Young Adult Books and Censorship

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Before the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century, books for children were lesson books in Latin for the upper class. These early texts set the tone for children’s literature as works that should present models of moral instruction.

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Historical Antecedents

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The expanded use of movable type resulted in increased literacy. As the middle class became concerned with educating their children, distinctions were made between literature for adults and literature for children. In colonial America, the Puritans assumed that the moral redemption of their children was a parental obligation. Books for children, then, were religious and highly moralistic.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some books began to bridge the gap between literature for adults and literature for children. Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) are two. In 1744 John Newbery began to publish books specifically intended for children, many of which were deliberately written for enjoyment. The preachy Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765) may be cited as the first short juvenile novel.

During the nineteenth century, children were viewed as winsome innocents lacking adult hypocrisy. Children’s classics such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1867) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) were widely read and contrasted with the popular domestic novel. Written primarily for older girls and women, domestic novels promoted acceptable social values and traditional morality. Boys and men read dime novels, adventure novels that contained rugged male protagonists in unrealistic adventures. These books were suspiciously regarded by the clergy, teachers, and many parents. As the nineteenth century closed, distinctions had been made between classics and nonclassics and between boys’ books and girls’ books. Furthermore, many works for young people had been attacked by adults.

(The entire section contains 1690 words.)

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