The History of YA Literature (Part Two)

Young Adult Literature Reads During Renaissance and Early America

Reading by young adults shifted during the time of the Renaissance also contributing to the youth books in Early America. Coudert (2017) explains that during early modern England and America, “one finds that same concern for the health and well-being of children, the conviction that education should not be coercive but contribute to the development of an autonomous yet socially responsible individual, the belief that curiosity is to be encouraged, and the relationship that the physical body must be educated along with the mind” (p. 389). Of course, during this time gender and societal roles became more pronounced which led to differing training for boys verses girls. Notably, Coudert continues that the “relatively rosy picture of childhood education in the early modern period minimizes the very real underlying view among parents and educators that children are inherently evil” (p. 390). With the belief that children needed the evil “trained” out of them, authors and book sellers focused on creating didactic works. The goal of didactic literature is to teach, in a moral way, rather than entertain. Stephenson explains that, “many things children have read don’t meet all historians standards for children’s literature” and that “Historic books…have clear descendants in contemporary textbooks rather than trade books one finds in book stores or libraries” (p. 180). Meanwhile, youth were still reading “adult” books for entertainment. Including books like Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719) and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift (1726). While more didactic literature, like Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678) was written and sold specifically for youth readers.

Below check out the images of an early Robinson Crusoe (Lang, J. 1905, especially edited and illustrated for youth. Next, are images of an original copy of Gulliver’s Travels (source: British Public Library) . The maps used for this edition were pirated from the cartographer Herman Moll. These actual lands, far from Swifts’s home, were superimposed to represent the imaginary lands created in his work of satire. Finally, pictured is an early copy of Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan, 1817,


Please see the fourth post in this series “The History of YA Literature” (Part Four)

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