Even after printing became widespread, many classic "children's" tales were originally created for adults and later adapted for a younger audience.
Since the fifteenth century much literature has been aimed specifically at children, often with a moral or religious message.
The genre encompasses a wide range of works, including acknowledged classics of world literature, picture books and easy-to-read stories written exclusively for children, and fairy tales, lullabies, fables, folk songs, and other primarily orally transmitted materials or more specifically defined as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or drama intended for and used by children and young people.
One writer on children's literature defines it as "all books written for children, excluding works such as comic books, joke books, cartoon books, and non-fiction works that are not intended to be read from front to back, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials". Rowling's Harry Potter series was written and marketed for young adults, but it is also popular among adults.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are known as the "Golden Age of Children's Literature" because many classic children's books were published then.
It can be broadly defined as the body of written works and accompanying illustrations produced in order to entertain or instruct young people.
However, others would argue that comics should also be included: "Children's Literature studies has traditionally treated comics fitfully and superficially despite the importance of comics as a global phenomenon associated with children". The series' extreme popularity led The New York Times to create a separate bestseller list for children's books.
Sometimes, no agreement can be reached about whether a given work is best categorized as literature for adults or children. Seth Lerer, in the opening of Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, says, "This book presents a history of what children have heard and read....
The history I write of is a history of reception." It was only in the eighteenth century, with the development of the concept of childhood, that a separate genre of children's literature began to emerge, with its own divisions, expectations, and canon.
In 1962, French historian Philippe Ariès argues in his book Centuries of Childhood that the modern concept of childhood only emerged in recent times.