Children's fiction is as important for young people as ever, but changes in society means the tone and subject content have shifted, a QUT researcher has found.

Professor Kerry Mallan, from the Faculty of Education, has recently written a book, Gender Dilemmas in Children's Fiction (Palgrave, 2009), which discusses a wide range of fictions, from picture books, novels and films, targeted at children and young adults.

She wanted to examine how contemporary fiction has grappled with issues of gender and sexuality for a new generation.

Children's literature is a dynamic field, which continues to break taboos, she said.

She focussed on five main themes within contemporary fiction: romance, beauty, cyber bodies, queer and comedy.

She said romance and beauty dealt with problems which come with living in a post-feminist age as well as grappling with stereotypes and the traditional, clichéd view of beauty equalling goodness.

Children's fiction has always carried contradictory messages when it comes to beauty, and in contemporary texts, this is still the case, she said.

For example, the central character in the film Real Women Have Curves is a young Latina who is not conventionally beautiful, which is in contrast to the Gossip Girl series, where looks, money and privilege are highly valued.

Her chapter on cyber bodies looked at the blurring between the virtual and the real; and in discussing queerness, Professor Mallan investigated questions of normality and difference.

She said her work on comedic aspects of fiction sought to examine how humour may or may not reinforce stereotypes, among other things.

Humour can be funny and serious, and can reinforce normative ways of being, or subvert codes of behaviour, she said.

Professor Mallan said children's fiction provided an important platform for children to reflect on the world around them.

I think the best fictions are those that leave space for readers to consider the issues and come to their own conclusions, she said.

We need to think about how children's literature contributes to debates about difference.

Children's literature, like adult literature, is written by adults who bring to their writing their own experiences, ideologies and knowledge of the world. It is never innocent. Adults and children can really learn a lot from children's literature.