Just what is it that children should be reading? Fairy tales, Shakespeare, or the last words of a condemned convict? The fact that all three have been the right answer suggests the strange complications of a literature that we often take for granted, for though it may use simple words, children’s literature is steeped in claims about what it means to grow up “right.” Starting with Enlightenment theories of childhood by authors such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we’ll pursue the development of children’s literature into its commercial boom in the early U.S. and into the current world of children’s fiction. By reading authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Wilson, L. Frank Baum, Joel Chandler Harris, Zitkala-Ša, Mark Twain, Octavia Butler, and Maurice Sendak, we’ll ask what relationship children have to their society and how the concept of childhood itself has evolved. Alongside these literary works, we will examine the historical archive of what meant to be a child throughout the history of the United States, including popular magazines, advertisements, and cartoons. Course requirements will include a series of short writing assignments, independent research into less remembered corners of children’s literature, and a final paper reporting the findings of your research, as well as avid discussion of weekly readings.