What is a Children’s Literature Degree?

Children’s literature is about much more than picture books with beautiful illustrations. It is about the power of words and images to both entertain and teach children. Degree programs in the field span classic and contemporary works, poetry, folklore and mythology, and multicultural and global literature.

Throughout their studies, students read, analyze, and critique children’s literature. They explore the characteristics and components that are common to works written for children and adolescents: repetition, instructional qualities, illustration, optimism, fantasy, child and young characters and perspectives, innocence, action, and transition from childhood to adulthood.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Children’s Literature – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, the curriculum is typically structured around a set of core courses which must be completed by all students. Many children’s literature undergrad programs then allow students to focus their studies on a particular concentration in the field. Examples include literary analysis, publishing, and children’s literature and drama/theater for the young. A supervised practical experience / internship is often a component of the bachelor’s level children’s literature curriculum.

Here is a sample course of study:

Core Courses

  • Introduction to Children’s Literature – a reading course to develop appreciation and understanding of children’s literature and its use in schools; classics, fiction and nonfiction by modern writers, poetry, folklore and mythology; the relationship between illustration and text
  • Multicultural Children’s Literature – children’s literature by and about African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans; history of multicultural writing for children and adolescents
  • Folk Literature: Ballads and Folk Tales – a reading course in the traditional ballads and folk tales of North America and Europe highlighting those that are featured in children’s literature
  • Illustrated Texts: Picture Books, Comics, and Graphic Novels – history and development of illustrated texts written for young readers; analyzing the interfaces between words and images
  • Adolescent Literature – reading and discussion of adolescent literature

Literary Analysis

  • Harry Potter: Children’s Literature and Popular Culture
  • Genders and Sexualities in Literature for Young Readers
  • Jewish Children’s and Adolescent Literature
  • Performing Theater for the Young


  • Global Children’s Literature
  • Professional Writing and Technical Communication
  • Writing for the Web
  • Writing about Controversy in Literature for the Young

Drama / Theater for the Young

  • Improvising and Role Play
  • World Mythology
  • Plays for the Young
  • Drama / Theater for Persons with Disabilities

Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature – Two to Three Year Duration
Master’s programs in children’s literature are aimed at students who aspire to teach at the elementary or secondary school levels or work as librarians, college professors, authors, and editors of children’s books. The course of study leaves master’s graduates with advanced knowledge in all areas of children’s literature.

Here is a snapshot of the typical components of a children’s literature master’s curriculum:


  • Introduction to Graduate Studies in Children’s Literature – research methods, writing conventions, exploration of the major genres of children’s literature
  • Children’s Literature: Criticism and Response – reading and writing about children’s literature; discussion and criticism
  • Children’s Literature for Teachers – practices and techniques used to teach children’s literature from preschool through grade nine
  • History of Children’s Literature – examination of the major children’s authors and genres that make up the history of children’s literature; a look at the history of childhood and children’s social and intellectual development
  • Children’s Illustrated Texts – the picture book, its history, its illustrators, and theories of illustration; the comic book and graphic novel
  • Literature for Adolescents – reading of and critical response to historical and contemporary literature written for adolescents
  • Children’s Media Studies – examination of film, television, and video games aimed at children

Master’s Thesis or Exam

Depending on the program they choose, master’s candidates may have different options as to the culminating requirement of their graduate studies. While most schools require a thesis, some allow students to complete a written master’s examination in children’s literature. Some schools offer both options.

Doctoral Degree in Children’s Literature – Four to Five Year Duration
The master’s program involves a lot of taught courses. It emphasizes the transition from pure subject learning to independent research. On the other hand, the doctoral degree is like a very long dissertation project. Ph.D. students have a great deal of independence. They have the benefit of supervision from a faculty advisor and may complete some taught classes, but their focus is on their independent research, on contributing original – new – knowledge to the field of children’s literature. Doctoral graduates in children’s literature commonly work in academics, as college and university professors.

Examples of research topics include:

  • Gender in Children’s Literature
  • Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Adaptations
  • Moral Instruction in Children’s Literature
  • Genre in Adolescent Literature
  • Individual versus Society in Adolescent Literature
  • Racial and Cultural Representations in Children’s and Adolescent Literature
  • Relationships between Popular Culture and Children’s and Adolescent Literature
  • Censorship Issues

Degrees Similar to Children’s Literature

American Literature
This degree field is concerned with the literatures and literary history of the United States, from the colonial period to present. Coursework may include contemporary American literature, literary theory and criticism, the American novel, and American Jewish literature.

In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

English Literature
Degree programs in English literature teach students about the literatures and literary history of English-speaking people of the British Isles and the Commonwealth, from the birth of the English language to the present. Sample courses are Renaissance literature, Victorian literature, modern British literature, and the works of Shakespeare.

Classical Studies
The study of the languages, literatures, philosophy, history, archaeology, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome is the focus of a degree in the classics.

Comparative Literature
This field of study is dedicated to the literature and literary traditions of two or more different countries, cultures, or languages. Examples of courses in comparative literature are literature of the Americas, literature of China and Japan, romanticism, and tragedy.

Creative Writing
In creative writing programs students analyze how prose and poetry are constructed and also write their own works. Typical classes include American poetry, fiction writing, the contemporary short story, and the creative process.

This is a multidisciplinary degree field that combines study of languages, literatures, art, history, music, philosophy, and religion. Coursework includes examining ideas and themes that run throughout human history and throughout different cultures.

Skills You’ll Learn

First and foremost, graduates with a children’s literature degree develop a keen capacity to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in written form. It is not, however, the only transferable skill that they take away from their studies:

  • Ability to work independently and in groups
  • Capacity to debate and lead discussions
  • Capacity to summarize written material
  • Creative and critical thinking, reasoning, and analysis
  • Organization
  • Research
  • Time management
  • Understanding texts, concepts, and theories

What Can You Do with a Children’s Literature Degree?

Below are some of the careers that may be open to children’s literature grads. Working in some of these sectors may require further education and/or on-the-job training.

  • Author of Books for Children and Adolescents
  • Bookseller
  • Children’s Librarian
  • Children’s Media – children’s media content creation
  • Children’s Television
  • Children’s Theater
  • Editor – with publishing companies specializing in children’s books
  • Elementary School Teacher
  • Greeting Card Creator / Writer
  • Library Technician
  • Licensing Children’s Products – clothing, toys, games, puzzles, party supplies, costumes, DVD/Blu-ray and digital
  • Marketing to Children – education materials, technology, food, contests, and incentive programs
  • Publisher – acquiring new manuscripts for publishing companies specializing in children’s books
  • Secondary School Teacher
  • University Professor


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