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Children’s Literature Review

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Children’s Literature Review , a multi-volume reference source, presents significant passages from published criticism of both contemporary and older works for children. Published annually and cross-referenced with  Something About the Author , it contains articles about individual children’s authors, works of classic literature often read by young people and taught in high schools (e.g., To Kill a Mockingbird), and general topics of interest to teachers, librarians, and children’s literature scholars.

The list below, originally compiled by staff at the  Mary L. Williams Education & Teaching Library at Oklahoma State University , highlights articles on special topics such as Australian children’s literature, children’s poetry, and the influence of Disney on children’s literature. Entries are arranged alphabetically by subject in the first list and by volume in the second.  Articles marked with an asterisk (*) are available online only.

Children’s Literature Review is available in print through volume 150, 2010 (Oak Street S. 026.1 C537) and online .

In the Gale Literature Criticism database , you can search by volume by selecting “What’s Inside” and choosing “Children’s Literature Review.” You can also perform an Advanced Search using “Children’s Literature Review” as the publication title and the title of the article as the document title. For best results, type the article title in quotes (e.g., “African children’s literature”).

*African Children’s Literature : Volume 157, pp.125-172 (2011)

Animal Stories : Volume 132, pp. 1-37 (2008)

*Arthurian Legends for Children : Volume 155, pp. 1-75 (2010)

Australian Children’s Literature : Volume 148, pp. 1-58 (2010)

The Bible and Children’s Literature : Volume 145, pp. 1-72 (2009)

Black Humor in Children’s Literature : Volume 104, pp. 76-145 (2005)

Censorship in Children’s Literature : Volume 118, pp. 29-87 (2007)

Children’s Biography : Volume 129, pp. 69-132 (2008)

Children’s Diaries : Volume 141, pp. 18-94 (2009)

Children’s Fantasy : Volume 150, pp. 21-95 (2010)

Children’s Literature Awards : Volume 139, pp. 1-52 (2009)

Children’s Literature Illustration : Volume 144, pp. 44-112 (2009)

Children’s Periodicals : Volume 138, pp. 25-125 (2009)

Children’s Poetry : Volume 120, pp. 15-100 (2007)

Cinderella in Children’s Literature : Volume 149, pp. 40-131 (2010)

Disabilities in Children’s Literature : Volume 126, pp. 34-106 (2007)

*Eighteenth Century Children’s Books : Volume 152, pp. 111-186 (2010)

Evolution of Fairy Tales : Volume 106, pp. 89-164 (2005)

Feminism in Children’s Literature : Volume 146, pp. 18-111 (2009)

Golden Age of Children’s Illustrated Books : Volume 113, pp. 93-156 (2006)

*Graphic Novels : Volume 165, pp. 1-79 (2011)

Hawaiian Children’s Literature : Volume 125, pp. 40-85 (2007)

Historical Fiction for Children : Volume 124, pp. 121-192 (2007)

Homosexuality in Children’s Literature : Volume 119, pp. 101-169 (2007)

Humor in Children’s Literature : Volume 147, pp. 65-133 (2010)

The Influence of Disney on Children’s Literature : Volume 143, pp. 20-102 (2009)

International Children’s Literature : Volume 114, pp. 55-120 (2006)

Irish Children’s Literature : Volume 123, pp. 77-127 (2007)

*Jewish Children’s Literature : Volume 154, pp. 1-49 (2010)

*Juvenile Detective Fiction : Volume 158, pp. 62-130 (2011)

Juvenile and Young Adult Science Fiction : Volume 116, pp. 135-189 (2006)

MAD Magazine : Volume 109, pp. 156-208 (2005)

Native American Children’s Literature : Volume 130, pp. 123-187 (2008)

Nonsense Verse : Volume 140, pp. 76-126 (2009)

Orphan Stories : Volume 137, pp. 90-167 (2009)

Penny Dreadfuls : Volume 105, pp. 123-193 (2005)

Picture Books : Volume 142, pp. 65-147 (2009)

Realism in Children’s Literature : Volume 136, pp. 45-98 (2008)

Religion in Children’s Literature : Volume 121, pp. 67-153 (2007)

Representations of the Holocaust in Children’s Literature : Volume 110, pp. 104-175 (2005)

School Stories : Volume 128, pp. 111-173 (2008)

Struwwelpeter : Volume 122, pp. 124-190 (2007)

Surrealism in Children’s Literature : Volume 103, pp. 129-202 (2005)

*Time-Slip Novels : Volume 151, pp. 155-194 (2010)

Translation of Children’s Literature : Volume 135, pp. 112-189 (2008)

The Treatment of Death in Children’s Literature : Volume 101, pp. 153-201 (2005)

The Unconventional Family in Children’s Literature : Volume 102, pp. 146-213 (2005)

*Utopian Children’s Literature : Volume 153, pp. 110-212 (2010)

War in Children’s Literature : Volume 127, pp. 149-197 (2007)

Volume 101 : The Treatment of Death in Children’s Literature (2005)

Volume 102 : The Unconventional Family in Children’s Literature (2005)

Volume 103 : Surrealism in Children’s Literature (2005)

Volume 104 : Black Humor in Children’s Literature (2005)

Volume 105 : Penny Dreadfuls (2005)

Volume 106 :  Evolution of Fairy Tales (2005)

Volume 109 : MAD Magazine (2005)

Volume 110 : Representations of the Holocaust in Children’s Literature (2005)

Volume 113 : Golden Age of Children’s Illustrated Books (2006)

Volume 114 : International Children’s Literature (2006)

Volume 116 : Juvenile and Young Adult Science Fiction (2006)

Volume 118 : Censorship in Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 119 : Homosexuality in Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 120 : Children’s Poetry (2007)

Volume 121 : Religion in Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 122 : Struwwelpeter (2007)

Volume 123 : Irish Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 124 : Historical Fiction for Children (2007)

Volume 125 : Hawaiian Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 126 : Disabilities in Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 127 : War in Children’s Literature (2007)

Volume 128 : School Stories (2008)

Volume 129 : Children’s Biography (2008)

Volume 130 : Native American Children’s Literature (2008)

Volume 132 : Animal Stories (2008)

Volume 135 : Translation in Children’s Literature (2008)

Volume 136 : Realism in Children’s Literature (2008)

Volume 137 : Orphan Stories (2009)

Volume 138 : Children’s Periodicals (2009)

Volume 139 : Children’s Literature Awards (2009)

Volume 140 : Nonsense Verse (2009)

Volume 141 : Children’s Diaries (2009)

Volume 142 : Picture Books (2009)

Volume 143 : The Influence of Disney on Children’s Literature (2009)

Volume 144 : Children’s Literature Illustration (2009)

Volume 145 : The Bible and Children’s Literature (2009)

Volume 146 : Feminism in Children’s Literature (2009)

Volume 147 : Humor in Children’s Literature (2010)

Volume 148 : Australian Children’s Literature (2010)

Volume 149 : Cinderella in Children’s Literature (2010)

Volume 150 : Children’s Fantasy (2010)

*Volume 151 : Time-Slip Novels (2010)

*Volume 152 : Eighteenth Century Children’s Books (2010)

*Volume 153 : Utopian Children’s Literature (2010)

*Volume 154 : Jewish Children’s Literature (2010)

*Volume 155 : Arthurian Legends for Children (2010)

*Volume 157 : African Children’s Literature (2011)

*Volume 158 : Juvenile Detective Fiction (2011)

*Volume 165 : Graphic Novels (2011)

*Volume 191 : Orbis Pictus (2014)

S-Collection Highlights

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Cover image of Children's Literature

Children's Literature

Lisa Rowe Fraustino , Hollins University

Journal Details

Editorial correspondence should be addressed to:

The Editors Children's Literature Hollins University P.O. Box 9677 Roanoke, VA 24020 E-mail:  [email protected]

Manuscripts submitted should conform to the style in this issue. Submission as an e-mail attachment (MS Word) is preferred. To facilitate anonymous review, the author’s name should not appear on the essay. Please provide full contact information in a separate document. Double-spacing should be used throughout text and notes.

The Hopkins Press Journals Ethics and Malpractice Statement can be found at the ethics-and-malpractice  page.

Peer Review Policy

Children's Literature  is the annual publication of the Children's Literature Association and the MLA Division on Children's Literature.

Essays submitted to  Children's Literature  should be original work that is not under review elsewhere. We will consider translations of previously published work, if the material is seen as useful for our readers. Submissions are initially reviewed by the editor. Strong submission are then sent to two reviewers. Both author and reviewers remain anonymous to each other throughout the process.

We publish theoretically-based articles that demonstrate an awareness of key issues and criticism in children’s literature. We typically require at least one round of revision in response to reviewers' comments; often published essays go through two or more rounds of revision. Accepted essay are edited by the editor, the JHUP copy-editor, and a proof reader. Authors can expect a twelve to twenty-four month time frame from first submission to publication.


Lisa Rowe Fraustino Hollins University

Book Review Editor

Melissa Jenkins, Wake Forest University

Editorial Assistant

Lisa J. Radcliff,  Hollins University

Children’s Literature Advisory Board

Janice M. Alberghene,  Fitchburg State University    Ruth B. Bottigheimer,  SUNY at Stony Brook    Elisabeth Rose Gruner,  University of Richmond    Margaret Higonnet,  University of Connecticut    U. C. Knoepflmacher,  Princeton University    Roderick McGillis, University of Calgary

Children’s Literature Association Officers 2016–2017

Kenneth Kidd,  University of Florida,  President   Teya Rosenberg,  Texas State University,  Vice President/President-Elect   Annette Wannamaker,  Eastern Michigan University,  Past President   Gwen Athene Tarbox,  Western Michigan University,  Secretary   Roberta Seelinger Trites,  Illinois State University,  Treasurer

Children’s Literature Association Board of Directors

Philip Nel,  Kansas State University , 2014-2017   Sara Schwebel,  University of South Carolina , 2014-2017   Marah Gubar,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology , 2015-2018   Joe Sutliff Sanders,  Kansas State University , 2015-2018   Eric L. Tribunella,  University of Southern Mississippi , 2015-2018   Thomas Crisp,  Georgia State University , 2016-2019   Elisabeth Gruner,  University of Richmond , 2016-2019   Jackie Horne,  Independent Scholar , 2016-2019   Nathalie op de Beeck,  Pacific Lutheran University , 2016-2019

Send books for review to:   Melissa Jenkins     English Department     Wake Forest University     P.O. Box 7387     Winston Salem, NC 27109-7387     Email queries to: [email protected]      

Review copies received by the Johns Hopkins University Press office will be discarded.

Abstracting & Indexing Databases

  • Web of Science
  • Biography Index: Past and Present (H.W. Wilson), vol.22, 1994-vol.38, 2010
  • Book Review Digest Plus (H.W. Wilson), 1988-
  • Education Research Complete, 1/1/1993-
  • Education Research Index, Jan.1993-
  • Education Source, 1/1/1993-
  • Humanities Abstracts (H.W. Wilson), 1/1/1988-
  • Humanities Index (Online), 1988/00-
  • Humanities International Complete, 1/1/1993-
  • Humanities International Index, 1/1/1993-
  • Humanities Source, 1/1/1988-
  • Humanities Source Ultimate, 1/1/1988-
  • Library & Information Science Source, 1/1/1972-1/1/1982
  • MasterFILE Complete, 1/1/1993-
  • MasterFILE Elite, 1/1/1993-
  • MasterFILE Premier, 1/1/1993-
  • MLA International Bibliography (Modern Language Association)
  • OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson), 1/1/1988-
  • Poetry & Short Story Reference Center, 1/1/1993-
  • Professional Development Collection, 1/1/1993-
  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature (Repertoire International de Litterature Musicale)
  • TOC Premier (Table of Contents), 1/1/1995-
  • Book Review Index Plus
  • Gale Academic OneFile
  • Gale Academic OneFile Select, 01/1989-
  • Gale General OneFile, 01/1989-
  • Gale OneFile: Educator's Reference Complete, 01/1981-
  • Gale OneFile: Leadership and Management, 01/1981 -
  • InfoTrac Custom, 1/1981-
  • ArticleFirst, vol.24, 1996-vol.39, no.1, 2011
  • Electronic Collections Online, vol.31, no.1, 2003-vol.39, no.1, 2011
  • Periodical Abstracts, v.19, 1991-2011
  • Education Collection, 1/1/1991-
  • Education Database, 1/1/1991-
  • Literary Journals Index Full Text
  • Periodicals Index Online
  • Professional ProQuest Central, 01/01/1991-
  • ProQuest 5000, 01/01/1991-
  • ProQuest 5000 International, 01/01/1991-
  • ProQuest Central, 01/01/1991-
  • ProQuest Professional Education, 01/01/1991-
  • Research Library, 01/01/1991-
  • Social Science Premium Collection, 01/01/1991-
  • The Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL)

Abstracting & Indexing Sources

  • Children's Book Review Index   (Active)  (Print)
  • Children's Literature Abstracts   (Ceased)  (Print)
  • MLA Abstracts of Articles in Scholarly Journals   (Ceased)  (Print)

Source: Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory.

0.4 (2022) 0.4 (Five-Year Impact Factor) 0.00007 (Eigenfactor™ Score) Rank in Category (by Journal Impact Factor): Note: While journals indexed in AHCI and ESCI are receiving a JIF for the first time in June 2023, they will not receive ranks, quartiles, or percentiles until the release of 2023 data in June 2024.  

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Published annually in May

Readers include: Librarians, teachers, writers, scholars, and those interested in children's literature

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Also of Interest

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Linda Mahood, University of Guelph

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Dora Malech, Johns Hopkins University

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David L. Russell, Ferris State University; Karin E. Westman, Kansas State University; and Naomi J. Wood, Kansas State University

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Meghan O’Rourke

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Nathan L. Grant, Saint Louis University

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Charles Henry Rowell

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Maria Farland, Fordham University and Duncan Faherty, Queens College and The CUNY Graduate Center

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Chrysogonus Siddha Malilang, Malmö University, Sweden

Hopkins Press Journals

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Children's Literature

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Library Science Journals & Databases

  • Children and Libraries Provides continuing education of librarians working with children, showcases current scholarly research and practice in library service to children and spotlights significant activities and programs of the Association of Library Service for Children.
  • Young Adult Library Services Provides information to advocate, promote and strengthen library service to teens, ages 12-18, as part of the continuum of total library services, and to support those who provide library service to this population.
  • LISA LISA abstracts over 440 periodicals from 68 countries in the fields of library and information science.

Education Journals

  • Book Links A quarterly supplement to Booklist designed for those interested in connecting children with literature-based resources.
  • English Journal This journal contains ideas for English language arts teachers in high schools and middle schools and explores how teachers are using the latest technologies in their classrooms.

Children's Books In HathiTrust

HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future.  There is currently a Pinterest board for early children's illustrations in HathiTrust.

You can find this Pinterest board at

  • Novelist K-8 Plus NoveList provides picture book, children's literature and young adult book information indexed by subject, age, awards won, Lexile Reading Levels, Common Core standards, books made into movies, and other categories.
  • MLA International Bibliography Indexes books and articles published on modern languages, literatures, folklore, and film.
  • Gale Literary Databases Provides in-depth information on the lives and writings of nearly 100,000 authors. It is possible to search for the title or author of a literary work in Gale's literature series or to look for authors by name, birth date, death date, or nationality.
  • Project MUSE Full text access to current content from scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences
  • Essay and General Literature Index Indexes articles in books (anthologies and essay collections) in the humanities and social sciences published in the US, UK & Canada.
  • Literature Resource Center Provides access to biographies, bibliographies, and critical analyses of authors from every age and literary discipline.
  • Academic OneFile Provides indexing for over 8,000 scholarly journals, industry periodicals, general interest magazines and newspapers, with full text articles included for over 4,200 of them.
  • Humanities Abstracts Indexes and abstracts articles from more than 300 humanities publications. Covers periodicals in archaeology, art, classics, film, folklore, journalism, linguistics, music, the performing arts, philosophy, religion, world history, and world literature. Abstracts feature articles, book reviews, interviews, obituaries, bibliographies, original works of fiction (including dramas and poems), and reviews of plays and television and radio programs.
  • Literature Criticism Online Provides searchable, online access to excerpts from critical reviews of all kinds and periods of literature. Choose Children's Literature Review from the Series box to search for only children's literature criticism.
  • JSTOR Provides full-text access to the archives of core scholarly journals in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences, and to over 6,500 books from more than 85 scholarly publishers worldwide.
  • Google Scholar @ U-M The Google Scholar search engine that searches for scholarly documents on the World Wide Web, with the added feature of MGet It (labeled as "Availability at UMichigan") links from University of Michigan at Ann Arbor that connect you to the online and print versions held by the University Library. This database is especially recommended for interdisciplinary research

Book Review Journals

  • Horn Book Magazine Provides reviews of children's and young-adult literature, articles, editorials, and interviews of authors and illustrators. Designed for professionals and academics in the field of children's books
  • Horn Book Guide Published twice a year, this resource contains only reviews of which there are more than 2,000 in each issue
  • School Library Journal Provides up-to-date information needed to integrate libraries into the school curriculum, become leaders in the areas of technology, reading, and information literacy, and create high-quality collections for children and young adults.s
  • Kirkus Reviews Magazine previewing over 5000 books each year, including adult fiction and nonfiction hardcovers and trade paperbacks, as well as children's and young adult titles.
  • Booklist A journal for librarians, especially those in public and school libraries, that publishes reviews of recommended library materials.
  • New York Times Book Review A weekly magazine and website featuring book reviews, feature articles, author interviews and book excerpts.
  • Publishers Weekly Covers every aspect of creating, producing, marketing and selling the written word in book, audio, video and electronic formats.
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Providing concise summaries, critical evaluations and reviews of current book reviews, this resource assists readers with questions regarding the ever-evolving children's literature field.

Academic Journals

  • The Lion and the Unicorn A theme- and genre-centered journal of international scope committed to a serious, ongoing discussion of literature for children.
  • Children's Literature The annual publication of the Modern Language Association Division on Children's Literature and the Children's Literature Association. Encouraging serious scholarship and research, this journal publishes theoretically based articles that address key issues in the field.
  • Children's Literature Association Quarterly This journal publishes scholarship in Children's Literature Studies. Each issue features an editorial introduction, juried articles about research and scholarship in children's literature, and book reviews.
  • Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature Published by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), this journal communicates new ideas to the whole community of readers interested in children's books, publishing work on any topic in the field of international children's literature.

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Definition: A literature review is a systematic examination and synthesis of existing scholarly research on a specific topic or subject.

Purpose: It serves to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge within a particular field.

Analysis: Involves critically evaluating and summarizing key findings, methodologies, and debates found in academic literature.

Identifying Gaps: Aims to pinpoint areas where there is a lack of research or unresolved questions, highlighting opportunities for further investigation.

Contextualization: Enables researchers to understand how their work fits into the broader academic conversation and contributes to the existing body of knowledge.

childrens literature review

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  • v.10(1); 2020

Children’s literature to promote students’ global development and wellbeing

Manuela pulimeno.

1 PhD Candidate in Human Relations Sciences, University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, Bari, Italy

2 UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development, Federico II University, Naples, Italy

Prisco Piscitelli

Salvatore colazzo.

3 Department of History, Society and Human Studies, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy

Background: Tales were transmitted from one generation to another, enriching young people with values, beliefs, imagination and creativity. Children’s literature still plays a crucial part in education as it provides knowledge and entertainment, representing a typical example of "edutainment". In this paper, we carried out a review to examine pedagogic, didactic and psychological/therapeutic dimensions of children’s literature, with the aim of highlighting its role in promoting students’ holistic development and wellbeing.

Methods: We have searched for original articles (from 1960s to 2019), by using the following keywords: "fairytales" or "fairy tales" or "folktales" or "fables" AND "education" or"development" or "learning" or "teaching" or "school" or "curriculum" or "classroom" AND "children" or "child" or "kids" or "childhood" AND "health" or "wellbeing".

Results: We found 17 studies concerning pedagogic aspect of children literature, while 21 and17 studies were selected for didactic and therapeutic dimensions, respectively. From a pedagogic point of view, tales convey basic values useful for children lives. In a didactic perspective, properly chosen storybooks represent a valuable resource for school activities, improving students’ language skills and building up a friendly/respectful classroom environment. Children stories are also used by health professionals for therapeutic purposes (bibliotherapy) to prevent unhealthy habits and addictions, or address psychosomatic disorders. Finally, storybooks and web-based/digital stories can be an effective vehicle for health contents, to encourage the adoption of healthy lifestyles among schoolchildren.

Conclusion: Children’s literature and storytelling could be helpful in promoting students’ global development and wellbeing, when included in school curricular activities.


Myths, fables and fairytales – originally founded on oral tradition – allowed adults to communicate with young people in an uninterrupted process until nowadays. 1 Tales have been told everywhere and in every time to educate, entertain and increase individuals’ awareness about moral principles and customs, thus representing an important part of traditional heritage as well as a way to reinforce tolerance and mutual knowledge among different populations. 2

Reading or listening to tales can be considered significant community practices, capable to impact on young generations, empowering and preparing them for the future. 3 Since culture is crucial for learning, stories have a fundamental part in shaping individual’s role in the society, becoming a helpful resource from didactic, psychological/therapeutic and pedagogic perspectives. 4

From a didactic point of view, storybooks can provide children with new information about the world, enrich vocabulary and enhance specific language skills (in the classroom or at home), nurturing communication between the storyteller (teacher, parent or other professional staff) and the listeners. 5 , 6

It is known that stories – by reproducing fictional situations that match with children’s real problems – allow them to feel comfortable and safe in difficult circumstances, ensuring emotional security and providing healthier ways to deal with internal struggles, life adversities and stressors. 7 Story-tales compensate what young people may lack, by presenting them positive patterns of behaviours and constructive models through the characters they could identify with. 8

Storybooks (or digital tales) are easier to understand for all children compared to abstract notions or theories, and might become special instruments for mapping the reality and conveying health contents, especially to the most vulnerable groups. 9 , 10

As suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO), health literacy should be incorporated in school curricula, in the context of a health-promoting classroom environment, in order to provide new generations with useful knowledge about healthy lifestyles. 11 - 13 Actually, school represents the ideal setting to perform health-related interventions and positively influence students’ wellbeing as well as their academic achievements. 14 - 16 The final goal is to involve young generations in practical actions about healthy habits (i.e. balanced nutrition and physical exercise) and prevention of risky behaviours (such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use) through a personal re-elaboration of health knowledge.In our previous systematic review, we have provided evidence for taking into account narrative-based strategies among the possible highly motivating approaches to encourage schoolchildren in adopting healthy eating habits since childhood. 17 , 18 More broadly, in this paper we explored the rationale for using children’s literature and storytelling in school setting to promote students’ global development and wellbeing.

Material and Methods

A narrative review has been carried out in order to analyze the pedagogic, didactic and psychological/therapeutic dimensions of children’s literature, highlighting the potential of narrative-based strategies in fostering students’ global development and wellbeing. Starting from January 2019, over a five-month period in the context of PhD in Human Relations Science of Bari University (Italy), we have searched on Web of Science for original articles and books, published from 1960s to 2019, by using the following keywords: “fairytales” or “fairy tales” or “folktales” or “fables” AND “education” or “development” or “learning” or “teaching” or “school” or “curriculum” or “classroom” AND “children” or “child” or “kids” or “childhood” AND “health” or “wellbeing”. We summarized definitions of health, presenting “wellbeing” (in its three dimensions of physical, emotional/mental and social health) as the main goal of every educational practice, and school system as the ideal setting to display health-related interventions. We also used citation tracking to detect other papers concerning children literature and narrative-based strategies (from oral storytelling to printed books and digital resources) as effective operational tool for conveying health contents to promote global development and wellbeing in school setting, along with the prevention of risky behaviours. Finally, we have provided brief definitions of children’s literature, presenting some historical insights about its pedagogic or didactic use, and psychological/therapeutic applications (bibliotherapy and narrative medicine).

Children’s literature is broadly defined as any creative literary work that has been especially written and designed for children’s use. 19 Only in the 18th century, with the evolving of the concept of childhood, a separate genre of children’s literature was created. 20 Modern children’s literature comprises short fairytales and fables, picture books, comics, cartoons, novels, nursery rhymes that can be potentially appreciated by most children. 21 In our search, we selected 17 studies concerning pedagogic dimension of children literature, 20 , 22 - 37 while 21 and 17 studies were chosen as addressing didactic 1 , 5 , 38 - 56 and therapeutic dimensions, 6 , 7 , 57 - 71 respectively ( Table 1 ).

Children’s literature as narrative tool in education: pedagogic dimension

The crisis we are facing is not only economic and financial, but also political, cultural and ethical, generating anxiety and fear due to the perception of a precarious existence in the context of a growing individualism and insensitivity to other people’s difficulties. Moreover, our society measures everything in terms of monetary value, giving priority to scientific/technological knowledge and decreasing the relevance of human sciences, which have nurtured the traditional humus of citizenship education. 72

Despite educational system is dealing worldwide with several challenges, school still represents the ideal setting to display interventions aimed at promoting students’ holistic development. Beyond its specific commitment, it is essential to build up healthy, respectful and satisfied citizens: the future adults capable to take care about themselves, the others and the environment. 24 , 73

In the globalization era, characterized by deep socio-economic changes and collapse of the traditional social tissue (i.e. new forms of poverty, increase of inequalities, family mobility etc.), the cultural heritage of folktales – easily available both for parental and teachers’ use – could represent a helpful tool for promoting individual personal growth, social cohesion and sustainable development. 2

Tales were told and are still told in every society and in many different settings to share experiences, customs, norms, and values, providing the listeners with entertainment and new knowledge. 25 In the “culturalistic” perspective, children’s stories belong to a specific cultural niche that could help young people to move into the life, allowing them to understand who they are as human beings and how they can contribute to the progress of the world. 26

Children’s literature continues to be a significant opportunity of presenting moral principles in an enjoyable and engaging way 27 and it is growing fast along with the aim to entertain, educate and provide new knowledge (in line with the new concept of “edutainment”), being able to integrate fun and adventure demanded by children (simulating the activity of free play) with the adults’ objective of offering them a set of moral examples. 20 , 28

A big part of children’s literature is represented by fairytales, which have the final goal of transmitting the basic universal values, and raising children’s awareness on many aspects of the life. 29 That’s why, even before printing press was invented, fairytales have been used by parents to transmit culturally appropriate moral norms to their children from an early age, equipping them with information, attitudes, and skills that could act as a kind of “vaccination” against all kind of threats to individual or collective health. 30

The most famous example fulfilling these criteria can be found in “Pinocchio”, written by Carlo Lorenzini (Collodi) to make children aware about the consequences of adopting wrong behaviours. 31 , 32 Similarly, in Germany, the Grimm Brothers presented noble values and positive models in their amazing adventures, helping children to understand what is good and what is bad. 33

Tales are very interesting for children because they show real aspects of family and community life, reinforcing the relations with the parents and highlighting ethical values related to social life. 34 , 35 Through implicit meanings embodied in the stories, children indirectly acquire pedagogical messages, able to influence their global personality and stimulate a social sense of duty. 27

Children’s stories are the place of endless possibilities, so that young people can open their mind to wide horizons, generate new viewpoints, find possible alternatives or solutions to problems, cultivating their points of strengths such as self-confidence and resilience. 36

The role and importance of children’s books have changed in modern society, but even today, children’s literature (including movies and digital resources) influences our daily lives and contributes to the development of young people in a number of ways, ranging from the transmission of values to didactic purposes. The presence of digital technology represents a challenge but also an opportunity for traditional fairytales’ or fables’ existence. Digital storytelling (the combination of the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia tools) is a helpful instrument to generate more appealing and stimulating learning experiences. 37

Actually, printed publications tend to be expensive, while the Internet-based resources are a cheap alternative (usually available online for free), and might raise children’s interest towards books in many different ways. Combining narrative possibilities and technological potentials can be more powerful in terms of access to information, sharing of work, differentiated and motivated learning models. However, there is a fundamental distinction (at least in terms of establishing good relationships with educators) between watching a fairy tale on monitors (static and passive approach or even by computer-based interactive mode) and listening to a live re-telling of it. 22 , 23 , 74

Didactic dimension of children’s literature

The didactic intention of narrative works was discovered on clay tablets in Sumerian and Babylonian texts, dated back many centuries before Aesop’s fables (successively put into Latin verses by Phaedrus). Myths initially transmitted orally became well-known throughout the Mediterranean area thanks to Greek manuscripts of Alexandrian scribes, who used them in their daily education activities. Also philosophers (i.e. Plato) introduced myths and fables in their academic lessons with students and disciples: the rules of grammar and style were learned through the stories, encouraging young scholars to create new ones. Fables of Aesop were considered as useful didactic means also in medieval schools to teach Latin and rhetoric. 1

Even today, children’s literature – as integral part of primary school curriculum – could be a significant experience in the lives of children, with fables and fairytales being used as motivating teaching tools in both humanistic and scientific disciplines. 38 - 40 Educators are aware that all creative and artistic activities, including literature – while entertaining listeners or readers – can play a fundamental role in improving students’ knowledge, but also in the acquisition of daily life skills, useful to cope with any problematic situations. 41

Childhood is a crucial stage for language development, 75 so it is important to make it a pleasing experience: reading or listening to stories could be a joyful way for language training, able to overcome all the possible learning barriers. 42 - 44 Thanks to the recurring narrative passages intrinsic in the fairy tales’ or fables, child is able to deal with some complicated concepts or patterns, which require more repetitions to be better interiorized. That’s why tales are a valuable resource in teaching foreign languages and improving language skills (writing, reading, speaking and listening). 45 The use of narrative in teaching foreign languages has been found to lower the level of anxiety, allowing students to take risks in the language classes, thanks to the familiarity with stories and the relaxing learning environment generated by storytelling. Therefore, telling or reading stories is a successful strategy to acquire grammar structures, syntax, new vocabulary, increasing oral/written competences, and therefore the ability to communicate effectively and successfully. 46

By reading or listening to stories, students enhance their verbal proficiency and learn to accurately express their thoughts and feelings in everyday relations, making practice of peace-making skills (i.e. negotiation and discussion). 47

Learning from stories can stimulate and offer promising insights in other areas of children’s cognitive development such as problem-solving and reasoning skills. 48 Educators should awaken children’s interest towards reading and, at the same time, encourage them to use imagination, finding themselves inside the story; once children become attached to their favourite characters, they can reproduce them while playing, following the time chain and cause-effect relation of narrated events, so that the educational message of the stories can be better interiorized. 5 , 49 Educators should also be aware about their own responsibility when selecting children’s books for didactic purposes (not necessarily following popular titles or “best sellers”), and read the stories in a caring and warm environment. 50 Storybooks are accessible to students of all ages and can be borrowed from libraries or friends, while digital storytelling can be easily and quickly found on the Internet, even for free. 51

Multicomponent narrative-based approaches integrate traditional tales or other specifically developed storybooks, with audio and video resources (including those available on the Internet), cartoons, animated films, puppets or scenic elements. 23 , 52 , 53 Theatre reading or dramatization of children’s literature can be used at school to overcome the risk of short attention span of schoolchildren, and when dealing with difficult textbooks. Reader’s theatre in the classroom involve students as actors as they were really acting on the stage, while the teacher is guiding the scene and giving suggestions to the characters. In a study investigating the impact of readers’ theatre over six weeks, students assigned to the theatre class showed significant progress in reading level, compared to a control group who received more traditional literary and vocabulary education. The readers’ theatre class presented better fluidity in reading and expression, enriched vocabulary, and increased motivation compared to the control group. 54 Finally, it can be said that storytelling activities (including reader’s theatre) in school setting represent innovative didactic experiences, capable to build up also health knowledge and promote students’ global wellbeing. 55 , 56

Therapeutic dimension of children’s literature

Children’s storybooks not only provide new knowledge – by enriching children’s vocabulary and enhancing their communication skills – but also ensure emotional support during problematic circumstances of the life. Encouraging children to overcome fears and inner conflicts, tales act as promoters for change, positively influencing their social behaviour. 57

When parents or teachers provide children with a book, they usually hope that they will absorb the moral values that it contains. 58 - 60 Actually, fairytales can produce positive effects on personality development, satisfying all psychological needs of the children such as contact, entertainment, and cognitive demand. In the Freudian perspective, assuming the absence of a well-defined superego and moral standards in childhood, fairytales are useful to show proper patterns of behaviours needed by children. 61

Children’s literature – as a form of artistic creativity – presents a therapeutic potential for readers and listeners, in the same way that Greek tragedy was able to “heal” the spectators. 62 , 63 In the vision of the cathartic role of literature, we can say that it may influence children through psychological mechanisms, primarily consisting in involvement, imitation, identification, insight and universalism. Story-tales could be used in school-setting for primary prevention programs with the ultimate goal of preventing risky behaviours among young people, thanks to the potential of creative and artistic means such as specifically-developed children’s storybooks. Actually, narrative-based approach as a teaching and learning strategy is omnipresent in the classrooms, but it is infrequently used to promote students’ health. 64

Literature, as well as other forms of art (music, dance, drama, drawing, painting etc.) can be used to empower and motivate children towards the adoption of healthy behaviours, contributing to the improvement of pupils’ quality of life. The educational properties of the stories allow young people to accept their own differences, while showing how the characters of the tale cope with difficulties, enabling readers to enter in a fantastic world of entertainment, and – at the story’s end – to come back into reality in a comfortable way. 65

The main goal of art therapy in education is the holistic human development, to be accomplished by working on imagination, curiosity, and creativity, which represent all the basic features to be preserved in children, along with the natural needs of joy and play. 66 , 67 Artistic activities present also the potential of breaking down cultural barriers, actively involving the most vulnerable and marginalized children, as assessed in a study examining the effect of a creative expression program designed to prevent emotional and behavioural problems in immigrant and refugee students attending multi-ethnic schools. 76 This vision has been already adopted by the famous violinist Menuhin and his Foundation, to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children by using music and other form of arts. 77

Within the broad umbrella of art therapy, we can find “library therapy”, which S.M. Crothers in 1916 has turned into the term “bibliotherapy”, characterized by the fact that the treatment is carried out by the means of literature, using books to foster individual emotional wellbeing. Understanding the principles and practices of bibliotherapy is essential for teachers and educators, working with children, who may take benefit from the exposure to reading materials related to their specific problems.

The “healing” potential of books was known since the time of the ancient Greece and even before: Ramses II in Egypt identified a group of books in his collection as “remedies for the soul”. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers believed that literature could deeply heal people, while the ancient Romans recognized the existence of a relationship between medicine and reading, with Aulo Cornelius Celso explicitly associating the reading with medical treatment. This attitude towards therapeutic opportunities of books was cultivated even in the Middle Age and Humanism/Renaissance times, but also in the late eighteenth century books were proposed as a remedy for different types of illnesses. Today, literature is somehow considered as psychological therapy, especially in childhood, and even as a cure for psychosomatic disorders. 6

In the therapeutic approach, bibliotherapy includes also discussion and reflection on the story’s topics that overlap with the individual needs and have an evocative function that relies on projection and identification mechanisms. Proper storybooks work as a strategy for attitudinal change and self-improvement, acting through a compensatory function in children who lack of positive experiences which are often missing in their family or community. 68 Therapeutic reading can also represent a form of prevention as the readers acquire a more flexible mind to recognize problems and eventually ask for help. There are books that address questions concerning physical appearance, emotions and character traits, family relationships, and socioeconomic problems. 69 Bibliotherapy can be also applied in the field of psychotherapy for the treatment of minor disorders, eating behaviours and some forms of addictions, from alcohol and tobacco to drugs and ludopathy. 7

Narrative medicine, an emerging discipline in healthcare field – which embraces medicine, psychoanalysis and literature – is used to overcome individual traumatic experiences. It helps patients and health professionals to tell and listen to the complex and unique stories of illness through an active approach (subjects are invited to compose poetic or literary pieces) or passive mode (consisting in reading already existing pieces). 70 , 71

Efficacy of narrative-based strategies to promote health and wellbeing in school setting

Health is defined by WHO Constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. 78 WHO has demonstrated that many early deaths can be avoided if each stakeholder in the society takes its piece of responsibility in promoting healthy lifestyles. 79 Health promotion and prevention represent two sides of the same coin being both focused on proactively maintaining people healthy. 80 Primary prevention should start as early as possible and school has the opportunity to guide people since childhood on the right path towards healthy life. Actually, education and health are intertwined, and it is undoubtable that wellbeing has also a remarkable impact on students’ learning outcomes. School represents the ideal setting to convey proper contents about risk and protective factors 81 by using motivating approaches (including “teaching narratively”), able to capture the interest of pupils and generate a harmonic and non-competitive learning environment. 82 Narration can be regarded as an interesting way to trigger students’ motivation 82 and develop a “narrative thinking”, which is fundamental for every human experience, including learning and interiorization processes. 83 - 86 Specifically developed storybooks can foster children’s self-responsibility towards health and stimulate critical thinking about the consequences of adopting risky behaviours (i.e. unhealthy eating habits), thanks to psychological processes based on the identification with the characters of the stories. 17 Actually, children literature and storytelling have been proved to be effective in specifically conveying health knowledge: the persuasive effects of narrative engagement have been illustrated in many researches and reviews. 87 - 95 De Graaf et al have specifically performed a systematic review of 153 experimental studies on health-related narrative persuasion with a focus on the narrative characteristics as potential explanatory factors in the effectiveness to convey a health message. 87 , 88 The results showed that stories that presented a healthy behaviour were more often associated with effects on the intention to adopt it, and stories with high emotional content were usually more effective, as well as the use of a first or second-person perspective in the text. No differences were observed between the media used for the narrative intervention (book or video etc.), while the familiarity of the setting and the way of displaying the health message in the narrative was found to be a promising persuasive factor. 88 Shen and Han assessed 25 studies comparing narrative to non-narrative messages, showing a significant effect of narrative for primary prevention and detection of risky behaviours, but not for cessation of negative attitudes (e.g., quitting smoking). 89 Zebregs et al included 15 studies that recorded positive persuasive effects of narrative. 91 Braddock and Dillard metanalyzed 74 studies that compared narrative-based interventions to a control group that did not receive any relevant message. 92 Their results showed that, compared to a baseline zero-effect, narrative had positive effects on story-consistent beliefs, attitudes and intentions. By reviewing 45 studies, Tukachinsky et al concluded that engagement with the narrative and its characters was positively related to attitudes and intentions implied by the narrative itself. 93 Other authors have focused on the persuasive effects resulting from the “transportation” into a narrative world: when children read, they “enter” into tales and act out together with the characters. 94 Dahlstrom et al have shown that it is important to consider whether the persuasive message is integrated in the causal structure of the narrative or not. 95 Stories with two opponent main characters seem to have an impact on narrative persuasion in the context of social issues, while tales presenting a transition of the characters from unhealthy to healthy behaviour may be particularly beneficial. 90 Moreover, the content and form of the narrative - such as characters, events, and the setting of the story - are very important: characters can be more or less similar to the readers, thus producing a different persuasive effect. 96 , 97 A further dimension relevant to health-related “narrative persuasion” is the context of the presentation used in the narrative: an entertainment format where the reader is unaware that the narrative has a persuasive intention or a narrative frame in which the persuasive intent is more explicit. 98 - 100 In addition to narrative characteristics, variables related to target recipients – like the predisposition to become engaged in narratives and prior knowledge of the readers – as well as the environment/situation in which the story is narrated may increase or reduce the engagement and effectiveness of narrative-based interventions. 101 , 102 Most likely, the full process of persuasion is determined by the interaction of narrative, recipient and situational factors (such as noise in the environment) that can distract the student and decrease engagement. It should be emphasized that contents of the stories must be close to the children and the main character’s mental states needs to be as much as similar to the feelings of the child. Finally, it seems that multicomponent approaches including printed stories or tales told by a health educator in a face-to-face settings (i.e. live storytelling) can produce effects on beliefs, attitudes, intentions and even on the behaviours of recipients. 103

Oral and written tales are part of a collective memory, maintained from one generation to the next as an intangible cultural heritage for the transmission of moral values (i.e. Homer’s epic poems). As emphasized by the UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, folktales play a dynamic role in bringing people closer together, thus ensuring knowledge exchange among different cultures and increasing the respect for others in a tolerant peaceful way.

At the start of 21st century, school system faces new challenges worldwide, pushing educators to display innovative strategies in order to motivate students and engage them in stimulating and “transformative” learning. 104 This perspective goes beyond the passive acquisition of knowledge, moving toward a more active, experiential and participatory approach to lifelong learning. 105 The adoption of cooperative practices into daily classroom activities can contribute to the enhancement of students’ wellbeing, lowering the competition and anxiety due to the pressure of success, currently detectable among schoolchildren. 80

To achieve these goals, narrative interventions may be considered as one of the possible strategies for teaching and learning because children’s stories create the comfortable atmosphere that is usually lacking in school setting. 5 , 106

Since ancient times, myths, legends, fables and fairytales have supported individuals to understand who they are as human beings and the world around them, allowing people to map the reality through the use of words and language. 107 , 108

From fairytales and fables – plenty of adventures, heroes, personified animals, enchanted forests and magical objects – children gain additional experiences, feelings and thoughts, learning to cope with inhibitions, vulnerability, and shyness. According to the psychoanalytical interpretation, children’s stories lead readers towards a deep level of consciousness, dealing with the fundamental human questions expressed in the language of symbols. Beyond its educational purposes, children’s literature can positively influence mental wellbeing, nurturing thoughts, feelings and behaviours of young generations. 63

Stories – as a kind of creative form of art – help children to fight (like the heroes) for good things and success in their life, satisfying their spirit of play, spreading good mood, with benefits on physical health, mental brightness and moral virtue. These latter represent the three dimensions of wellbeing – pillars for the integral growth of the child – in the perspective of building up the future mature and socially active man. 109

Children’s literature presents a strong pedagogical component and should be regarded as a real educational strategy with the potential of being incorporated into school curricula. Learning experiences carried out in a friendly school environment generate improvement of emotional health and better academic achievements 8 , 110 - 116 A properly chosen book stimulates children’s power of observation, reason, memory and imagination, broadening the range of experiences, compelling the readers to reflect on their behaviours, and find out possible solutions to their troubles while providing entertainment. A famous sentence of Albert Einstein was: “If you want your children to be intelligent, tell them fairytales; if you want your children to be more intelligent, tell them more fairy tales”. 117 Unfortunately, in today’s busy society, adults lack the time to talk with children, so that reading or telling stories could represent a great opportunity of constructive exchanges in the family and at school. 28

Multicomponent narrative-based approaches (storytelling, role-playing, games, post-reading activities) are able to satisfy children emotional needs, provide sensory input, increase attention span, and shape the aesthetic taste. 43 , 44 The power of listening and speaking is able to create artistic images and induce schoolchildren to produce their own stories or tales. This is well accomplished by introducing them to literature from early childhood, and ensuring them interesting, funny and attractive materials. Telling or reading a story is cheap, pleasing, inclusive, it can be used in any setting without special equipment except the imagination. 50 , 118 Moreover, it generates catharsis, resulting in reduced anxiety, better comfort, self-esteem, thus helping young people to cope with any adversity and improving communication of feelings.

According to Richard-Amato, 119 students find themselves in the characters or narration, and learn how to behave adequately while facing similar situations in the future life. 6 It happens that the child becomes aware about the topic of the story, unconsciously solves the problems, increasing self-confidence, with positive implications for personality development. 119 By developing the imagination and creativity, children can discover new ideas and increase personal motivation to achieve their objectives. Albert Einstein was used to say: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant to me more than any talent for abstract or positive thinking”. 117

Finally, it can be considered also the contribution of literature to stimulate individual agency, applying the already acquired knowledge, to make the world more fit to human needs. 120 In this perspective, the Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia was used to say that if he did not believe that literature could produce a change, he wouldn’t have continued to write. 121

Stories are also able to convey health information about prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Several researches highlight the role of storytelling as a source of beneficial effects in primary prevention. Reading a storybook or listening to stories is helpful for children as it promotes pupils’ emotional expression and psychological wellbeing; it can be used to stimulate changes in young people lifestyles, encouraging them in practicing physical activity and reducing the consumption of sweets and soft-drinks, ultimately resulting in a measurable reduction of body mass index in specific cohorts. 122

Bibliotherapy facilitates behaviour´s externalization, promotes empathy and prosocial behaviours, and helps solving problems such as bullying and teasing, which represent common situations in every school. Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of treating bullying through bibliotherapy, that can become an innovative approach to promote a respectful school environment. A huge amount of children’s stories has been used in order to prevent and give other perspectives on bullying, demonstrating that children’s books can serve as a useful channel of exchange between parents, teachers and children. An example for that is the Child Adolescent Teasing in Schools (CATS) book review project and website, where – after the exposure to a fictional story about teasing and bullying – children share their own experience and are guided to develop successful coping strategies against teasing and bullying occurring at school. 123

Children’s books have been also used to let students learn peaceful alternatives to the violence of modern society, focusing on conflicts prevention in the classroom and the way for overcoming the problem. 124 This has led to the creation of specific lists of books which help children to better understand and cope with some situations of discomfort such as traumatic stresses.

“Therapeutic libraries” have been established for paediatric patients or their families in hospital setting according to the vision that literature can help children to improve their quality of life, reducing stress and pain levels associated with the hospitalization process. 125

In a randomized trial, a combination of storybooks and workshop sessions have been successfully tested in primary prevention programs for anxiety management, showing a significant improvement in coping skills and perceived self-efficacy: every session was based on a story describing characters facing common stressors and how they deal with their daily problems. 126 It can be said also that children’s literature offers strategies to overcome the anxiety and the fear of the unknown, stimulating reflection and re-elaboration of personal criteria to be applied in real life. 127 Bibliotherapy is used in school setting (from primary to high school) to foster social and emotional growth, offering the opportunity to find a deeper understanding of self, solutions to personal problems and enhanced self-image. 128 , 129

Finally, as demonstrated by the worldwide success of self-help manuals, bibliotherapy could be a helpful resource to reduce unhealthy food habits for the prevention or treatment of obesity, as well as in supporting who want to quit smoking or other addictions both in young people and adults. 130 - 132

Limitations of this work are mainly due to the initial design of the study, representing an exploratory work that found few on-field experiences concerning the use of narrative-based strategies to promote health and wellbeing among schoolchildren. A future work, carefully planned as systematic review, could take advantage from the findings of this first attempt, in order to better refine a comprehensive search in scientific literature.

Children’s literature offers young people the possibility to acquire a system of values (educational role), to be engaged in motivating learning activities (didactic aspect), and to deal with inner conflicts and life difficulties (psychological value). Based on international evidence, children’s literature and specifically developed storybooks can encourage the adoption of healthy choices and represent a useful preventive tool to foster young people’s global wellbeing, helping them to better cope with emotional/social problems while proposing proper patterns of behaviours and conveying health contents. 133 - 136 Children’s literature is a helpful tool to “educate”, “teach” and “heal”, so that narration could be considered among the possible educational strategies which can be used for pedagogic, didactic and therapeutic applications in the promotion of children’s global development both at home and at school.

Implications for practice

This review indicates that children’s literature not only presents a strong pedagogical and didactic value, but it can also generate benefits for global development and wellbeing of young people. Moreover, children’s literature can be regarded as a flexible instrument that facilitates the transmission of health contents to the students, allowing teachers to become “health educators”. Narrative-based strategies have the potential to be integrated as useful approach in the school curricular activities to specifically convey health contents (at least in primary and secondary school). 135 , 136 Being able to impact emotional experiences and individual motivation, children’s literature should be considered as a powerful educational tool also for health professionals, who can take advantage from the use of stories to spread health information. Actually, narration is a “transformative” mean that can be useful – in the frame of educational contexts – especially for the prevention of obesity, risky behaviours and addictions (cigarette smoking, alcohol, drugs, bet). Finally, beyond the possibility to prevent future diseases at individual level, thanks to well-designed narrative-based interventions in school setting, children can become themselves “health promoters” and “inter-generational multipliers” of desirable effects by influencing in a positive way their families and community. In this perspective, the use of children’s literature to convey health contents and promote wellbeing in school children might represent an interesting instrument to foster collective health.

Ethical approval

This review did not need any formal approval from ethical committee.

Competing interests

There are no competing interests concerning this article. This research has been carried out in the frame of institutional activities of the PhD in “Human Relations Sciences” of Bari University and UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development, without receiving any external funding or economical support from third parties.

Authors’ contributions

MP, PP and SC have conceived, prepared, written, approved and revised the manuscript.


Authors are grateful to Prof. G. Mininni, Director of PhD Course in Human Relation Sciences at University of Bari “Aldo Moro”.


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Children’s Books

The Best Children’s Books of 2023

Here are the year’s most notable picture, chapter and middle grade books, selected by our children’s books editor.

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childrens literature review

By Jennifer Krauss

Jennifer Krauss is the children’s books editor at the Book Review.


“An American Story,” by Kwame Alexander. Illustrated by Dare Coulter.

Alexander’s free verse and Coulter’s multitextured imagery, combining sculpture with painting and drawing, channel the story of Black Americans through a Black teacher grappling with how to honestly teach the hard history of slavery to her students.

“Big,” by Vashti Harrison

A Black second grader is made to feel “too big” in so many ways that she grows almost larger than the book, pushing her feet against the walls of its pages, until the mirrored shards she cries as tears pierce the reflections that trap her, opening a gatefold.

“Do You Remember?,” by Sydney Smith

As a boy and his mother snuggle in bed in their new apartment, the memories they trade of the life they left behind tilt their outlook from fearfulness to hopefulness. Smith’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are moody tone poems that alternate between full-page views of mother and son in the present and smaller, fragmentary images suggesting snapshots in an album and the scrappy nature of memory itself.

“Kozo the Sparrow,” by Allen Say

With a nuanced blend of watercolor and line art , Say depicts an episode from his childhood in postwar Japan when he stood up to three schoolyard bullies and saved a baby sparrow. Rather than take a maudlin turn, Say grounds his narrative in the question of how anyone, boy or bird, manages in early life to survive the serial cruelty and indifference of others.

“There Was a Party for Langston: King O’ Letters,” by Jason Reynolds. Illustrated by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey.

Much as Langston Hughes often did, Reynolds (in synchronous collaboration with the Pumphrey brothers) uses the power of poetry to make a party out of language.

“A Walk in the Woods,” by Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney.

In Grimes’s wise and heartfelt tale, the route a young boy follows on a map his recently deceased dad left behind leads to sketches, poems and a note telling him to draw and write his own story. In a poignant twist of fate, Jerry Pinkney died before the book was finished, and his son Brian completed the art.

“What If One Day…,” by Bruce Handy. Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin.

Pondering hypothetical disappearances, Handy’s playful text and Corrin’s by turns quiet and ebullient pictures create a satisfying rhythm: Precious things (water, the setting sun) are taken from us, and then joyfully returned.


“The Skull,” by Jon Klassen

In this droll reimagining of an old Tyrolean folk tale, Klassen, the dean of deadpan, has found his muse: The title character is the personification of his ingenious brand of expressionless humor.

“Who Will Make the Snow?” by Taras and Marjana Prokhasko. Translated by Boris Dralyuk and Jennifer Croft.

Originally published in Ukraine, this sweet, strange, lightly philosophical book, illustrated with soft, scribbly drawings, features newborn twin moles who live in a whimsically imagined woodland community. The title comes from the moles’ belief that when they die they will rise to the clouds and make the snow for those left behind.


“Alebrijes,” by Donna Barba Higuera. Illustrated by David Álvarez.

In this science fiction novel set centuries after the collapse of civilization, about the embedding of consciousness into Old World drones that look like animals, Higuera has created a future that has much to say about our present, and an adventure that soars above the dystopic fog.

“Big Tree,” by Brian Selznick

After flames engulf Mama, a giant sycamore tree growing in a prehistoric world, two of her seeds embark on an epic journey — they’re washed into the ocean, wafted by a volcano, eaten, abandoned, rescued. Selznick’s elegant language imparts the drama and delight of the siblings’ escapades, and his subtle graphite illustrations provide their context: the eons-long story of life itself.

“The Eyes & the Impossible,” by Dave Eggers. Illustrated by Shawn Harris.

This warm, comedic novel of interspecies friendship, about the plotting of an “impossible” escape for the bison who live in a fenced-in park within a park, is a tour de force, told by a dog whose exuberance and good nature run like a bright thread through its pages. “When I run,” he says of his grand passion, “I pull at the earth and make it turn.”

“Glowrushes,” by Roberto Piumini. Translated by Leah Janeczko.

A painter’s brush moves in tandem with an ailing boy’s imagination and, ultimately, his soul in the first English translation of an enchanting 1987 novel by Italy’s foremost living children’s author.

“Mexikid,” by Pedro Martín

Based on his web comic of the same name, Martín’s wildly entertaining graphic memoir chronicles his family’s 1977 trip in a used Winnebago from California’s Central Coast to Jalisco to bring their abuelito back to live with them.

“Remember Us,” by Jacqueline Woodson

Through the eyes of a 12-year-old African American girl named Sage, Woodson conjures a captivating, elegiac story from the ashes of a frightening summer in the 1970s when the susceptible wooden homes of Black residents of Brooklyn’s Bushwick section regularly ignited like matchsticks.

“The Storyteller,” by Brandon Hobson

Hobson pours elements of Cherokee storytelling (as well as humor and musical and literary references) into this coming-of-age novel about a tween who encounters an array of weirdly magical creatures on a quest to find his mother — “gone missing,” like so many Native American women, 10 years earlier.

“Things in the Basement” by Ben Hatke

Tasked by his preoccupied mother with finding one of his infant twin sisters’ socks in the family’s basement laundry room, a young boy descends into entire worlds in Hatke’s haunted, wondrous museum of a graphic novel.

“The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story,” by Lois Lowry

In this structurally unique, masterfully crafted work that begins in 1952, when the well-preserved body of a 2,000-year-old child is unearthed from a bog in northern Germany, Lowry succeeds in providing three things at once: Iron Age history; gripping fiction that builds possible life stories for the child; and a glimpse of the writer at work as she uses her tools and starts over.

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Children's & Young Adult Literature

  • Finding Books
  • Abandoned children in literature ---- Children's literature in series
  • Children's literature, African ---- Children's literature, Yiddish
  • Children's poetry ---- Children's rights in literature
  • Children's stories ---- Grief in children--Juvenile literature
  • Historical fiction ---- Young adults--Books and reading
  • Article Databases & Web Resources

Book Review Sources

Book selection tools, "best" book lists.

  • Authors & Illustrators
  • Graphic Novels
  • Banned Books
  • Teaching Resources & Children's Lit Associations
  • Open (Free) Access Children's & Young Adult Literature
  • Plagiarism & Academic Integrity
  • Booklist   Provides a guide to current print and non-print materials worthy of consideration for purchase by small and medium-sized public libraries and school library media centers
  • Book Review Digest Retrospective  (EBSCOhost database)  Book review digest retro provides excerpts from, and citations to, reviews of adult and juvenile fiction and non-fiction. Citations with excerpts of reviews of juvenile and adult fiction and nonfiction in the English language are included.
  • Books In Print   Provides record of in-print and forthcoming books published and distributed in the U.S. which are available to the general public or trade for purchase. Includes reviews for some books taken from various book review sources.
  • The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Book  A journal dedicated to reviewing some of the top children's books in the country.
  • Children's BookWatch Locate current book reviews or archived book reviews from the previous 5 years. Part of the Midwest Book Review site.
  • Children's Literature Comprehensive Database   The datab ase contains critica l reviews of thousands of children's books, ranging from the earliest baby board books to novels and nonfiction for young adults.
  • The Horn Book Magazine Reviews of the best children's books published, articles about children's books, explorations of children's books from every perspective and news of the children's book world.
  • Kirkus Reviews   Publishes reviews for fiction, mysteries,  sci-fi , translations, nonfiction, & children's books.
  • Literature Resource Center (LRC) Excellent source for literary information. Includes poetry, short stories, novels, drama and reviews for children & young adults. Also plot summaries, critical analysis, author portraits, literary images, and biographies of authors and illustrators. Includes full text of journals containing book reviews and literary criticism relevant to children's and young adult literature (e.g.  BookList , Horn Book Magazine).
  • Publisher's Weekly Current reviews of children's books. The trade journal of the publishing industry - does not typically include critical reviews.
  • School Library Journal   The most complete provider of news, information and reviews for librarians, media specialists and teachers who serve children and young adults in school and public libraries.
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
  • Horn Book Magazine
  • Library Journal
  • Lion and the Unicorn
  • School Library Journal (SLJ)

Many books have been published listing the 'best' titles in selected subject areas, genres or for use with target groups [e.g. age, reading level, ethnicity etc.]. A selected list of those titles are listed below. In addition to single books a database for identifying titles is also listed. Search ASU Library catalog   for additional "best" titles. 

  • 100 Best Books for Children
  • A to Zoo : Subject Access to Children's Picture Books
  • Across Cultures : A Guide to Multicultural Literature for Children
  • Best Books for Children: Preschool through Grade 6
  • Best Books for Children, Supplement to the 8th edition: Preschool Through Grade 6
  • Best Books for High School Readers, Grades 9-12 
  • Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers: Grade 6-9
  • Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers: Grades 6-9   
  • Best of Latino Heritage, 1996-2002: a Guide to the Best Juvenile Books About Latino People and Cultures
  • Beyond Picture Books: Subject Access to Best Books for Beginning Readers
  • Best Books for Young Adults
  • Best Books for Young Adults 3rd ed.
  • Best Books for Young Teen Readers, Grades 7 to 10
  • Bilingual Children's Books in English and Spanish: An Annotated Bibliography, 1942 Through 2001
  • Black History in the Pages of Children's Literature
  • Crossing Boundaries With Children's Books
  • Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults: a Comprehensive Guide
  • Hearing All the Voices: Multicultural Books for Adolescents
  • Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8
  • Multicultural Picturebooks: Art for Illuminating Our World
  • << Previous: Awards
  • Next: Authors & Illustrators >>
  • Last updated: Nov 28, 2023 3:01 PM
  • URL:

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Home / Resources / About

Gale Literature Criticism (Children's Literature Review)

Gale Literature Criticism (Children's Literature Review) screenshot

What is it? This resource profiles authors of children's or young adult literature of all genres and provides selected full-text or excerpted criticism reproduced from books, magazines, literary reviews, newspapers and scholarly journals. A full citation and annotation precede each essay; many include an author portrait. The series currently covers more than 750 authors and also includes numerous entries focusing on individual titles and topics in children's and young adult literature, including picture books, folklore and graphic novels. More than 97% of critical essays from the print series are reproduced in full in this online version, which combines multiple search and browse options with an engaging format that matches the look and feel of the print originals.

Why use it? Find critical essays and reviews on authors of children's literature

Coverage: Varies

Access: Available on networked computers on the MSU campus in Bozeman and via the proxy server. Unlimited number of simultaneous users.

Vendor: Gale

Subjects: Biography & Genealogy, Books & Book Reviews, Education, English

Total interactions: 3457

Rank: 155 out of 309 databases

Rating: 3 out of 5 (based on 3457 out of 2169759 total interactions with all of our databases)

Last updated: 2024-02-16 13:05:01

Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) & Accessibility Statements:



children’s literature resource guide

A comprehensive guide for parents, teachers, and kids, introduction.

Through reading literature, kids can explore new worlds, contemplate new ideas, and develop empathy by seeing through the eyes of others. Reading sparks the imagination and helps kids gain cultural knowledge, emotional intelligence, and social development. And because reading is so important, we created this Children’s Literature Resource Guide. Inside you’ll find 40 individual resources for kids, teachers, and parents, including websites that offer texts to read online and literature-themed games; resources for teaching literature to kids; and resources that help guide parents as they work to foster a love of reading in their children.

childrens literature review

General Children’s Literature Resources

Whether you’re seeking information on a particular children’s author or you need a link to a site with storytelling videos based on children’s literature, these resources are for you.

Children’s Literature Author/Illustrator Directory

Find links to tons of children’s literature authors and illustrators. The directory’s convenient A to Z format offers easy searching.

Getting Kids Reading

Parents, you’ll want to bookmark this site. Discover plenty of games, books, crafts, and creative ideas to promote a love of reading in children.

We Give Books

Children have the opportunity to give the gift of a new book to a specific nonprofit charity each time they read a Penguin or DK children’s book online via this site.

International Children’s Digital Library

A treasure trove of high-quality digital children’s books from all over the world. The site offers books for children ages three to 13. Access is free is easy. You don’t even have to register to read!

Story Place

Many of the things you can do during an in-person visit to the library, you can do virtually on Story Place. Favorite stories and activities are presented in mobile and desktop formats.

Shakespeare for Kids

This website provides plenty of activities for children and families. Solve puzzles, answer quizzes, and learn new words based on Shakespeare, his works, and Elizabethan England.

Caldecott Medal and Honor Books

View winners of the Caldecott Medal, which since 1938 has been awarded for distinguished artistry in a children’s picture book by the Association for Library Service to Children.

Coretta Scott King Award and Honor Books

View winners of the Coretta Scott King Award, which since 1970 recognizes outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

Selection of Award Winners & Honor Recipients:

  • New Kid by Jerry Kraft
  • Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Day of Tears by Julius Lester
  • Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper
  • Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

John Newbery Medal and Honor Books

View winners of the John Newbery Medal, which since 1922 recognizes the year's most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Selection of Medal Winners & Honor Recipients:

  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill 
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly 
  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
  • Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell 
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate 
  • Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  • The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg  by Rodman Philbrick

childrens literature review

Children’s Literature Games

Learning should be fun. And online games, like the literature-themed ones listed below, can give students a break from traditional learning.

Literature Games

Children can enjoy playing various online word games based on books such as  How to Eat Fried Worms  and  The Black Stallion.

The Los Angeles Public Library offers links to five online literature-based games that are free to access and play.

PBS Reading Games

PBS is a leader in entertaining educational programming for kids with shows like  Word Girl ,  Elmo , and  Super Why . Help your child strengthen their reading skills with a variety of reading games based on PBS show characters.

Story Toolz

Children will delight in the opportunity to play these literature-based games that feature their favorite characters and storylines.

Student Reading Interactives

Choose from 10 exciting reading games geared for children in grades K-2. Flash Player is required.

childrens literature review

Children’s Reading Guides

Readers are developed, not born. Browse the links below to find guides published by organizations interested in promoting early literacy and finding the best instructional practices to achieve it.

The Joy and Power of Reading

From Scholastic comes this summary of research and expert opinion, which emphasizes the importance of providing young children frequent access and exposure to books. Emphasis is placed on offering a variety and choice of materials and reading books aloud to the developing reader.

Literacy Resource Guide for Families and Educators

Developed by the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA), this literacy resource guide helps families and educators discover the vast amount of children’s literacy resources available through the US Department of Education.

Put Reading First

This 64-page guide summarizes research by the National Reading Panel based on how to teach children to be successful readers. Suggestions for best instructional practices are made in the areas of phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.

Empowering Parents

This guide from Reading Rockets offers parents practical advice and tips on how to raise a child who likes to read.

childrens literature review

Children’s Literature Teaching Resources

When you teach children’s literature, you not only help children develop literacy skills, you also foster within them an appreciation of all that literature has to offer. Browse the links below to find ideas, lesson plans, and activities that will engage your students.

Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site

Book reviews for children’s books, curriculum implementation ideas, and professional topics are what you’ll find at this site created by the late Carol Hurst, a well-known lecturer, author, and language arts consultant.

Featured titles:

  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
  • Far North by Will Hobbs
  • I Am Regina by Sally Keehn
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Teach with Picture Books

Teach with Picture Books is a helpful resource to learn about ideas, activities, and games that you can use with picture books to enhance instruction in grades three to eight.

Popular Picture Books:

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Teaching Kids News

Enjoy free, kid-friendly news stories that are perfect to use with students in grades two to eight. The authors provide the appropriate vocabulary and context for every news story they write and include critical thinking questions.

Aaron Shepard’s RT Page

Improve the reading fluency of your students in a fun way. Children’s author Aaron Shepard offers free access to an acclaimed series of Reader’s Theater scripts that you can use in your classroom. He also offers tips for making the most of Reader’s Theater with your students.

Find links to engaging lesson plans, whimsical printables, and fun-filled activities related to various Dr. Seuss books.

Read Kiddo, Read

In the “Lesson Plans for Educators” portion of this site, find over 70 links to lesson plans and discussion questions for various children’s books, such as  James and the Giant Peach  by Roald Dahl and  Bad Kitty  by Nick Bruel.

Storyline Online

This site is an online video library that features Screen Actors Guild (SAG) members, such as Kevin Costner and Christian Slater, reading children’s books aloud. Lesson plans and activity guides are available to download for each book.

No Water River

Find poetry performance tips, lists of children’s poetic terms and forms, and a poetry video library with more than 100 videos of poem presentations and interviews with poets.

The Best Children’s Books

Self-sacrifice, service, and helping others are traits that all children should have the opportunity to learn. Check out this link for examples of children’s books that offer examples of service within their stories. Also included for each book are grade-level recommendations, summaries, and a peek inside.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Keep updated about the newest and best books published for children via the booklists and webcasts on this site.

Literature Interactives

From Annenberg Learner, these literature interactives can help your students learn the elements of a story. Literature interactives are also available for teachers, such as how to assess comprehension or annotate text.

Learning School Radio

This collection of audio resources from the BBC will stimulate children’s imaginations and inspire them to love reading.

childrens literature review

Children’s Literature Study Resources

In this section, find links to recorded lectures from actual college-level courses based on children’s literature, study guides, book notes, and video lessons to help you learn more about this topic.


Utilize a study guide that explains three reading methods for promoting fluency and comprehension. Methods include Reader’s Theater, performing poetry, and choral reading.

Literature Lessons on Video

These video examples of excellent literature teaching practices for grades six to eight can help educators improve their teaching methods.

Free Book Notes

This is like one-stop shopping for all your study material needs. Find free book notes, study guides, book and chapter summaries, and more from this literature study guide search engine that has links to materials from more than 23 online providers.

History of Children’s Literature

These 29 audio lectures, from David Beagley of La Trobe University, focus on the development of children’s literature, from myths and legends to modern stories.

Postcolonial Literature for Children

This podcast from David Beagley of La Trobe University, focuses on the major themes and strategies employed by children’s authors to represent postcolonial stories.

childrens literature review

Children’s Literature Blogs

For the best in children’s book reviews and poetry to helpful tips and tricks to inspire a love of reading in children, take some time to browse the following blogs.

The Well-Read Child

This mom’s mission is all about getting kids to read. She features reading tips, learning activities, fiction and nonfiction book reviews, and recommendations to help other parents instill a desire to read in their children. Her book reviews are based on books for children, tweens, and teens.

This blog is devoted to the review of children’s board books, otherwise known as tough little books full of brilliant colors, cute illustrations, and tiny words. Discover information about delightful, almost indestructible books that your toddler will love.

Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Jen Robinson may have a PhD in Industrial Engineering, but she has always loved children’s books and sharing that love with others. Her blog features tons of insightful book reviews for children’s books and thoughtful posts that can inspire people to place a high value on encouraging children to read.

What to Read to Your Kids

This blog created by Melissa LaSalle, the “Book Mommy,” contains her annotated list of highly recommended children’s books.

Poetry for Children

This blog was created and is maintained by Sylvia Vardell, author and professor at Texas Women’s University. It focuses on finding and sharing poetry with young people.

childrens literature review

Modern Classics: Children’s Literature and Chapter Books

  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater 
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

childrens literature review

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Children's Literature Review

Literary criticism on writers and illustrators for children & young adults. This resource is included within the Gale Literature Criticism Online collection. Choose Children's Literature Review (CLR) in the By Series box before beginning your search.

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The Children's Book Review

Ode to a Pug, by Jill Rosen | Dedicated Review

Cattitude, by bianca schulze and samara hardy | cover reveal, because of winn-dixie, by kate dicamillo | book review, are you raising a reader or two we've got you covered, editor's picks.

  • Celebrate With Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World | Book Review

Celebrate With Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World is a fantastic resource for building cultural awareness.

Exploring Environmentalism and More in Emma Pearl’s Saving the Sun

Highlighting the importance of children’s books in fostering imagination and empathy, Emma Pearl discusses her picture books Mending the Moon and Saving the Sun

Best New Audiobooks for Every Kind of Listener

These five audiobooks are chock-full of cats, ghosts, sinister wallpaper, and more—there’s something for every kind of listener.

Books by Age

  • Teens: Young Adults

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 20 Minutes A Day | Book Review

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 20 Minutes A Day is a fantastic resource for introducing classic literature to young readers in a fun and accessible way.

The Wizard in the Wood, by Louie Stowell | Book Review

Elf dog and owl head, by m. t. anderson | book review, the dreamer, by pam muñoz ryan | book review, five audiobooks to enjoy with young readers, the growing readers podcast, mary pope osborne and will osborne on the magic tree house on stage.

Bianca Schulze

Jamie Lee Curtis Talks About Just One More Sleep

Jeff kinney talks about diary of a wimpy kid, richard wagner talks about needles, the forgotten christmas tree, chris wieland talks about the body on the beach: a kat dylan mystery, growing readers: reading and writing tips, reading as a love language between children and their parents, teaching about civil rights leaders in the classroom through literacy, reading journal for kids who love books | book review, 13 amazing ways baking improves literacy skills and language development, black history month and black joy, nyasha williams talks about ‘ally baby can: be antiracist’ and ‘keep dreaming black child’.

Nyasha Williams books, Ally Baby Can: Be Antiracist and Keep Dreaming Black Child, open up meaningful conversations with people of all ages.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia | Book Review

Playing the cards you’re dealt, by varian johnson | book review, roll of thunder, hear my cry | book review, new kid and class act | book series review, recent posts.

  • What’s New Inu? One Wild Critter | Dedicated Review

Nicci Belter’s What’s New Inu? One Wild Critter is a charming addition to the early reader genre, combining fiction and non-fiction in a satisfying narrative.

  • Why is Sam So SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression from a Child’s Perspective | Dedicated Review

As the title suggests, Why is Sam So SAD? is an informative exploration of Seasonal Affective Disorder from a child’s perspective.

  • Opera Andy, by Bradley Poore | Dedicated Review
  • Tanks and Tractors: A Tale of Bravery and Bond | Dedicated Review

Bubba and Squirt’s City of Bones | Dedicated Review

Pisa loves bella: a towering tale of kindness | dedicated review, virtual book awareness tours, ode to a pug, by jill rosen | awareness tour.

Get ready to embark on a tail-wagging adventure with Ode to Pug, written by Jill Rosen and illustrated by Stephanie Rohr!

Guess How Marion Feels, by Miss Kaye | Awareness Tour

Join us on a heartwarming journey of emotions and connections with Marion in Guess How Marion Feels, by Miss Kaye and beautifully illustrated by Miss Waitthk!

Ralphy’s Rules For Feelings | Awareness Tour

Join us on an exciting virtual book tour for Ralphy’s Rules for Feelings by Talar Herculian Coursey! Make emotional intelligence fun and accessible for kids.

Bubba and Squirt’s City of Bones | Awareness Tour

We invite you to follow along on the virtual book tour of Bubba and Squirt’s City of Bones. The air is thick with secrets, and the catacombs await …

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About ChildrensLit

Children’s Literature has been reviewing children’s and young adult literature since 1993, when founded by librarian Marilyn Courtot. Over 100,000 reviews later, Children’s Literature still holds the largest collection of children's and YA book reviews in the reviewing industry. Our reviews are licensed to booksellers, libraries, and literature databases. Children’s Literature is a CLCD Company- a company focused on providing children’s and YA literature information through an array of products.

Our reviewers include librarians, writers and editors, professors, teachers, children’s literature specialists, children’s book authors, and physicians. Currently, we review over 2,000 books per year from a variety of publishers and now include self-published book reviews. We pride ourselves on being an independent review source that is not affiliated with any specific publisher. Accepted books for review come from small, medium, and large publishing houses.

Our mission is to review a wide variety of children’s and young adult titles from a wide variety of voices. We do so with several goals in mind. One, that every child and teen find themselves represented in literature. Two, that they learn about and respect others that are different from themselves. Three, that they are exposed to enjoyable fiction and nonfiction to help educate, provide understanding, and inspire. has been a top 10 website on Google for over 15 years. Our website provides authors and illustrators opportunities to establish an identity, readers to find reviews and author information, and librarians and event coordinators to identify authors and illustrators for visits.

Whether you are an aspiring author, seasoned librarian, or new parent, our website is a great place to find information about the latest books and creators in the field of children’s and YA literature.

Dr. Ajay Gupte, current owner and president of Children’s Literature Review Source, thanks former owners Marilyn Courtot and Emily Griffin who grew Children’s Literature to be a long-standing robust children’s and YA book review source. Marilyn and Emily created and cultivated an excellent resource that librarians and booksellers counted on to make book-buying decisions. Along with his staff and reviewers, Dr. Gupte will continue Marilyn and Emily’s work by helping teachers, librarians, parents, and childcare providers make appropriate children's literary choices.

Amanda is the author of five children's books and the 2018 gold medal recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Book Award. She lives with her husband, son, daughter, and a farm-full of animals in rural Minnesota.

Elisabeth was a kid with her nose in a book and lucky enough to live in France. Then, she was a student, still reading and studying foreign languages as well as sociology. Elisabeth was an international school teacher in Japan, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. Along the way, she got married, had children, and became a travel and feature writer for magazines.

Heather is the district and high school librarian for Portales Municipal Schools. She earned her BA in English Literature from the University of Wyoming and her MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Heather has taught in public schools for over seven years and is a past chair of New Mexico’s Advocacy for School Libraries.

A reader for life, Joyce has served as a librarian/media specialist for kindergarten through college-age students for over 32 years. She has served in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. She has been a reviewer since 1999 with ChildrensLit.

Katie currently works in private practice to mentor students with executive functioning and language processing challenges. She also writes stories and cross-curricular lessons to engage young minds with big ideas and does writing work for hire in addition to reviewing kidlit & other books. Katie is fueled by faith and laughter.

Mary is a library professional in Denver, Colorado, with a passion for children's literature and services. She enjoys exploring with her husband and their daughter.

Megan is an Elementary Media Specialist and married with two sons and two fluffy dogs. She loves to read children's literature, visit Walt Disney World, and is an avid Atlanta Braves Baseball fan.

RevaBeth is a retired high school science teacher. Since she still loves to be around kids and learn, she currently is a substitute teacher.

Shereen is the Director of Education at the Hindu American Foundation and has been an educator for over ten years. She loves reading, especially biographies and books that teach her about different cultures.

Uma is a children's writer--picture book through middle grade. She is also on faculty in the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Uma lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.

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Children's and Young Adult Literature

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Outstanding Sources for Children's and Young Adult Book Reviews

  • Booklist Provides a guide to materials worthy of consideration for purchase by libraries and school library media centers. Published by American Library Association.
  • Horn Book Guide to Children's and Young Adult Books
  • Horn Book Magazine
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This paper is in the following e-collection/theme issue:

Published on 21.2.2024 in Vol 7 (2024)

Young Children and the Creation of a Digital Identity on Social Networking Sites: Scoping Review

Authors of this article:

Author Orcid Image

  • Valeska Berg 1, 2 , BSc, MSc, PhD   ; 
  • Diana Arabiat 1, 2, 3 , BSc, MSc, PhD   ; 
  • Evalotte Morelius 1, 2, 4 , MSc, PhD   ; 
  • Lisa Kervin 2, 5 , PhD   ; 
  • Maggie Zgambo 1, 2 , PhD   ; 
  • Suzanne Robinson 1 , BSc   ; 
  • Mark Jenkins 1 , PhD   ; 
  • Lisa Whitehead 1, 2, 3, 6 , BSc, MA, PhD  

1 School of Nursing & Midwifery, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia

2 Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child, Brisbane, Australia

3 Faculty of Nursing, University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan

4 Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

5 School of Education, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia

6 The Centre for Evidence Informed Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare Practice: A JBI Affiliated Group, Joondalup, Australia

Corresponding Author:

Lisa Whitehead, BSc, MA, PhD

School of Nursing & Midwifery

Edith Cowan University

270 Joondalup Drive

Joondalup, 6027

Phone: 61 438145638

Email: [email protected]

Background: There is limited understanding of the concept of the digital identity of young children created through engagement on social networking sites.

Objective: The objective of this scoping review was to identify key characteristics of the concept of digital identity for children from conception to the age of 8 years on social networking sites.

Methods: This scoping review was conducted using the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) guidelines. The key databases searched were EBSCO, Web of Science, ProQuest ERIC, and Scopus. Gray literature sources (National Grey Literature Collection, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, and Google Scholar) were also searched to identify unpublished studies. Articles were selected if they were published in English and reported data on the digital identity of children in relation to social networking sites.

Results: The key terms used in the literature were sharenting , followed by digital footprints and children’s identities . Our study revealed 2 approaches to the creation of digital identity: social digital identity and performative digital identity . The articles in this review most commonly used the term sharenting to describe the behavior parents engage in to create digital identities for children on social networking sites. Motivations to post information about children differed among parents; however, the most common reasons were to share with friends and family and create digital archives of childhood photos, termed social digital identity . The second motivation was categorized as performative digital identity. The risk of digital kidnapping and identity theft associated with the creation of digital identities also influenced parents’ behaviors.

Conclusions: The creation of a digital identity for children is an emerging concept. Our review develops a deeper understanding of sharenting behaviors that can be used to better support parents and their children in creating a digital identity with children and awareness of the potential future impact. We recommend that future studies explore the perspectives of children as key stakeholders in the creation of their digital identity.


Every post made on social networking sites contributes to the development of a digital identity. For some, this occurs naturally through their engagement with social networking sites, and for others, the process is planned or curated. Children and vulnerable populations can be represented on social networking sites without control over the creation of the digital identity developed on their behalf [ 1 - 7 ]. Children’s digital identities are often created before the child is born [ 8 , 9 ]. The creation of a child’s digital identity can start with parents sharing information about their soon-to-be-born or newly born child on social networking sites [ 3 , 10 - 12 ]. Digital identity development continues beyond the initial post as images, events, and milestones are shared with or without the permission of the child.

One of the major limitations of the literature on children and social networking sites is the underrepresentation of the voice of the younger child. There is little information available on social networking sites and their use and impact on children and even less from the perspective of children [ 13 - 16 ]. The lack of research with children is mainly attributed to the minimum age requirement for a child to register an account. Each social media site and app has its own criteria for minimum age requirements, which range from 13 to 16 years (13 with parental consent). It is common for parents to either post on behalf of their children or post (knowingly or unknowingly to the child) about their children between conception and the age of 8 years [ 17 ].

Although literature on the digital identity of children is emerging [ 8 , 12 , 18 , 19 ], evidence on the digital identities of adults has grown rapidly over the past 2 decades [ 20 - 25 ]. Despite the increase in the literature that explores adults’ digital identity, the key concepts related to processes and outcomes have not been established [ 1 , 20 ]. Approaches to define digital identity often draw on existing theories, such as the theory of self-presentation by Goffman [ 26 , 27 ]. Goffman [ 26 ] describes identity as performative and the world as a stage on which the act is taking place. The performance cannot take place without an audience who is there to validate the social performance [ 26 ]. Social networking sites are often seen as a stage in which one is actively trying to manage their impression or performance to be liked by others [ 28 ].

Research on adolescents’ digital identity (development) also draws on the theory by Goffman [ 26 ] and identity development theories such as the stages of psychosocial development were developed by Erikson [ 29 ], the identity status theory by Marcia [ 30 ], and the concept of networked publics by Boyd [ 31 ]. Identity development theories describe the adolescent years as the most important phase of identity development, and little is theorized about young children’s identity development [ 20 , 29 , 32 ]. However, Schachter and Ventura [ 33 ] argue that identity formation starts before adolescence and that parents play an active role in their children’s identity formation and later identity development. This aligns with the early formation of “digital” identities, which often starts with parents posting about their children on social networking sites.

There is limited understanding of the concept of digital identity for young children [ 21 , 34 ]. The purpose of this scoping review was to explore key characteristics in the literature on the concept of digital identity for children from conception to the age of 8 years on social networking sites. The review question was as follows: “What are the key concepts, definitions, and characteristics related to the concept of digital identity as generated through engagement with social networking sites for children from conception to the age of 8 years?”

A preliminary search of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and JBI Evidence Synthesis was conducted, and no current systematic or scoping reviews on the topic were identified. The updated methodological guidance for conducting a Joanna Briggs Institute scoping review was used in tandem with the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) to guide this review [ 35 ]. The completed PRISMA-ScR checklist can be found in Multimedia Appendix 1 . A scoping review was assessed as the most appropriate method, where the purpose of this review was to identify and clarify concepts [ 36 ] regarding the digital identity of children. The scoping review protocol was registered with the Open Science Framework and can be retrieved via the web (see the reference for a link to the protocol) [ 37 ].

Search Strategy

Relevant databases were searched using a constructed Boolean strategy with subject headings and keywords to reflect the inclusion criteria (the search strategy can be found in Multimedia Appendix 2 ). The first search was conducted between July 2022 and September 2022, and the second search was conducted between February 2023 and April 2023. The strategy was developed in conjunction with a specialist librarian. The search strategy, including all identified keywords and index terms, was adapted for each included database or information source. The databases EBSCO, Web of Science, ProQuest ERIC, and Scopus were searched. The reference lists of the included studies were cross-checked with search outcomes to identify studies not previously identified. Gray literature sources such as the National Grey Literature Collection, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, and Google Scholar (the first 200 results) were also searched to identify unpublished studies.

The search terms were as follows: child OR children OR infant OR toddler OR preschooler (population) AND ( digital AND identity ) OR “digital identity” OR ( online AND profile ) OR “online profile” OR ( social AND presence ) OR “social presence” OR sharenting (concept) AND social media OR Facebook OR Instagram OR Twitter OR Snapchat OR Tumblr OR “social networking” (context).

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Studies of any research design that included the presentation of findings on digital identity in relation to children from conception to the age of 8 years on social networking sites were included if a full text could be retrieved. The viewpoint within the studies could be of the young person, family, health professionals, peers, and others. Further inclusion criteria were articles that were peer reviewed, written in English, and published between January 2000 and April 2023 inclusive. Gray literature was included if research findings were reported. No restrictions on the inclusion of studies were applied in relation to the geographic location or setting of the studies except for the generation of the data on social networking sites.


Social media related to children from conception to the age of 8 years was included. Data related to family members who posted about their children were also included.

The concept explored was digital identity on social networking sites in relation to children from conception to the age of 8 years. This review focused on web presence on social networking sites, and therefore, literature on digital identity that was purely data generated was excluded. Data-generated identities include, for example, log-ins, personal information saved on websites for identification purposes, and data saved while using apps and playing games. This type of digital identity is discussed elsewhere [ 38 ].

Types of Sources

This scoping review included both qualitative and quantitative studies. Quantitative study designs including experimental and quasi-experimental study designs, randomized controlled trials, nonrandomized controlled trials, before-and-after studies, interrupted time-series studies, analytical observational studies (prospective and retrospective cohort studies), case-control studies, and analytical cross-sectional studies were considered for inclusion. This review also considered descriptive observational study designs including case series, individual case reports, netnography, and descriptive cross-sectional studies for inclusion.

Following the search, all identified references were imported into EndNote (version 20.1; Clarivate Analytics) for the identification and removal of duplicates and then exported to the Joanna Briggs Institute System for the Unified Management, Assessment, and Review of Information (Ovid) for a second identification of duplicates and the independent screening of titles and abstracts against the inclusion criteria by 2 reviewers [ 39 ]. Any differences between the reviewers regarding the inclusion or exclusion of articles for full-text review were discussed, and if not resolved, they were referred to a third reviewer. The full texts of the retained articles were independently assessed by 2 reviewers. Any differences between the reviewers were discussed and, if not resolved, they were referred to a third reviewer. The reasons for excluding studies at the full-text review stage were recorded. The study selection, screening, and reasons for exclusion at the full-text review stage are reported in the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) diagram [ 35 ] in Multimedia Appendix 1 .

Charting the Data

Data extraction tables were developed with the team and used to ensure a uniform data extraction process. Data extraction was undertaken by a minimum of 2 reviewers. The selected studies were analyzed to identify the key characteristics, such as study design, aim, country of study, setting and context, participant characteristics (the age and gender of the children and their families), and sample size. Key terms and concepts related to children’s digital identity were identified, and themes and trends were charted. Where required and possible, the authors of the papers were contacted to request missing or additional data for clarification.

Analysis and Presentation of Results

All articles in this scoping review were searched for key terms used in relation to the concept of digital identity. If the term was mentioned ≥2 times, it was included in the count. Key terms were included if they appeared in the main text, titles, abstracts, or keywords but not in references, footnotes, or headers.

Where variations of the term existed, all variations were analyzed as related to the core term. For example, for the core term children’s identities , variations such as children’s identity , child’s identity , the identity of the child , or their (children’s) identity were included. Similarly, variations of sharenting such as oversharing , anti-sharenting , and grand-sharenting [ 40 ] were analyzed as related to the core term sharenting .

The search was carried out using the PDF reader Nitro (Nitro Software, Inc), and words were copied and pasted into the search bar to avoid spelling mistakes. The search strategy included terms such as identit to quickly identify all terms related to identity, such as online identity , digital identity , and social identity ( identity on its own was not counted).

Data were presented in tabular form, which allows for easy comparison between articles. A graphic was chosen as a way to demonstrate the relationships between key terms. Quantitative and qualitative data were extracted into tables to compare the studies, and qualitative data were sorted into key themes. Key trends are discussed in the Results and Discussion sections.

Overview of Results

The search produced a total of 2573 abstracts, 1764 references from database and register searches, and 809 references from searches using other methods (refer to Multimedia Appendix 1 for the PRISMA flowchart [ 40 ]). Of the 1764 references, 652 (36.96%) were identified as duplicates, leaving 1112 (63.04%) references. There were no duplicates in the 809 references from other search methods. After title and abstract reviews were completed on all remaining references, 93.53% (1040/1112) of the articles were excluded from the database references and 99% (801/809) were excluded from the references from other search methods. This left 72 articles, of which 1 (1%) was excluded as there was no way to retrieve the full text and there were no contact details for the corresponding author [ 41 ]. Of the remaining 71 articles, after the full-text review, 50 (70%) were excluded, with the most common reasons being ineligible phenomena of interest (n=20, 40%), age (n=14, 28%), and the article not being about the child or children (n=8, 16%). This resulted in 21 articles. An additional hand search in March 2023 and April 2023 identified 7 articles for full-text review, of which 6 (86%) were included and 1 (14%) was excluded as it was not about the child or children. This resulted in a total of 27 articles included in this scoping review [ 7 , 9 , 10 , 17 - 19 , 40 , 42 - 61 ].

Characteristics of the Studies

The total reported number of participants in this scoping review was 8643, comprising mothers (n=1768), fathers (n=585), grandparents (n=1), and participants reported collectively as parents (n=1841). In total, 4% (1/27) of the articles reported data from child participants (n=68) [ 59 ]. The remaining 4263 participants were not identified further. Overall, more female participants (n=4158) than male participants (n=1753) were reported in the articles.

The sample size of the included studies ranged from 1 [ 18 ] to 3472 [ 57 ] participants. Notably, 30% (8/27) of the articles did not provide sample characteristics [ 7 , 43 - 45 , 47 , 48 , 52 , 54 ]. This was due to the study context (eg, content analyses of social networking site posts and photos) [ 7 , 43 - 45 , 47 , 48 , 52 , 54 ] and the nature of the articles, such as books or reviews [ 54 ] ( Table 1 ).

a SNS: social networking site.

b SDI: social digital identity.

c PDI: performative digital identity.

d MIL: mother-in-law.

e DIL: daughter-in-law.

f PII: personally identifiable information.

Study Origin

Of the 27 studies, 11 (41%) were conducted in the United States [ 9 , 19 , 40 , 43 , 47 , 49 , 50 , 52 , 57 , 58 ], 3 (11%) were conducted in Turkey [ 48 , 56 , 60 ], and 2 (7%) were conducted in Australia [ 2 , 18 ], followed by 1 (4%) study conducted in both the Czech Republic and Spain [ 52 ], 1 (4%) conducted in Germany and Austria [ 61 ], and 1 (4%) from each of the following countries: the United Kingdom [ 46 ], Malaysia [ 51 ], Poland [ 10 ], Sweden [ 59 ], Italy [ 62 ], Indonesia [ 55 ], and Portugal [ 17 ]. The remaining 7% (2/27) of the studies did not name the country of data origin [ 44 , 45 ].

The main social networking sites used were Instagram and Facebook. A total of 26% (7/27) of the studies focused on Instagram [ 17 , 18 , 43 , 44 , 47 , 48 , 52 ], and 15% (4/27) of the studies focused on Facebook [ 9 , 10 , 46 , 56 ]. The remaining studies focused on social media more broadly.

Study Design

In total, 48% (13/27) of the studies used a qualitative approach [ 9 , 10 , 17 - 19 , 43 , 44 , 48 , 51 , 52 , 55 , 60 , 61 ]. A total of 26% (7/27) of the studies used a mixed methods approach [ 46 , 47 , 49 , 50 , 56 - 58 ]. In total, 11% (3/27) of the studies used a quantitative design [ 30 , 53 , 59 ]. A total of 7% (2/27) of the studies used both qualitative and literature review methodologies [ 40 , 54 ], and 4% (1/27) of the articles were book chapters [ 7 ].

Key Terms and Concepts Used to Describe Digital Identity

In this first part of the Results section, we explore key terms and concepts used in relation to the concept of the digital identity of children on social networking sites. We then explore the concept of digital identity in relation to 2 types of behaviors that underpin the development of young children’s digital identity.

The Key Term Sharenting

The term sharenting was the most commonly used term in the literature (21/27, 78% of the articles) on the development of children’s digital identities [ 7 , 10 , 17 , 40 , 44 - 54 , 56 , 59 , 60 ]. Of the 27 studies, 5 (19%) studies discussed the term in more detail and provided a definition of sharenting [ 40 , 45 , 47 , 49 , 50 ]. Bezakova et al [ 45 ] explained the term sharenting as “the overuse of social media by parents or legal guardians who share photos or various home videos of minors with the virtual community,” whereas Brosch [ 10 ] defined sharenting as “the practice of a parent to regularly use the social media to communicate a lot of detailed information about their child” and drew on the Collins dictionary definition. All authors appeared to share a similar understanding of the term sharenting . Thus, the definition of sharenting is widely accepted and used frequently in the context of the digital identities of children on social networking sites.

Digital Footprint

A total of 48% (13/27) of the articles referred to the concept of digital footprint(s) [ 7 , 9 , 10 , 19 , 40 , 45 , 46 , 48 , 50 , 53 , 54 , 60 , 62 ]. The term digital footprints was sometimes used interchangeably with the term digital identity . It often came down to the authors’ preference for wording to describe the creation of digital identities for children. For example, Brosch [ 10 ] and Bezakova et al [ 45 ] explained that children’s digital footprints are mostly created by parents early in their child’s life, sometimes before or just after the birth of the child or during infancy [ 10 , 45 ]. Brosch [ 10 ] further explained that 10.7% of Polish parents in their sample created digital footprints for their unborn children by posting sonogram images, and 8.3% shared photos of the expectant mother on Facebook. As illustrated by this example, the term digital footprints was used synonymously with the term digital identity .

When the risks of sharing children’s content on the web were discussed, the term digital footprints was often chosen. Kumar and Schoenebeck [ 9 ] discussed the risk of mothers creating digital footprints for their children in relation to the benefits of receiving validation. Mothers in their study were hesitant and uncertain about how their photo-sharing behavior might affect their children’s online identity later and restricted their sharing to pictures that were cute and funny and showed milestones. Nevertheless, they found that the benefits of receiving validation via shared content outweighed the mothers’ concerns about digital footprints and oversharing. The authors introduced a new term, privacy stewardship , to describe “the responsibility mothers take on as they consider what kinds of baby photos are appropriate to share and the implications for their children’s digital footprint.” In line with this, Cino and Dalledonne Vandini [ 40 ] described the pressure and responsibilities of motherhood as mothers are eager to and expected to actively manage their children’s digital footprints. The literature suggests that the management of children’s digital footprints and identities is mostly considered to be the responsibility of parents, especially mothers [ 7 , 9 , 40 , 62 ].

The Use of the Term or Concept of Identity

The different types of identities that were mentioned in relation to children’s digital identities on social networking sites are discussed in the following sections.

Children’s Identities

The term children’s identities or variations of this term (eg, child’s identity ) was used in 44% (12/27) of the articles [ 7 , 9 , 17 , 19 , 43 , 44 , 48 , 52 - 54 , 56 ]. The term children’s identities was used to represent a broad concept that often encompassed other subterms or concepts related to identity. A total of 26% (7/27) of the articles that included the term children’s identities further discussed the concept of online identity [ 9 , 17 , 19 , 43 , 45 , 53 , 60 ], and 15% (4/27) of the articles discussed the term digital identity [ 17 , 54 , 60 , 62 ].

Online Identity

All articles that used the term online identities discussed how parents were the creators of their children’s identities on the web [ 9 , 17 , 19 , 43 , 45 , 53 , 60 ]. Similar to the other concepts related to the digital identity of children, online identity could often be used interchangeably with the term digital identity . However, the context in which online identity was used differed from that in which the other terms were used. Of the 27 studies, 5 (19%) studies discussed children’s online identities in the context of children’s rights and agency over their online identity and the missing consent from children to allow their parents to post about them on the web [ 17 , 19 , 43 , 45 , 53 ].

Digital Identity

The literature did not generate an accepted definition of digital identity; however, some authors briefly discussed the concept and its relationship with sharenting . Kumar [ 54 ] linked the concepts of digital identity and sharenting: “sharenting is potent thanks to the concept of a ‘digital identity,’ also called a digital persona, profile, legacy, trail, footprint, or presence” and “Sharenting discourse portrays the creation of a digital identity as a choice, one best left to the child.”

Mascheroni et al [ 62 ] also linked the 2 terms by discussing the consequences of sharenting on children’s digital identity: “Generally speaking, almost half of the parents are reportedly aware of the consequences of sharenting for children’s digital identity, but regular sharers show a lower average value, suggesting a lower degree of awareness.”

Jorge et al [ 17 ] discussed the term digital identity in more detail by exploring how celebrity sharenting contributes to the construction of children’s digital identities. They found that the parents shared information and photos that aligned with the theme of happy and grateful parenthood and that the family posts represented the children as the extended selves of the father, stepmother, and grandmother.

Thus, there is an understanding that the digital identities are created by parents through sharenting. Here, sharenting is seen as the action (sharing information about the child), and the digital identity is described as the consequence or outcome of the sharenting behavior. Although sharenting was well defined, definitions for children’s digital identity were not provided in the articles.

Other terms or concepts that included the word identity were used less frequently; for example, relational identity was mentioned in 7% (2/27) of the articles, whereas the terms identity performance , mediated identity , private identity , social identity , social media identity , and moral identities only appeared each in 4% (1/27) of the articles. Overall, most articles (19/27, 70%) in this review discussed some form of identity in relation to children’s presence on social networking sites.

Sharenting is the behavior that parents engage in when sharing information about their children on social networking sites. This creates long-lasting digital footprints on the web that form children’s digital identities . The literature has identified a number of risks related to the creation of children’s digital identities on social networking sites, such as digital kidnapping and identity theft , especially if the information that was shared contained personally identifiable information . These areas will be explored in relation to the concept of the digital identity of young children.

Safety: Digital Kidnapping

A total of 11% (3/27) of the articles in this review discussed the concept of digital kidnapping [ 43 , 48 , 51 ]. The terms identity theft , personally identifiable information , and privacy stewardship were used in 7% (2/27) of the articles in this review [ 9 , 46 , 49 - 51 , 54 ]. The term digital kidnapping is defined as “people who steal a child’s identity and photo on social media and pass the child off as their own” [ 48 ]. Digital kidnapping is described as one of the risks of creating digital identities for children by sharing images, especially those that include personal information about the child and reveal the child’s face [ 43 , 48 ]. Hashim et al [ 51 ] found that Malaysian mothers were concerned about digital kidnapping and identity theft and, therefore, were conscious of not sharing locations in their posts and actively hid information regarding places and their children’s names and dates of birth.

Children’s Digital Identity as an Extension of Parents’ Digital Identities

A total of 7% (2/27) of the articles discussed the concept of extended self [ 17 , 52 ]. These 2 articles also discussed the term relational identity . In the article by Holiday et al [ 52 ], the authors discussed the theory of the “extended self” and applied it to the concept of sharenting. The authors described parents’ engagement in sharenting as fundamental to their identity as parents, which the authors argued says more about the parent as an individual than about the depicted child. Following this thought, sharenting is seen as a form of parents’ self-presentation that includes children as a component in the definition of the self.

Jorge et al [ 17 ] also described parents’ representation of children on social networking sites as the extended selves of family members. When children’s digital identities on social networking sites are interpreted as extensions of their parents’ or family members’ identities, parents’ and family members’ identities form part of the child’s digital identity. Accordingly, some articles in this review (4/27, 15%) discussed the digital identity of parents, mothers, and families in relation to the child’s digital identity [ 9 , 49 , 54 , 62 ].

Overall, the review of the key term and concepts related to digital identity shows that there is limited research defining key terms such as children’s digital identity and digital footprints , whereas sharenting is a commonly used and widely accepted term that is clearly defined.

Content and Image Analyses

The development of social and performative digital identities.

The synthesis of the data generated through content and image analyses generated 2 types of digital identity: “social digital identity” and “performative digital identity.” Children’s social digital identity creation involves parents who create their children’s digital identity by sharing information such as everyday activities and milestones without links to commercial products or promotion of their children. Parents’ motivation to create social digital identities for their children is most often to share with family and friends and keep a digital diary [ 9 , 10 , 51 , 52 , 54 , 61 ], whereas children’s performative digital identity is created when parents promote or market their children, often for their own benefit, for example, to promote their clothes and brands [ 18 , 44 , 52 ]. This means that parents post information and photos of their children to convey a picture of the child that can deviate from the actual identity of the child. These posts often present the child in a neat and fashionable way and can include links to products that parents obtain a financial share of. For example, “mummy” or fashion bloggers (eg, #fashionkids) create performative digital identities for their children that mostly benefit them and often disregard the needs of the child [ 18 , 63 ].

The Use of Social and Performative Digital Identities in the Literature

Most articles (18/27, 67%) discussed social digital identities exclusively [ 9 , 10 , 19 , 40 , 42 , 45 , 46 , 48 - 51 , 53 , 54 , 56 - 58 , 60 , 61 ], whereas 30% (8/27) discussed performative digital identities [ 7 , 17 , 18 , 43 , 44 , 47 , 52 , 55 ]. Social digital identities were mostly created on Facebook or discussed in a social media context in general, whereas performative digital identities were mostly created on Instagram. A summary of the types of posted content is presented in Table 2 . The percentages indicate the proportion of articles that discussed the different topics.

a DOB: date of birth.

b DI: digital identity.

Social digital identities were often created through images of events such as birthdays and family gatherings, whereas most of the studies that demonstrated a performative digital identity (8/27, 30%) included images and descriptions of children posing for photos, and in some cases, the family made an income from these posts [ 7 , 17 , 18 , 43 , 44 , 47 , 52 , 55 ].

In the following sections, we explain what information (including text and photos) parents typically share when creating social and performative digital identities for children and what motivates them to share this information.

Social Digital Identities

What parents share when creating social digital identities for their children.

Most studies (10/27, 37%) reported that parents created social digital identities for their children by sharing their happy moments. Brosch [ 10 ] found that these happy moments were often recorded during daily life activities, outings, and special events (95.6%). Similarly, most of the mothers in the study by Briazu et al [ 46 ] shared information about special days (72.7%) or social activities (52.6%), and some shared information about health (6.7%) or educational issues (5.2%). Brosch [ 10 ] found that many parents revealed private information about their children by sharing posts containing images of their children’s birthday parties (23.2%), baby videos, birth certificates, kindergarten diplomas, or art (32.7%), as well as sonogram images (10.7%). Information about the child was also shared via posts containing information such as the child’s name and date of birth (48.2%). Brosch [ 10 ] also found that some of the posts contained embarrassing photos (eg, nude or seminude pictures of the child during bathing or at the beach), photos in which children were in distress (eg, crying or angry), or photos in which children were covered in food after dinner (eg, chocolate on their faces).

Kopecky et al [ 53 ] surveyed parents from the Czech Republic and Spain and found that these parents shared photos of celebrations, family moments, holidays, important milestones, and photos that parents considered to be cute or funny. Most parents reported sharing content in which the child could be identified (by face) but did not include sexual content (81.7%). One-fifth of parents shared photos in which the child was partially exposed to the extent that the identity of the child could be determined. A small proportion (3.5%) of parents from the Czech Republic reported sharing nude photos of their young children.

Er et al [ 48 ] investigated sharenting behaviors at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that mothers posted more often than fathers and that most posts contained photos and some contained videos of the children. Of the 226 posts they analyzed, 207 included the children’s faces, with a limited number of parents blurring their children’s faces (n=17). In line with the other studies, the posts were generally happy, for example, expressing the joy of spending time with children and love toward children and showing how children and the family happily played games, cooked, or learned together. The daily lives of the children were also posted, including birthdays, vacations, and anniversaries. A smaller proportion of posts expressed unpleasant situations during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as boredom, complaints, and unhappiness with quarantine.

Cino and Dalledonne Vandini [ 40 ] explored the digital identities that are created for children by the mothers’ mothers-in-law and the conflict that this raises with the mothers. The content is either shared before the birth of the child (eg, pregnancy status of the mother, gender reveal, or labor) or afterward (eg, daily life activities) and usually against the will or knowledge of the mother.

Fox et al [ 50 ] investigated first-time fathers’ sharenting behavior and found that fathers tried to avoid posting sensitive information (eg, their naked child). However, they did post about everyday activities such as going to the park, playing, birthdays, and firsts (eg, first tooth). Fathers were aware of security risks and, therefore, hid their children’s faces and names.

Hashim et al [ 51 ] found that parents mostly shared social events (eg, vacations, events, family activities, and outings; 29.3%), moments (eg, good, funny, happy, important, or special moments; 25.3%), day-to-day activities (13.3%), memories of their children (12%), school activities (10.6%), food (4%), antics (2.6%), and milestones (2.6%) about their children.

Kumar and Schoenebeck [ 9 ] interviewed mothers about their sharenting experiences. Mothers described the photos that they shared about their children as cute and funny and explained that the photos often contained family or friends and developmental milestones of the children.

Marasli et al [ 56 ] found that the most common theme parents shared about on Facebook was special days (81.4%), such as birthdays, graduations, and year-end shows, followed by social activities (54.98%) and educational issues (30%). Less commonly shared themes included sports and arts activities (18.96%), play activities (17.54%), health issues (12.8%), and recommendations about products for children and informatics (12.32%). Most parents in this study (63.77%) also reported that they liked sharing pleasant things about their children.

Minkus et al [ 57 ] used a web-based application programming interface called Face++ to analyze Facebook and Instagram photos. The software identified children via age estimates based on the faces in the photos. Over 25% of the photos on Facebook and 16% of the photos on Instagram with children aged 0 to 7 years had comments that revealed the children’s names, and 2.7% (Facebook) and 5% (Instagram) included the word birthday . The authors were also able to infer the children’s last names from the parents’ last names. Overall, 5.6% of Facebook accounts and 19% of Instagram accounts with child photos revealed the name and date of birth of the children, which is enough information to identify them. By further linking the parents’ Facebook accounts with public records (eg, voter registration records), the authors were also able to identify the address of the parents and children.

Parents’ Motivation to Create Social Digital Identities for Their Children

In this section, we explore mothers’, fathers’, and mothers-in-law’s motivations for creating social digital identities for their children on social networking sites. Briazu et al [ 46 ] found that mothers’ motivations or perceived benefits of posting about their children were to build connections, gain practical benefits such as asking for parenting advice, gain emotional benefits (eg, pride and joy from their children), and help others, and some mothers did not identify any benefits.

Fox and Hoy [ 49 ] found that the desire to be a “good” mother motivated mothers’ sharenting behavior. Mothers used sharenting as a coping strategy. They shared their experiences as mothers and information about their children to seek affirmation and social support from others. The authors also explored mothers’ motivations not to post about their children. Mothers focused on portraying the “right” image of the child and avoided posts that potentially could have made them look like a “bad” parent. It was also important to mothers in this study that their children would not be upset or embarrassed by their posts later in life.

Kumar and Schoenebeck [ 9 ] found that most mothers in their study used Facebook as an archive for their children’s photos. It was important to these mothers to portray their children and themselves in a favorable light and to receive validation and support as mothers.

Wagner and Gasche [ 61 ] investigated German and Austrian mothers’ decision-making processes and strategies when sharing about their children. Most mothers indicated that the costs of sharing photos of their children on the web outweighed the benefits, and therefore, more than half of the mothers (60%) never shared photos of their children on social networking sites. The mothers’ main motivation to share was social participation (to inform others, to keep others up to date, and to document the children’s development), followed by showing how proud they are of their children and the need to be liked, approved of, and accepted by others.

Fox et al [ 50 ] found that fathers’ motivation to share was not to gain support from others but rather to express humor or spotlight themselves as fathers. Overall, fathers made fewer sharenting decisions, and the main responsibility of sharenting most often lay with the mothers [ 50 ].

Hashim et al [ 51 ] found that the most common motivation (42.8%) for Malaysian parents to share about their children was to save memories of them. Social networking sites served as an archive or journal for them to refer to at a later stage. The second most common motivator (31.6%) was the desire to share their experiences, information, activities, and feelings about raising children. Other motivations included being influenced by other social media users; staying connected and engaged with others; and motivating, encouraging, and inspiring other parents. In line with this, Turgut et al [ 60 ] described parents’ motivation to post about their children as related to keeping in touch with others (eg, relatives and friends) and recording and memorizing their children’s development. Brosch [ 10 ] found that the number of Facebook friends was a significant predictor of sharenting.

Cino and Dalledonne Vandini [ 40 ] investigated the motivation of mothers-in-law to post about their grandchildren. They reported that grandmothers’ motivation stemmed from a desire to show excitement for the grandchild, which was often at the cost of the parent’s desire for agency over their children’s digital identities. However, it was noted that grandparents might be less knowledgeable about the internet and web safety and are potentially naiver about sharing information about their grandchildren on the web.

Performative Digital Identities

What parents share when creating performative digital identities for their children.

Posts that contribute to a child’s performative digital identity creation are usually well planned out to present the child in a fashionable or favorable way. Benevento [ 44 ] investigated posts with the #letthekids and #fashionkids hashtags. These are often used by parents who create performative digital identities for their children by sharing well-prepared posts that have been planned out. The hashtag #letthekids emerged as a counter to the more established hashtag #fashionkids ; it stands for “let the kids dress themselves.” The author found that #fashionkids photos often show the child alone during structured activities outdoors. Children are often displayed smiling or with still expressions posing with their possessions (eg, clothing and accessories). The attention is drawn to the child and their outfit rather than the location or activity. The background locations include well-maintained spaces such as parks, backyards, and playgrounds as well as home settings (eg, bedrooms and kitchens). Although children are often presented as posing with a focus on their clothes, these are most often casual.

In contrast, #letthekids photos often show the child during unstructured activities, such as during play, eating in their home environment, or in nature (eg, forest). This hashtag often displays children acting on their own, for example, while playing with their toys in their room, but also sometimes includes family members. The children in the #letthekids hashtag often look away or are shown from behind, as if they are not aware of the photo being taken. Interestingly, #letthekids posters upload more professional photographs than #fashionkids posters and more naked or seminaked pictures of their children than #fashionkids posters [ 44 ].

Choi and Lewallen [ 47 ] investigated children’s gender representations on Instagram and found that parents posted more about their female children than about their male children and generally presented both their female and male children with positive emotions in white or gender-typical (ie, pink and blue) clothes. Children on Instagram were often displayed as playing or having fun in indoor settings by themselves. Girls were found to be frequently displayed as engaging in fashion.

Holiday et al [ 52 ] explored how parents self-presented in their children’s presentation on Instagram. The authors identified 3 presentational categories: polished , promotional , and intimate . Photos in the polished category displayed children as visually appealing and suggested that parents invested time and effort in the post to portray an idealized image of the child. The parents were presented as favorably themselves, with possessions including the child. The attention was often directed toward the parents, not the children (via the text or image). Children in this category served as accessories (eg, in the parents’ arms or on the side of the photo). Parents typically presented themselves as their “ideal self” in this category. The promotion category included posts in which parents used their children to promote their own skills, competencies, services, or products. Finally, the intimate category portrayed children more realistically without perfectioning of the image. With a strong focus on the child in the intimate category, more information is revealed about the child, which adds to the child’s digital identity [ 52 ].

Jorge et al [ 17 ] explored celebrities’ creation of their children’s digital identities through sharenting. The authors analyzed Cristiano Ronaldo’s family’s sharenting practices and the portrayal of the children as the parents’ extended selves. The results showed that celebrity sharenting contributes to digital identities through the themes of happy and grateful parenthood and the representation of children as the extended selves of the father, stepmother, and grandmother. Finally, Latipah et al [ 55 ] found that millennial parents shared content about their children related to everyday activities that are perceived as fun and that are often displayed as esthetically pleasing, with some posts including the promotion of products.

Parents’ Motivation and Motives for Creating Performative Digital Identities for Their Children

Parents who engage in performative digital identity creation for their children have several motives for sharenting. Some parents want to pass on knowledge and educate other parents by providing advice, products, and insights into their daily life activities [ 18 , 55 ], whereas others’ motive is to primarily promote their products or clothes [ 44 , 52 ]. In the promotion category in the study by Holiday et al [ 52 ], the motivation behind posting was often to promote products or services to other parents, whereas parents’ motivation in the intimate category was often to preserve memories, which is in line with our findings on the motivation to create social digital identities.

Dobson and Jay [ 18 ] found that the motive of their case study was to connect with others as the family lived in a rural area. The mother reported that she had made friendships on the web and that followers empathized with her posts and offered support and a sense of community.

In the study by Latipah et al [ 54 ], parents’ motivation to share about their children was to receive affirmation and social support and to demonstrate the ability to care for their children, social participation, and documentation.

The only study that included children as participants could not be classified as either “performative” or “social” digital identity. In this study, children were asked for their opinion on sharenting [ 58 ]. Children aged 4 to 15 years indicated that it is not OK for parents to post photos of their children (them) on social networking sites, whereas sending the photos to relatives was more accepted by the children in the study. The lowest (least acceptable) scores were found among the youngest children (aged 4-6 y) in the study. Irrespective of the participants’ age, children wanted to be asked before their parents took or shared photos of them, and they wanted their answers to be listened to.

Summary of Principal Findings

This scoping review identified 27 studies. Participants included mothers and fathers (collectively reported as parents) and grandparents. On the basis of the analysis of the key terms and concepts used in the literature, the following description of how these relate to one another was developed. The creation of a child’s digital identity is developed through the behaviors of parents, most referred to as sharenting . The behavior of parents through the decisions on the web they make creates a digital identity that can be described as social digital identity or performative digital identity. We found that much of the literature on the concept of the digital identity of children reports on parents, especially mothers, and their sharenting behavior on social networking sites. The most used terms related to digital identity in the literature are sharenting , followed by digital footprint and children’s identity . The term sharenting is well defined and popular among researchers and the media, whereas the term digital identity was less commonly used. We found that the term digital footprint was more commonly used than digital identity ; however, clear definitions were also lacking in the articles in this review. Common across all terms was parents making decisions about what to share about their children, mostly without the children’s consent.

The term digital identity is more commonly used in the literature on adults [ 20 - 25 , 64 , 65 ]. However, we expect a rise in the term digital identity in relation to children in the coming years as there has been a steep increase in research that focuses on the consequences and risks of sharenting [ 50 , 66 , 67 ] . The use of digital identity terms often depends on authors’ preference for words. We found that digital footprints , children’s identity , online identity , and digital identity were used interchangeably by authors. Together with sharenting , these 4 constructs were the most used terms across the articles, suggesting that they are closely related.

Digital Identity Creation: What and Why

We found that most of the content shared by parents was related to social digital identity and included sharing special events such as birthdays and family gatherings, as well as everyday activities and leisure time. In the performative digital identity category, posts also included content about everyday activities and leisure time but with a focus on children who were posing for a photo, with some posts contributing to the posters’ income (eg, influencers). In the performative digital identity category, the motives of some parents were to sell products or promote themselves and their children. The content posted appeared carefully prepared and polished. The literature on the digital identity of children frequently made reference to the concepts of safety on the internet and the rights of the child, and these 2 areas will be explored further with reference to the findings of this review.

Safety Risks: Digital Footprints

Although some awareness among parents of the potential risks of creating digital footprints via sharenting and the creation of their children’s digital identities was noted, there is still uncertainty about the exact impact and consequences of parental sharing behavior. One of the potential risks, digital kidnapping, was considered by some parents; however, the benefits of sharing were described as outweighing the risks of creating digital footprints and identities [ 9 ]. The perceived risks of sharenting may differ depending on the parents’ cultural background. For instance, in the study by Wagner and Gasche [ 61 ], 60% of German and Austrian mothers reported never having shared a photo of their children on the web. In an Australian study, participants refrained from posting about their children on social media as a strategy for privacy [ 68 ]. Other researchers suggest that parents who perceive web-based social networks as a source of support are highly likely to sharent [ 69 , 70 ].

To make an informed decision about whether to share children’s content on the web, parents need to receive information and guidance. Researchers and policy makers have started to develop new policies and guidelines for parents. Although there is a need to update existing policies to reflect the addition of online identities [ 71 - 73 ], the focus of many of these guidelines and policies is on children’s screen time exposure and not on children’s digital identity development or children’s right to their digital identity and footprints [ 71 , 74 , 75 ]. Therefore, we recommend more rigorous research on parents’ attitudes toward privacy and the factors influencing their sharing of children’s photos and information on the web. Findings from such studies could inform efforts and emerging policies directed at mitigating sharenting behaviors that are associated with web-related risks.

Children’s Rights and Privacy

The process of children’s digital identity creation most often takes place without the child’s permission or input [ 10 , 17 - 19 , 43 , 45 , 52 - 54 , 62 ]. No studies in this review investigated young children’s creation of their own digital identities on social networking sites. A study in this review asked children for their opinion on their parents’ sharenting behavior [ 59 ], and very few of the studies in this review (4/27, 15%) addressed the agency of the child [ 18 , 19 , 54 , 59 ]. When digital identities are created early for the child without the input of the child, their right to create their own digital footprint or identity is taken away, leaving them without a voice and choice [ 45 , 54 , 60 ]. Where possible, children should be involved in the development of their digital identity. Research to identify how this can be achieved and to give voice to the experiences of young children is needed to better understand this important and fast-moving area [ 19 ]. Future studies should explore the perspectives of children as key stakeholders in the creation of their digital identity [ 19 , 76 ].

Strengths and Limitations

To our knowledge, this is the first scoping review to map out the literature published on the creation of digital identities among young children through social networking sites. We strove to apply rigorous methods to search and select articles and chart the data. Owing to our strict age range exclusion criteria, we did not review articles that discussed the digital identity of children aged ≥9 years on social networking sites. The use of search terms and the selected databases may not have been exhaustive, and the omission of social networking sites such as YouTube is a limitation. The search was only valid up to April 2023. In the same vein, most of the included studies were conducted in the Western world, with only 7% (2/27) of the studies conducted in Asia and none conducted in Africa or South America. The interpretation of the findings should consider this geographical bias.


Digital identities on social networking sites are created when photos and information about a person are shared. The digital identities of children on social networking sites from conception to the age of 8 years are most often created by their parents (without the children’s permission). Children’s digital identities can be grouped into 2 categories: social and performative. Parents use the web environment to capture moments that matter to them while also creating positive narratives around the child’s life. The content that is shared for each type of identity and the motivation behind the creation of such identities differ. Research into young children and the digital world has focused on areas such as the effects of screen time and child development and digital safety [ 77 - 81 ]. We urge greater attention to the important area of how the digital identity is created, the impact of this, and how young children can be involved in important decisions that affect their lives.


This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child through project CE200100022.

Data Availability

The data sets generated during and analyzed during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Conflicts of Interest

None declared.

PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) checklist and flowchart of the study selection and inclusion process.

Search strategy.

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Edited by S Badawy; submitted 08.11.23; peer-reviewed by MJ Hernández-Serrano., S Bisht; comments to author 04.01.24; revised version received 16.01.24; accepted 17.01.24; published 21.02.24.

©Valeska Berg, Diana Arabiat, Evalotte Morelius, Lisa Kervin, Maggie Zgambo, Suzanne Robinson, Mark Jenkins, Lisa Whitehead. Originally published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting (, 21.02.2024.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

The Wall Street Journal

‘The Children of Athena’ Review: The Greeks You Don’t Know

I magine an English literature course that included no books written after 1600; a philosophy syllabus designed on the assumption that all philosophers after David Hume were second-rate; an archaeology professor who refused to teach anything postdating the Lower Paleolithic. Implausible as it sounds, that is more or less the current state of play in the study of ancient Greek culture and thought. “Proper” Greek literature, the stuff you’d put on a Great Books course or read in a translated edition from Penguin Classics (Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato), pretty much dates to the fourth century B.C. or earlier. A few daring modernizers might stretch to the Alexandrian poets of the early third century B.C. (Callimachus, Theocritus). But the Greek philosophers, historians, orators and novelists writing under the Roman empire, in the first three centuries A.D.? Why on earth would you want to read them?

It’s all very peculiar. Vastly more Greek literature survives from the long half-millennium of Roman rule in the Greek-speaking world (between, say, Mummius’ sack of Corinth in 146 B.C. and Alaric’s sack of Rome in A.D. 410) than from any earlier period. Some of it is a bit dull, lots of it is extraordinarily good, and very little of it ever gets read even by professional scholars, let alone students or the wider public. Charles Freeman’s “The Children of Athena” is an ambitious and readable attempt to persuade you to have a go at some Epictetus, Lucian or Arrian.

The bizarre consensus that “late Greek” means “second-rate Greek” is in fact no older than the 19th century. The Neoplatonist thinkers of the third and fourth centuries (Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus)—today a distinctly marginal taste—were avidly read and studied by the Renaissance humanists; the second-century satirist Lucian of Samosata was a totemic figure for Erasmus and Thomas More. (“In Praise of Folly” and “Utopia” are both closely modeled on works by Lucian.) A strong case could be made for Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” (written around A.D. 100) as having a greater impact on early modern literature and politics than any other Greek or Roman text: Certainly no other author had a greater influence on republican thought in revolutionary France and America.

In this sense—and in this sense alone—Mr. Freeman’s book can be seen as a splendidly old-fashioned project: an attempt to recover the Classical tradition as it might have appeared to Ficino, Erasmus or Montaigne before 19th-century taste decreed that only “early” Greek texts were worth reading. “The Children of Athena” offers a kaleidoscopic survey of Greek intellectual life across the five centuries that separate Polybius of Megalopolis, historian of Rome’s conquest of the Mediterranean world (mid-second century B.C.), from Hypatia of Alexandria (died A.D. 415), the greatest woman philosopher of antiquity. Mr. Freeman, an English historian whose previous books include “The Closing of the Western Mind” (2002) and “A New History of Early Christianity” (2009), has filled a real gap. Although there have been excellent scholarly books on Greek literature and thought under the Roman empire (Simon Swain’s “Hellenism and Empire,” published in 1996, is an outstanding example), I know of no other survey of intellectual life in the imperial Greek world accessible to the nonspecialist reader.

The greater part of “The Children of Athena” consists of 20 short chapters, each dedicated to a single Greek writer-thinker of the period. On the whole, Mr. Freeman’s choices are excellent: Particularly attractive is his willingness to treat the natural sciences on a par with philosophy and the humanities, including major figures in botany (Dioscorides), astronomy (Ptolemy) and medicine (Galen).

Mr. Freeman’s conception of “intellectual culture,” however, clearly does not stretch to the Greek novelists and poets of the period: It was sad to see the single most innovative Greek literary experiment of the period, Lucian’s hilarious science-fiction novel, “True Stories,” flash past in a cursory couple of sentences (suggesting, I fear, that Mr. Freeman is not as well acquainted with the story as he might be). There are perhaps a shade too many examples of oleaginous display-oratory for my taste (I can’t say that Aelius Aristides or Themistius do a great deal for me), and I was sorry not to have Mr. Freeman’s take on Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations,” the only philosophical text of the period written in Greek that is still widely read today.

Quibbles about team-selection aside, a more serious drawback of the author-by-author structure is that it makes it very difficult to draw out any wider trends in the intellectual life of the period. After a while, the cumulative effect of Mr. Freeman’s succession of 15-page biographies is somewhat like reading a series of (exceptionally good) Wikipedia pages one after another: Each individual chapter is fascinating, but the lack of a guiding thread to connect them is keenly felt. For example, at some point in this period—after Polybius but before, say, Aristides—Greek intellectuals and politicians began to cultivate a highly artificial classicizing dialect, modeled on that of fifth-century Athens. This is a truly bizarre phenomenon, as if Bernie Sanders were to take to delivering his speeches in the style and vocabulary of Chaucer. When did this neoclassical revival take off, and what did people think they were playing at? Since none of his 20 heroes happens to have been the key figure, Mr. Freeman never has cause to tell us.

This is a generous-minded, absorbing book, and it is hard to imagine a reader who wouldn’t come away with a pleasingly lengthy shopping-list of imperial Greek reading recommendations. Perhaps the most appealing parts of “The Children of Athena” are a pair of outstanding chapters on the second- and third-century Christian thinkers Origen and Clement of Alexandria. Origen and Clement would usually be placed in the box marked Theology or Church History, rather than Classics, but Mr. Freeman makes a compelling case for seeing them as classicizing intellectuals of precisely the same stamp as Plutarch or Plotinus, engaging with the pagan philosophical tradition (particularly Plato), and with tolerance and creativity. Gibbon famously identified the second century as “the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous.” Maybe so; at any rate, they certainly had plenty of good stuff to read.

Mr. Thonemann teaches Greek and Roman History at Wadham College, Oxford. His most recent book is “The Lives of Ancient Villages: Rural Society in Roman Anatolia.”

‘The Children of Athena’ Review: The Greeks You Don’t Know


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