A Manifesto for Radical Children’s Literature (and an Argument Against Radical Aesthetics)

Philip Nel


In The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (2002), I took for granted that an avant-garde for children was both possible and critically viable. More recently (in “Surrealism for Children: Paradoxes and Possibilities,” 2015), I questioned what I had taken for granted. In this manifesto, I veer further away from the notion that there is a usefully definable radical aesthetic for children’s literature – and yet also argue for that very thing whose formal features resist codifying.
This is both a manifesto for radical children’s literature and a record of my failure to locate a politically radical aesthetic. Taking (mostly contemporary) picture books as its primary focus, this paper considers the wide range of aesthetic choices that can be directed toward radical ends. Arguing for radical children’s literature but refusing to codify its aesthetics may seem paradoxical. But I encourage us to embrace this very paradox, to resist enshrining radicalness within a set of aesthetic principles, so that we may instead be agile improvisers, unleashing the power of our fugitive imaginations, as we advocate for books that inspire the next generation to build a more just world.


radical, avant-garde, aesthetics, picture books, picturebooks

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14811/clr.v42i0.437


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Barnboken – Journal of Children's Literature Research eISSN 2000-4389
This journal is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Responsible editor: Lillemor Torstensson