Genres in Children's Literature (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Realistic fiction and fantastic fiction have much in common. Both are invented stories, often with invented characters, and they may take place in invented settings. Even when the setting is real, such as Boston or Berlin, the exact neighborhood is often imagined. The difference between realism and fantasy lies in the laws of our universe. If an invented story takes place in the world exactly as we know it—where dogs bark, trees are green, and gravity is everywhere—it is realistic fiction. If a story has one or more elements not found in our world—if animals speak, magic is present, or time travel is involved—it is called fantasy. The rest of the story might be absolutely realistic, but it is called fantasy if it contains any deviation from natural physical law.

The aim of both contemporary realistic fiction and historical fiction is to tell an interesting story about people in our world. The definitions are clear in the names of the genres. Contemporary identifies a story that takes place in today’s world; historical indicates a tale that happened earlier, as in pioneer America or medieval England. At times, though, the difference between the two genres depends on the age of the reader. Some people classify a story that happened during the collapse of the communist government in Eastern Europe as contemporary; to others, it is clearly historical.

Like historical and contemporary fiction, the division between traditional fantasy and modern fantasy relates to antiquity. Some stories are as old as humanity. These ancient stories are called traditional because they are part of our human tradition. Their origin is oral; their authors are unknown. Although they are now preserved in print, those who first wrote them down, such as the Brothers Grimm, were not authors, but collectors. If a fantasy story has an identifiable author, and therefore originated in print, it is called modern fantasy. Thus, the tales of Hans Christian Andersen are classified as modern fantasy because we know he created them, even though the tales read like traditional stories.

Science fiction, included under the modern fantasy heading, deals with scientific possibilities. Both modern fantasy and science fiction contain story elements not found in the known universe, such as being able to change shapes or read another character’s thoughts. In fantasy, those abilities just are or come about by magic—no questions asked. In science fiction, they result from an injection of distilled fluids discovered in the mucous membranes of a poisonous tree frog or from altering a person’s brain chemistry using microlaser bursts. The otherworldly elements in science fiction are based on extrapolated scientific fact pushed into logical but unproven possibilities, such as creating a bionic being that is a perfect reproduction of an existing woman. Modern fantasy needs no such justifications: The character’s double appears by magic.

While knowing the different genres can offer understanding in the field of children’s literature, none of the definitions is watertight. The categories are not to be slavishly followed. It is possible to make a solid case that some books belong in more than one genre. For example, Livia Bitton-Jackson’s I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust (1997), a compelling tale of young Livia and her Jewish family being taken from their native Hungary to Auschwitz during World War II, can be classified as both biography and historical fiction. Ruth Heller’s series of informational books about the parts of speech, including Mine, All Mine: A Book About Pronouns (1997) and Fantastic! Wow! And Unreal!: A Book About Interjections (1998), are, at the same time, also books of poetry. The correct category for some titles depends not on immutable definition, but on personal decision.

View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.
See all Worksheet Generators