Literature for children and young people has evolved greatly since it first emerged as an independent genre during the 1700s. Even folk and fairy tales were not originally intended for children, and first became regarded as children’s literature during the 1800s.
In Norway, the first reader for children was printed in 1798. Norwegian folktale collector Jørgen Moe is the author of what is considered to be Norway’s first children’s classic, I Brønden og i Kjærnet ("In the Well and in the Pond", 1851), a realistic and unsentimental portrayal that was clearly written for children.
The period from 1890-1914 comprises the golden age in Norwegian children’s literature, and a great many books and stories for small children were published. After WWII, the interest in books for children mounted again, including books for young people. In the wake of the atrocities of war, the public favoured stories that were idyllic and non-confrontational as part of a belief that children needed to be protected from the menace of the world. In the 1960s and 1970s, this view was countered by authors who believed it was best to expose children to a more problem-oriented realism. However, realists and romanticists alike created their works with the education and upbringing of children in mind.
The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has played a key role in the dissemination and development of literature for children and young people. The works of Norway’s most celebrated children’s authors, Anne-Cath Vestly (1920-), Thorbjørn Egner (1912-1990) and Alf Prøysen (1914-1970) became widely known after being read over the radio. Today these writers remain popular, and their books have been translated into numerous languages.
Several more recent contemporary children’s authors produce didactic literature designed to cultivate the reader’s individual desire to read and learn, and to teach young people to reflect on the role of people in the universe. Best known is Jostein Gaarder (1952-). His novel Sofies verden (Sophie’s World, 1992) has sold over 20 million copies, and has been translated into nearly 50 different languages. Sophie’s World is not only a book for adolescents, it is also used as a primer for beginner-level philosophy courses. Norwegian authors of non-fiction children’s literature have also received international acclaim. Eirik Newth (1964-) has won several awards for his books on different science topics for children and young people (See Scientific Literature).
Today, Norway is thought to have entered into a new golden age of children’s literature. Over 700 books for children and young people are published each year, and a greater number of authors are being translated into different languages than ever before. As part of the effort to maintain and develop Norwegian culture and cultural heritage, the Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs administers a purchasing programme for contemporary fiction and non-fiction literature in Norway, distributing some 1,550 copies of approximately 100 fiction and 20 non-fiction children’s titles to libraries throughout Norway.