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Because children’s literature is considered to be a development of the past two centuries, it is generally believed that there are differences between children's literature and adult literature. The majority of people who have written extensively about children's literature have been primarily concerned with those differences. I too believe that there are differences between children's literature and adult literature; but those differences seem to me to be neither as extensive nor as significant as has been commonly assumed. What are the differences? Can they be described? Are there also significant similarities between children's literature and adult literature?
I believe that there are features common to both children’s and adult literature, and that those similarities are much more important to a proper understanding of children's literature than are the differences that exist. This study will carry the burden of proof for that belief. If good children's literature is susceptible to serious interpretive criticism, and I believe that it is, it is so primarily because of what it contains in common with general literary tradition rather than because of what it contains different from general literary tradition. The complexity of the children's books that I will analyze in this study results from the use of traditional conventions in quite involved, but systematic, combinations. I will seek answers to the following questions: What conventional devices do good writers of children's literature employ? In what combinations? For what purposes?
I have chosen specific books for this study at least partially on the basis of the literary conventions that they use, and especially on the basis of the combinations of conventions that they use. The method of the study will be limited by a particularly close analysis of a certain pattern of various devices used together with the convention of fable. I will attempt to provide a critical interpretive analysis of the use of the conventions of fable in combination with those of myth in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, with those of epic in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and with those of romance in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.