A genre term describes the category a book is a representative of rather than what the text of the book is about. Many books in an historical children's literature collection are of interest to researchers as representatives of these categories. For example, when the genre term "catechisms" is applied to a book, that indicates that the book is a catechism, it is not a book about catechisms; or if the genre term "fairy tale" is applied to a book, that means that it is a fairy tale, not a book about fairy tales.

Below are definitions of some genre terms that are used in the digital collections of the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature.

Alphabet Books are designed to teach children the letters of the alphabet. From the medieval period until the 18th century they were closely associated with catechisms, primers and other books of instruction, but by the 18th century the alphabet was also being taught in books intended to amuse as well as instruct and included pictures of objects which began with the letter being introduced. Illustrated alphabet books based on various subjects, such as animals, birds, scripture and children's names were popular in 19th century England and America.
Alphabet rhymes is the genre term applied to alphabet books which contain rhyming text. Other genres of juvenile instructional books include Primers (Instructional Books), Spellers and Readers.

Bildungsromane a "coming-of-age" story that includes the moral and psychological growth of the young protagonist.

Family Stories are novels of family life for children which chronicle the ordinary events of home life. Early examples of this genre are the Little Women and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, juvenile examples of the domestic fiction genre. Initially many of the families were quite traditional, but in the mid-20th century, social realism of broken and extended families. Many family stories focus more on the children than on the parents, and in the 20th century less traditional families have been portrayed realistically.

Hand colored Illustrations is a genre term that describes the type of illustration the book contains. Until the middle of the 19th century, the only way of producing colored books cheap enough for the juvenile market was application of the color by hand. Much of the hand coloring was done by low paid teenagers or women who sat around a table each with a brush and a pot of watercolor paint. The printed sheet was passed around the table with each person adding his color to the illustration in the appropriate place. Some of the hand coloring is crude, with dabs of color put down by the brush with little care to stay within the lines of the woodcut, but others are executed with precision and many of the hand colored books retain bright and exquisite color today.

Toy and Movable books is a genre term which includes pop-up books, books that have pictures that change when a tab is pulled, flap books, books that open into a stage, cloth books, etc. Publishers began producing toy and movable books in the 1850's and technically they reached a zenith in Germany in the 1880's with Lothar Meggendorfer's work. Such books have grown in popularity throughout the 20th century.

Publisher's Advertisements and Publisher's Catalogues indicate that this material is present in the book, usually at the end. This information is important because it lists other publications offered by the publishing company by title and date, including lists of series books, information which may not be available in other formats.

School Stories use school settings as a framework for the story. The first books, such as Tom Brown's Schooldays were set in the English public school which featured boys, but soon the genre broadened out to include private academies and public schools in the United States and girl's boarding schools in Great Britain.

Other genre terms appropriate for use with children's literature:


Children's stories

Children's songs


Fairy tales

Folk tales


Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Hunt, Peter, ed. International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. London: Routledge. 1996.