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Where the Children's Books Are

Where the Children's Books Are
A Guide to Children's Literature at the National Library
16 October 2020

In our reading rooms, we often hear the question, ‘Where are the children’s books?’

The short answer is ‘everywhere!’

We don't separate literature for children from our broader collections here at the National Library. This can make discovering children’s literature quite an exciting adventure for our researchers! Here are just some of the ways you can find children’s literature resources in our collection.

Searching the Catalogue

Whether you are looking for children’s books, or resources about children’s books, I recommend starting with our online catalogue

You can search for an author, title, series or publisher, or you can search by keyword. Animals, food, summer, feelings, grammar – we probably have something for it. It's possible that we also hold it in a language that you may not expect. You can find resources in Ngaanyatjarra language, Finnish, Spanish, Lao, Chinese, Hindi and Afrikaans, among others.

Here’s one in French:

Curious creatures for a wild mind from 1786: Histoire des Animaux, a l'Usage des Jeunes Gens, Et de Ceux ont du Goút pour l'Histoire Naturelle (Berlin: Chez Samuel Pitra, 1786), nla.cat-vn781770.

You’ll even find that we hold types of children’s literature that you might not think to look for, such as atlases or sheet music:

Left: Robinsons Modern School Atlas of the World (Sydney: H.E.C. Robinson Pty Ltd, 1945), nla.cat-vn5981577Right: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Song and Games Book (North Sydney: EMI Music, c.1990), nla.cat-vn6296888.

For the examples above, I searched for ‘children’s literature’ as a key phrase in our catalogue, but you could also search for ‘children’s stories’, ‘children’s books’, ‘juvenile literature’, ‘juvenile fiction’ or ‘juvenile non-fiction’. 

Once you have generated a list of search results, the fun starts. 

You are welcome to browse all of the results generated. However, searching for ‘juvenile fiction’ across all fields in our catalogue, I got a list of 34,101 results, which is a rather long list to look through. 

In this situation, you can use the ‘Narrow Search’ options down the right-hand side to target your precise interests. You could choose filters such as ‘Format’ to look at manuscripts only, or you could choose to look only at the subject area ‘Australian’ or ‘Dragons--Juvenile fiction’. 

Checking Our Formed Collections

Aside from general searching, if you are specifically interested in works written for children, I recommend checking our two children’s literature formed collections – the Marcie Muir Collection and Kerry White Collection.  

Named for the two pioneering researchers of Australian children’s literature who assembled and donated these collections, you’ll see references to both in our catalogue records and on our website. A previous blog post, Children’s Books from Kerry White, provides some useful insights into the value of this particular collection.

Along with their collections, Marcie Muir and Dr Kerry White also compiled extensive bibliographies of the works they encountered. Dr White also provided some extremely useful indices. You can find them in our Main Reading Room reference collection; to look at these, you don’t need to submit an online call slip, just go to the reference shelves numbered 823. 

These indices are useful when looking for books on a particular topic or theme, or to look for books by author or publisher. They are also handy for finding that book you grew up and would love to read again. 

Left: Marcie Muir, Australian Children's Books: A Bibliography, vol.1 (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1992), nla.cat-vn592722Right: Kerry White, Australian Children's Fiction: The Subject Guide (Milton, Qld: Jacaranda, 1993), nla.cat-vn2595051.

Accessing Our Collection

Of course, once you find the material you’re interested in, it’s only natural to want to look at it. 

The majority of our collection is in physical format, so there is a high likelihood that you will need to come into the National Library building in Canberra to read it. You can order a library card online and find out how to request books on our website. 

You’re always welcome to meet our friendly reading room staff, who can provide you with advice and assistance. 

Digitised and Digital Resources

If you can’t visit the National Library in person, we do have some material available online. 

As with physical material, you can find digitised resources and ebooks in our catalogue. Using the ‘Narrow Search’ function, limit your results to ‘online’. Even though the bulk of our collection is in print or physical format, you might find a suprising amount of material online, including material deposited online via legal deposit. 

As an example, a search for ‘juvenile literature’, with the results ordered oldest to newest, located this digitised item:

Grammar for Beginners: Being an Introduction to a Correct Knowledge of the English Language (Sydney: J.J. Moore, 1865), nla.cat-vn2143198

Literature eResources

Lastly, I can’t talk about literature research without referring to our eResources. Before you start, you may want to take a look at our invaluable research guide on eResources at the National Library

Specific to children’s literature is The Source. This is a searchable bibliographic database dedicated to children’s literature, poetry and short stories, with a particular focus on books from Australia and New Zealand. This resource is only available onsite in the National Library’s reading rooms, but there are other resources that can be accessed offsite. 

One of our most popular literature resources is Austlit: The Australian Literature Resource. This resource is available offsite to registered National Library readers and is a great way to look up authors, titles, subjects and plot points. It has a specialised section on children’s and young adult literature, and also contains useful contextual information, which can be very handy for a researcher. 

Another resource that is freely available to everyone is Trove. You’ll find children’s comic strips, short stories, and newspaper and magazine articles on children’s literature. Trove can also refer you to collection material held by other libraries and archives. You may find prints and images produced by illustrators and artists. For example, these calendars featuring May Gibbs’ Gumnut babies can be viewed through Trove.

So whether you are looking for a new research topic, or an old favourite book, we hope you’ll explore our collection to see what adventures await.