The Birth of Comparative Children’s Literature

Amanda Fisher-Katz-Keohane
4 min readJan 2, 2021

Emer O’Sullivan’s Comparative Children’s Literature

In 2005, Emer O’Sullivan published Comparative Children’s Literature, offering the first comprehensive overview of comparative children’s literature as an emerging field. While she was not the first person to argue the importance of such analyses, O’Sullivan was one of the first to define them as an analytical genre all its own.

The work is a translation of her 2001 book Kinderliterarische Komparatistik, in which O’Sullivan provides a foundation and structure for comparative analysis of children’s literature and demonstrates why this analysis is necessary for understanding its role in a larger cultural context.

Children’s Literature in a Globalized World

O’Sullivan argues that our increasingly globalized markets and societies must be considered when applying a critical lens to children’s literature. Doing so forces us to rethink cultural identities beyond traditional national paradigms (Comparative Children’s Literature, 4).

For example, since the 1980s, there has been a push to look comparatively at literature in more ways than language. Primarily, this has meant looking at cultural differences, even within the same language or meta culture. For instance, we might compare northern vs. southern American micro cultures.

The Origin of Comparative Children’s Literature

Even with the growth of intersections taken into account in comparative literature studies over the years, “children’s literature is hardly ever mentioned” (5). Though O’Sullivan has been instrumental in developing comparative children’s literature as an actively-pursued framework, she admits that she is not the first to point out the need for such a framework nor the first to use it.

In her book’s introduction, O’Sullivan points to the academics that have come before her, who laid the foundations of what would become Comparative Children’s Literature. Her role in publishing this book is to offer a potential definition and structure for what she sees as an emerging field separate from comparative literature in the traditional sense.

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