The texts adapted for, printed for and marketed to children and youths in the 16th and 17th centuries, the books read by boys and girls in this period, and writings by Renaissance children constitute the literature of early modern childhoods. Yet traditional histories of children’s literature, posing narrow definitions of this genre, have largely overlooked this period. In the past decade, fresh work by early modern scholars attending to the diverse elements of the literature of early modern childhoods has flourished. This essay evaluates the absence of early modern children’s literature from early studies and considers the ways in which this recent work in Renaissance studies has vitally transformed the field through its exploration of alternative definitions of childhood and children’s literature. This work is at an early stage but it has placed the interconnections between early modern childhoods and children’s literature at the centre of both Renaissance studies and childhood studies and has established key topics for future research.