This page contains a bibliography on the subject of Opera in Children’s Literature, covering 1900 to present, created by Clifford Brooks and John DeLooper and supported by a Carnegie Whitney Grant from the American Library Association. In addition to picture books, the bibliography includes informational texts normally found within the Dewey Collection. Specific biographies of composers, lyricists or performers are not included.

Scope of the Project

Historically, opera was assumed to be an elitist art in this country and often was not given serious consideration in collection development policies in both children’s and adult services. Children’s opera books have therefore been an overlooked component of the Dewey and picture book collection, but have continued to be published and purchased by libraries consistently for quite some time. What is more, operatic versions of well-known fairy tales such as Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel, as well as opera stories such as Aida, The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, and The Love for Three Oranges have entered into the mainstream of children’s literature and hold their places on many lists as recommended books for children.  A random sampling of books cataloged under several subject headings dealing with this area supports the premise that there has been a continuous trend to publish opera literature in the form of children’s books in the English speaking world since the end of the 19th century.

This bibliography represents an attempt to create a comprehensive bibliography of opera in the field of children’s literature, thus providing public, academic, and school librarians with a retrospective subject listing, as well as a selection tool. In addition, this effort will furnish librarians with a useful tool to integrate the use of these items into their community and arts programming.

Indeed, since World War II, there has been an increase in the number of regional and touring opera companies in the United States and Canada, many of which perform opera in English (the Greater Miami Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Kansas City Lyric Opera, and Opera Company of Boston, etc.) This trend created new audiences for opera, even in sparsely populated areas.  With these new companies came education initiatives that included programming for works deemed appropriate for K-8 audiences.  Publishers responded to this need, finding opera, a partially text-based visual form, perfectly translatable to book format. Not only were books about opera handsomely illustrated by famous set designers and costumers, but authors such as Spender and Updike created beautifully written texts to accompany lavish illustrations.

In addition to a retrospective listing of books on the subject, this bibliography provides data for further scholarly research in the areas of children’s literature, publishing trends, changing tastes in the performing arts, and stories considered appropriate for children.

The bibliography is limited to items published for primary and middle school children, and to opera books published in English (either originally or in translation). Thus, titles not specifically targeting an adolescent or young adult audience either through a Library of Congress subject heading or through possession in juvenile library collections will not be included in the bibliography, even if they could be located occasionally in a K-8 setting. In addition, biographies of composers, lyricists or performers will not be included.


Intended Audience

The intended audiences for this endeavor include public libraries, school libraries, elementary and middle school classrooms, academic libraries, opera companies, and opera special collections. All of these audiences could benefit by using this tool for collection development, as well as integrating the works we include into their public programming.

This bibliography is all the more important given the expansion of arts education efforts by “parallel resources” (the National Endowment for the Humanities term to denote educational agencies often allied/partnered with school systems but not technically a part of them) and the rise of opera education initiatives since the 1990s.  The proliferation of “Create Your Own Opera” programs sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera and OPERA America (the international association of opera companies), as well as the publication of the first k-12 curriculum for integrating opera into English, history, and music classes (Music! Words! Opera! (MWO) MMB: 1990) has created a demand for opera resources for the classroom.  Opera programs in educational settings, both elementary and secondary, now exist in some form or other throughout the country, with urban areas such as St. Louis, New York, Boston, Miami, Houston, and Tucson counting a large number of schools working with a local opera company.  The clamor for additional materials has been such that OPERA America responded to the needs of the education community and decided to edit the MWO materials into a series of new publications produced by GIA Music. Two of these appeared in 2012.

Opera stories reflect the human condition, and as such have universal appeal.  Having an extensive bibliography provides librarians, parents, and the educational community with a resource that will not only serve as a preparation for a performance or operatic event, but also as an introduction to some of the great stories and characters many in the West grown to know and love.