views on the structure of the canon, for example, whether the list should reflect "literary excellence and/or historic significance".[2] The librarians in particular suggested popular titles, arguing that the association must listen to the opinions of child readers. Scholar Perry Nodelman responded to the panel in the following Children’s Literature Association Quarterly issue, describing the process as "an undemocratic but praiseworthy endeavor" where "some books are more important than others". He also explained how providing a rationale for the list was crucial.[4]

The final list was published in 1982–83 as a pamphlet and consisted of 63 titles. It met with a hostile reception, so a revised version was presented as a series of "touchstones" (inspired by Matthew Arnold's description of a work as a benchmark).[4] Nodelman edited the revised project, entitled Touchstones, and defended this method in his introduction, explaining that teachers need a set of books to go to when teaching a course for the first time and these books are those "beside which we may place other children's books in order to make judgments about their excellence". He explains that "a touchstone has to be unconventional enough to draw attention to itself, to cause controversy, perhaps to encourage imitators." He contends that the list is a way to "open discussion" about children’s literature.[4]

Each of the titles in the series includes a scholarly essay that aims to provide "a clearer, deeper sense of the best in children's books, and all the strength and joy to be drawn from them".[5] The essays grapple with the question of why the particular work is canonical using a range of critical approaches: feminist criticism, reader-response criticism, archetypal studies, and rhetorical criticism, among others. The three volumes are divided by genre: fiction, fairy tales, fables, myths, legends, poetry, and picture books. The texts span a little over 100 years, beginning with Little Women (1869) and ending with The Borrowers Avenged (1982), with the majority in the twentieth century.[5]


Children's Literature Association Quarterly

ChLA publishes the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, published four times a year. The journal addresses a wide range of topics related to children's literature ones while some are devoted to special topics, such as "mothers and daughters in children’s literature".[1]

Children's Literature

Together with the Modern Language Association's Division on Children's Literature, ChLA publishes Children's Literature. Published annually, "the journal seeks to publish theoretically based articles that demonstrate an awareness of key issues and criticism in children’s literature".[6]


Phoenix Award

Each year, ChLA awards the Phoenix Award to a book first published in English 20 years prior to the award that did not receive any major awards when it was published.[7]

Anne Devereaux Jordan Award

The Anne Devereaux Jordan Award "recognizes significant contributions in scholarship and/or service to the field of children's literature". It is given when warranted.[8]

Article Award

Each year, ChLA gives an award recognizing an outstanding article "focusing on a literary, historical, theoretical, or cultural examination of children’s texts and/or children’s culture". In particular, ChLA says "articles should provide new insight to the field, making a distinct or significant scholarly contribution to the understanding of children’s literature."[9]

Book Award

Each year, ChLA awards an author for a book-length contribution to children's literature scholarship.[10]

Carol Gay Award

Each year, ChLA hands out the Carol Cay Award for an outstanding paper on children's literature by an undergraduate. Among other benefits, winners receive $100.[11]

Graduate Student Essay Award

Each year, ChLA hands out a Graduate Student Essay Award. The essays "should demonstrate familiarity with previous scholarship and they should contain original, distinctive ideas". Among other benefits, winners receive $100.[12]


  1. ^ a b Margaret W. Denman-West, Children's Literature: A Guide to Information Sources. (Libraries Unlimited, 1998), 121. ISBN 1563084481.
  2. ^ a b c Anne H. Lundin, Constructing the Canon of Children’s Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers. (London: Routledge, 2004), 65. ISBN 0815338414.
  3. ^ a b Carol Gay, "ChLA: 1973-1983". Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Lundin, 66.
  5. ^ a b Lundin, 67.
  6. ^ Children’s Literature. ChLA. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  7. ^ Diana F. Marks, Children’s Book Award Handbook. (Libraries Unlimited, 2006), 341. ISBN 1591583047.
  8. ^ Anne Devereaux Jordan Award. ChLA. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  9. ^ Article Award. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  10. ^ Book Award. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  11. ^ Carol Gay Award. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  12. ^ Graduate Student Essay Award. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 17 May 2009.

External links

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