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- v.10(1); 2020
Children’s literature to promote students’ global development and wellbeing
1 PhD Candidate in Human Relations Sciences, University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, Bari, Italy
2 UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development, Federico II University, Naples, Italy
3 Department of History, Society and Human Studies, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy
Background: Tales were transmitted from one generation to another, enriching young people with values, beliefs, imagination and creativity. Children’s literature still plays a crucial part in education as it provides knowledge and entertainment, representing a typical example of "edutainment". In this paper, we carried out a review to examine pedagogic, didactic and psychological/therapeutic dimensions of children’s literature, with the aim of highlighting its role in promoting students’ holistic development and wellbeing.
Methods: We have searched for original articles (from 1960s to 2019), by using the following keywords: "fairytales" or "fairy tales" or "folktales" or "fables" AND "education" or"development" or "learning" or "teaching" or "school" or "curriculum" or "classroom" AND "children" or "child" or "kids" or "childhood" AND "health" or "wellbeing".
Results: We found 17 studies concerning pedagogic aspect of children literature, while 21 and17 studies were selected for didactic and therapeutic dimensions, respectively. From a pedagogic point of view, tales convey basic values useful for children lives. In a didactic perspective, properly chosen storybooks represent a valuable resource for school activities, improving students’ language skills and building up a friendly/respectful classroom environment. Children stories are also used by health professionals for therapeutic purposes (bibliotherapy) to prevent unhealthy habits and addictions, or address psychosomatic disorders. Finally, storybooks and web-based/digital stories can be an effective vehicle for health contents, to encourage the adoption of healthy lifestyles among schoolchildren.
Conclusion: Children’s literature and storytelling could be helpful in promoting students’ global development and wellbeing, when included in school curricular activities.
Myths, fables and fairytales – originally founded on oral tradition – allowed adults to communicate with young people in an uninterrupted process until nowadays. 1 Tales have been told everywhere and in every time to educate, entertain and increase individuals’ awareness about moral principles and customs, thus representing an important part of traditional heritage as well as a way to reinforce tolerance and mutual knowledge among different populations. 2
Reading or listening to tales can be considered significant community practices, capable to impact on young generations, empowering and preparing them for the future. 3 Since culture is crucial for learning, stories have a fundamental part in shaping individual’s role in the society, becoming a helpful resource from didactic, psychological/therapeutic and pedagogic perspectives. 4
From a didactic point of view, storybooks can provide children with new information about the world, enrich vocabulary and enhance specific language skills (in the classroom or at home), nurturing communication between the storyteller (teacher, parent or other professional staff) and the listeners. 5 , 6
It is known that stories – by reproducing fictional situations that match with children’s real problems – allow them to feel comfortable and safe in difficult circumstances, ensuring emotional security and providing healthier ways to deal with internal struggles, life adversities and stressors. 7 Story-tales compensate what young people may lack, by presenting them positive patterns of behaviours and constructive models through the characters they could identify with. 8
Storybooks (or digital tales) are easier to understand for all children compared to abstract notions or theories, and might become special instruments for mapping the reality and conveying health contents, especially to the most vulnerable groups. 9 , 10
As suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO), health literacy should be incorporated in school curricula, in the context of a health-promoting classroom environment, in order to provide new generations with useful knowledge about healthy lifestyles. 11 - 13 Actually, school represents the ideal setting to perform health-related interventions and positively influence students’ wellbeing as well as their academic achievements. 14 - 16 The final goal is to involve young generations in practical actions about healthy habits (i.e. balanced nutrition and physical exercise) and prevention of risky behaviours (such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use) through a personal re-elaboration of health knowledge.In our previous systematic review, we have provided evidence for taking into account narrative-based strategies among the possible highly motivating approaches to encourage schoolchildren in adopting healthy eating habits since childhood. 17 , 18 More broadly, in this paper we explored the rationale for using children’s literature and storytelling in school setting to promote students’ global development and wellbeing.
Material and Methods
A narrative review has been carried out in order to analyze the pedagogic, didactic and psychological/therapeutic dimensions of children’s literature, highlighting the potential of narrative-based strategies in fostering students’ global development and wellbeing. Starting from January 2019, over a five-month period in the context of PhD in Human Relations Science of Bari University (Italy), we have searched on Web of Science for original articles and books, published from 1960s to 2019, by using the following keywords: “fairytales” or “fairy tales” or “folktales” or “fables” AND “education” or “development” or “learning” or “teaching” or “school” or “curriculum” or “classroom” AND “children” or “child” or “kids” or “childhood” AND “health” or “wellbeing”. We summarized definitions of health, presenting “wellbeing” (in its three dimensions of physical, emotional/mental and social health) as the main goal of every educational practice, and school system as the ideal setting to display health-related interventions. We also used citation tracking to detect other papers concerning children literature and narrative-based strategies (from oral storytelling to printed books and digital resources) as effective operational tool for conveying health contents to promote global development and wellbeing in school setting, along with the prevention of risky behaviours. Finally, we have provided brief definitions of children’s literature, presenting some historical insights about its pedagogic or didactic use, and psychological/therapeutic applications (bibliotherapy and narrative medicine).
Children’s literature is broadly defined as any creative literary work that has been especially written and designed for children’s use. 19 Only in the 18th century, with the evolving of the concept of childhood, a separate genre of children’s literature was created. 20 Modern children’s literature comprises short fairytales and fables, picture books, comics, cartoons, novels, nursery rhymes that can be potentially appreciated by most children. 21 In our search, we selected 17 studies concerning pedagogic dimension of children literature, 20 , 22 - 37 while 21 and 17 studies were chosen as addressing didactic 1 , 5 , 38 - 56 and therapeutic dimensions, 6 , 7 , 57 - 71 respectively ( Table 1 ).
Children’s literature as narrative tool in education: pedagogic dimension
The crisis we are facing is not only economic and financial, but also political, cultural and ethical, generating anxiety and fear due to the perception of a precarious existence in the context of a growing individualism and insensitivity to other people’s difficulties. Moreover, our society measures everything in terms of monetary value, giving priority to scientific/technological knowledge and decreasing the relevance of human sciences, which have nurtured the traditional humus of citizenship education. 72
Despite educational system is dealing worldwide with several challenges, school still represents the ideal setting to display interventions aimed at promoting students’ holistic development. Beyond its specific commitment, it is essential to build up healthy, respectful and satisfied citizens: the future adults capable to take care about themselves, the others and the environment. 24 , 73
In the globalization era, characterized by deep socio-economic changes and collapse of the traditional social tissue (i.e. new forms of poverty, increase of inequalities, family mobility etc.), the cultural heritage of folktales – easily available both for parental and teachers’ use – could represent a helpful tool for promoting individual personal growth, social cohesion and sustainable development. 2
Tales were told and are still told in every society and in many different settings to share experiences, customs, norms, and values, providing the listeners with entertainment and new knowledge. 25 In the “culturalistic” perspective, children’s stories belong to a specific cultural niche that could help young people to move into the life, allowing them to understand who they are as human beings and how they can contribute to the progress of the world. 26
Children’s literature continues to be a significant opportunity of presenting moral principles in an enjoyable and engaging way 27 and it is growing fast along with the aim to entertain, educate and provide new knowledge (in line with the new concept of “edutainment”), being able to integrate fun and adventure demanded by children (simulating the activity of free play) with the adults’ objective of offering them a set of moral examples. 20 , 28
A big part of children’s literature is represented by fairytales, which have the final goal of transmitting the basic universal values, and raising children’s awareness on many aspects of the life. 29 That’s why, even before printing press was invented, fairytales have been used by parents to transmit culturally appropriate moral norms to their children from an early age, equipping them with information, attitudes, and skills that could act as a kind of “vaccination” against all kind of threats to individual or collective health. 30
The most famous example fulfilling these criteria can be found in “Pinocchio”, written by Carlo Lorenzini (Collodi) to make children aware about the consequences of adopting wrong behaviours. 31 , 32 Similarly, in Germany, the Grimm Brothers presented noble values and positive models in their amazing adventures, helping children to understand what is good and what is bad. 33
Tales are very interesting for children because they show real aspects of family and community life, reinforcing the relations with the parents and highlighting ethical values related to social life. 34 , 35 Through implicit meanings embodied in the stories, children indirectly acquire pedagogical messages, able to influence their global personality and stimulate a social sense of duty. 27
Children’s stories are the place of endless possibilities, so that young people can open their mind to wide horizons, generate new viewpoints, find possible alternatives or solutions to problems, cultivating their points of strengths such as self-confidence and resilience. 36
The role and importance of children’s books have changed in modern society, but even today, children’s literature (including movies and digital resources) influences our daily lives and contributes to the development of young people in a number of ways, ranging from the transmission of values to didactic purposes. The presence of digital technology represents a challenge but also an opportunity for traditional fairytales’ or fables’ existence. Digital storytelling (the combination of the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia tools) is a helpful instrument to generate more appealing and stimulating learning experiences. 37
Actually, printed publications tend to be expensive, while the Internet-based resources are a cheap alternative (usually available online for free), and might raise children’s interest towards books in many different ways. Combining narrative possibilities and technological potentials can be more powerful in terms of access to information, sharing of work, differentiated and motivated learning models. However, there is a fundamental distinction (at least in terms of establishing good relationships with educators) between watching a fairy tale on monitors (static and passive approach or even by computer-based interactive mode) and listening to a live re-telling of it. 22 , 23 , 74
Didactic dimension of children’s literature
The didactic intention of narrative works was discovered on clay tablets in Sumerian and Babylonian texts, dated back many centuries before Aesop’s fables (successively put into Latin verses by Phaedrus). Myths initially transmitted orally became well-known throughout the Mediterranean area thanks to Greek manuscripts of Alexandrian scribes, who used them in their daily education activities. Also philosophers (i.e. Plato) introduced myths and fables in their academic lessons with students and disciples: the rules of grammar and style were learned through the stories, encouraging young scholars to create new ones. Fables of Aesop were considered as useful didactic means also in medieval schools to teach Latin and rhetoric. 1
Even today, children’s literature – as integral part of primary school curriculum – could be a significant experience in the lives of children, with fables and fairytales being used as motivating teaching tools in both humanistic and scientific disciplines. 38 - 40 Educators are aware that all creative and artistic activities, including literature – while entertaining listeners or readers – can play a fundamental role in improving students’ knowledge, but also in the acquisition of daily life skills, useful to cope with any problematic situations. 41
Childhood is a crucial stage for language development, 75 so it is important to make it a pleasing experience: reading or listening to stories could be a joyful way for language training, able to overcome all the possible learning barriers. 42 - 44 Thanks to the recurring narrative passages intrinsic in the fairy tales’ or fables, child is able to deal with some complicated concepts or patterns, which require more repetitions to be better interiorized. That’s why tales are a valuable resource in teaching foreign languages and improving language skills (writing, reading, speaking and listening). 45 The use of narrative in teaching foreign languages has been found to lower the level of anxiety, allowing students to take risks in the language classes, thanks to the familiarity with stories and the relaxing learning environment generated by storytelling. Therefore, telling or reading stories is a successful strategy to acquire grammar structures, syntax, new vocabulary, increasing oral/written competences, and therefore the ability to communicate effectively and successfully. 46
By reading or listening to stories, students enhance their verbal proficiency and learn to accurately express their thoughts and feelings in everyday relations, making practice of peace-making skills (i.e. negotiation and discussion). 47
Learning from stories can stimulate and offer promising insights in other areas of children’s cognitive development such as problem-solving and reasoning skills. 48 Educators should awaken children’s interest towards reading and, at the same time, encourage them to use imagination, finding themselves inside the story; once children become attached to their favourite characters, they can reproduce them while playing, following the time chain and cause-effect relation of narrated events, so that the educational message of the stories can be better interiorized. 5 , 49 Educators should also be aware about their own responsibility when selecting children’s books for didactic purposes (not necessarily following popular titles or “best sellers”), and read the stories in a caring and warm environment. 50 Storybooks are accessible to students of all ages and can be borrowed from libraries or friends, while digital storytelling can be easily and quickly found on the Internet, even for free. 51
Multicomponent narrative-based approaches integrate traditional tales or other specifically developed storybooks, with audio and video resources (including those available on the Internet), cartoons, animated films, puppets or scenic elements. 23 , 52 , 53 Theatre reading or dramatization of children’s literature can be used at school to overcome the risk of short attention span of schoolchildren, and when dealing with difficult textbooks. Reader’s theatre in the classroom involve students as actors as they were really acting on the stage, while the teacher is guiding the scene and giving suggestions to the characters. In a study investigating the impact of readers’ theatre over six weeks, students assigned to the theatre class showed significant progress in reading level, compared to a control group who received more traditional literary and vocabulary education. The readers’ theatre class presented better fluidity in reading and expression, enriched vocabulary, and increased motivation compared to the control group. 54 Finally, it can be said that storytelling activities (including reader’s theatre) in school setting represent innovative didactic experiences, capable to build up also health knowledge and promote students’ global wellbeing. 55 , 56
Therapeutic dimension of children’s literature
Children’s storybooks not only provide new knowledge – by enriching children’s vocabulary and enhancing their communication skills – but also ensure emotional support during problematic circumstances of the life. Encouraging children to overcome fears and inner conflicts, tales act as promoters for change, positively influencing their social behaviour. 57
When parents or teachers provide children with a book, they usually hope that they will absorb the moral values that it contains. 58 - 60 Actually, fairytales can produce positive effects on personality development, satisfying all psychological needs of the children such as contact, entertainment, and cognitive demand. In the Freudian perspective, assuming the absence of a well-defined superego and moral standards in childhood, fairytales are useful to show proper patterns of behaviours needed by children. 61
Children’s literature – as a form of artistic creativity – presents a therapeutic potential for readers and listeners, in the same way that Greek tragedy was able to “heal” the spectators. 62 , 63 In the vision of the cathartic role of literature, we can say that it may influence children through psychological mechanisms, primarily consisting in involvement, imitation, identification, insight and universalism. Story-tales could be used in school-setting for primary prevention programs with the ultimate goal of preventing risky behaviours among young people, thanks to the potential of creative and artistic means such as specifically-developed children’s storybooks. Actually, narrative-based approach as a teaching and learning strategy is omnipresent in the classrooms, but it is infrequently used to promote students’ health. 64
Literature, as well as other forms of art (music, dance, drama, drawing, painting etc.) can be used to empower and motivate children towards the adoption of healthy behaviours, contributing to the improvement of pupils’ quality of life. The educational properties of the stories allow young people to accept their own differences, while showing how the characters of the tale cope with difficulties, enabling readers to enter in a fantastic world of entertainment, and – at the story’s end – to come back into reality in a comfortable way. 65
The main goal of art therapy in education is the holistic human development, to be accomplished by working on imagination, curiosity, and creativity, which represent all the basic features to be preserved in children, along with the natural needs of joy and play. 66 , 67 Artistic activities present also the potential of breaking down cultural barriers, actively involving the most vulnerable and marginalized children, as assessed in a study examining the effect of a creative expression program designed to prevent emotional and behavioural problems in immigrant and refugee students attending multi-ethnic schools. 76 This vision has been already adopted by the famous violinist Menuhin and his Foundation, to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children by using music and other form of arts. 77
Within the broad umbrella of art therapy, we can find “library therapy”, which S.M. Crothers in 1916 has turned into the term “bibliotherapy”, characterized by the fact that the treatment is carried out by the means of literature, using books to foster individual emotional wellbeing. Understanding the principles and practices of bibliotherapy is essential for teachers and educators, working with children, who may take benefit from the exposure to reading materials related to their specific problems.
The “healing” potential of books was known since the time of the ancient Greece and even before: Ramses II in Egypt identified a group of books in his collection as “remedies for the soul”. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers believed that literature could deeply heal people, while the ancient Romans recognized the existence of a relationship between medicine and reading, with Aulo Cornelius Celso explicitly associating the reading with medical treatment. This attitude towards therapeutic opportunities of books was cultivated even in the Middle Age and Humanism/Renaissance times, but also in the late eighteenth century books were proposed as a remedy for different types of illnesses. Today, literature is somehow considered as psychological therapy, especially in childhood, and even as a cure for psychosomatic disorders. 6
In the therapeutic approach, bibliotherapy includes also discussion and reflection on the story’s topics that overlap with the individual needs and have an evocative function that relies on projection and identification mechanisms. Proper storybooks work as a strategy for attitudinal change and self-improvement, acting through a compensatory function in children who lack of positive experiences which are often missing in their family or community. 68 Therapeutic reading can also represent a form of prevention as the readers acquire a more flexible mind to recognize problems and eventually ask for help. There are books that address questions concerning physical appearance, emotions and character traits, family relationships, and socioeconomic problems. 69 Bibliotherapy can be also applied in the field of psychotherapy for the treatment of minor disorders, eating behaviours and some forms of addictions, from alcohol and tobacco to drugs and ludopathy. 7
Narrative medicine, an emerging discipline in healthcare field – which embraces medicine, psychoanalysis and literature – is used to overcome individual traumatic experiences. It helps patients and health professionals to tell and listen to the complex and unique stories of illness through an active approach (subjects are invited to compose poetic or literary pieces) or passive mode (consisting in reading already existing pieces). 70 , 71
Efficacy of narrative-based strategies to promote health and wellbeing in school setting
Health is defined by WHO Constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. 78 WHO has demonstrated that many early deaths can be avoided if each stakeholder in the society takes its piece of responsibility in promoting healthy lifestyles. 79 Health promotion and prevention represent two sides of the same coin being both focused on proactively maintaining people healthy. 80 Primary prevention should start as early as possible and school has the opportunity to guide people since childhood on the right path towards healthy life. Actually, education and health are intertwined, and it is undoubtable that wellbeing has also a remarkable impact on students’ learning outcomes. School represents the ideal setting to convey proper contents about risk and protective factors 81 by using motivating approaches (including “teaching narratively”), able to capture the interest of pupils and generate a harmonic and non-competitive learning environment. 82 Narration can be regarded as an interesting way to trigger students’ motivation 82 and develop a “narrative thinking”, which is fundamental for every human experience, including learning and interiorization processes. 83 - 86 Specifically developed storybooks can foster children’s self-responsibility towards health and stimulate critical thinking about the consequences of adopting risky behaviours (i.e. unhealthy eating habits), thanks to psychological processes based on the identification with the characters of the stories. 17 Actually, children literature and storytelling have been proved to be effective in specifically conveying health knowledge: the persuasive effects of narrative engagement have been illustrated in many researches and reviews. 87 - 95 De Graaf et al have specifically performed a systematic review of 153 experimental studies on health-related narrative persuasion with a focus on the narrative characteristics as potential explanatory factors in the effectiveness to convey a health message. 87 , 88 The results showed that stories that presented a healthy behaviour were more often associated with effects on the intention to adopt it, and stories with high emotional content were usually more effective, as well as the use of a first or second-person perspective in the text. No differences were observed between the media used for the narrative intervention (book or video etc.), while the familiarity of the setting and the way of displaying the health message in the narrative was found to be a promising persuasive factor. 88 Shen and Han assessed 25 studies comparing narrative to non-narrative messages, showing a significant effect of narrative for primary prevention and detection of risky behaviours, but not for cessation of negative attitudes (e.g., quitting smoking). 89 Zebregs et al included 15 studies that recorded positive persuasive effects of narrative. 91 Braddock and Dillard metanalyzed 74 studies that compared narrative-based interventions to a control group that did not receive any relevant message. 92 Their results showed that, compared to a baseline zero-effect, narrative had positive effects on story-consistent beliefs, attitudes and intentions. By reviewing 45 studies, Tukachinsky et al concluded that engagement with the narrative and its characters was positively related to attitudes and intentions implied by the narrative itself. 93 Other authors have focused on the persuasive effects resulting from the “transportation” into a narrative world: when children read, they “enter” into tales and act out together with the characters. 94 Dahlstrom et al have shown that it is important to consider whether the persuasive message is integrated in the causal structure of the narrative or not. 95 Stories with two opponent main characters seem to have an impact on narrative persuasion in the context of social issues, while tales presenting a transition of the characters from unhealthy to healthy behaviour may be particularly beneficial. 90 Moreover, the content and form of the narrative - such as characters, events, and the setting of the story - are very important: characters can be more or less similar to the readers, thus producing a different persuasive effect. 96 , 97 A further dimension relevant to health-related “narrative persuasion” is the context of the presentation used in the narrative: an entertainment format where the reader is unaware that the narrative has a persuasive intention or a narrative frame in which the persuasive intent is more explicit. 98 - 100 In addition to narrative characteristics, variables related to target recipients – like the predisposition to become engaged in narratives and prior knowledge of the readers – as well as the environment/situation in which the story is narrated may increase or reduce the engagement and effectiveness of narrative-based interventions. 101 , 102 Most likely, the full process of persuasion is determined by the interaction of narrative, recipient and situational factors (such as noise in the environment) that can distract the student and decrease engagement. It should be emphasized that contents of the stories must be close to the children and the main character’s mental states needs to be as much as similar to the feelings of the child. Finally, it seems that multicomponent approaches including printed stories or tales told by a health educator in a face-to-face settings (i.e. live storytelling) can produce effects on beliefs, attitudes, intentions and even on the behaviours of recipients. 103
Oral and written tales are part of a collective memory, maintained from one generation to the next as an intangible cultural heritage for the transmission of moral values (i.e. Homer’s epic poems). As emphasized by the UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, folktales play a dynamic role in bringing people closer together, thus ensuring knowledge exchange among different cultures and increasing the respect for others in a tolerant peaceful way.
At the start of 21st century, school system faces new challenges worldwide, pushing educators to display innovative strategies in order to motivate students and engage them in stimulating and “transformative” learning. 104 This perspective goes beyond the passive acquisition of knowledge, moving toward a more active, experiential and participatory approach to lifelong learning. 105 The adoption of cooperative practices into daily classroom activities can contribute to the enhancement of students’ wellbeing, lowering the competition and anxiety due to the pressure of success, currently detectable among schoolchildren. 80
To achieve these goals, narrative interventions may be considered as one of the possible strategies for teaching and learning because children’s stories create the comfortable atmosphere that is usually lacking in school setting. 5 , 106
Since ancient times, myths, legends, fables and fairytales have supported individuals to understand who they are as human beings and the world around them, allowing people to map the reality through the use of words and language. 107 , 108
From fairytales and fables – plenty of adventures, heroes, personified animals, enchanted forests and magical objects – children gain additional experiences, feelings and thoughts, learning to cope with inhibitions, vulnerability, and shyness. According to the psychoanalytical interpretation, children’s stories lead readers towards a deep level of consciousness, dealing with the fundamental human questions expressed in the language of symbols. Beyond its educational purposes, children’s literature can positively influence mental wellbeing, nurturing thoughts, feelings and behaviours of young generations. 63
Stories – as a kind of creative form of art – help children to fight (like the heroes) for good things and success in their life, satisfying their spirit of play, spreading good mood, with benefits on physical health, mental brightness and moral virtue. These latter represent the three dimensions of wellbeing – pillars for the integral growth of the child – in the perspective of building up the future mature and socially active man. 109
Children’s literature presents a strong pedagogical component and should be regarded as a real educational strategy with the potential of being incorporated into school curricula. Learning experiences carried out in a friendly school environment generate improvement of emotional health and better academic achievements 8 , 110 - 116 A properly chosen book stimulates children’s power of observation, reason, memory and imagination, broadening the range of experiences, compelling the readers to reflect on their behaviours, and find out possible solutions to their troubles while providing entertainment. A famous sentence of Albert Einstein was: “If you want your children to be intelligent, tell them fairytales; if you want your children to be more intelligent, tell them more fairy tales”. 117 Unfortunately, in today’s busy society, adults lack the time to talk with children, so that reading or telling stories could represent a great opportunity of constructive exchanges in the family and at school. 28
Multicomponent narrative-based approaches (storytelling, role-playing, games, post-reading activities) are able to satisfy children emotional needs, provide sensory input, increase attention span, and shape the aesthetic taste. 43 , 44 The power of listening and speaking is able to create artistic images and induce schoolchildren to produce their own stories or tales. This is well accomplished by introducing them to literature from early childhood, and ensuring them interesting, funny and attractive materials. Telling or reading a story is cheap, pleasing, inclusive, it can be used in any setting without special equipment except the imagination. 50 , 118 Moreover, it generates catharsis, resulting in reduced anxiety, better comfort, self-esteem, thus helping young people to cope with any adversity and improving communication of feelings.
According to Richard-Amato, 119 students find themselves in the characters or narration, and learn how to behave adequately while facing similar situations in the future life. 6 It happens that the child becomes aware about the topic of the story, unconsciously solves the problems, increasing self-confidence, with positive implications for personality development. 119 By developing the imagination and creativity, children can discover new ideas and increase personal motivation to achieve their objectives. Albert Einstein was used to say: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant to me more than any talent for abstract or positive thinking”. 117
Finally, it can be considered also the contribution of literature to stimulate individual agency, applying the already acquired knowledge, to make the world more fit to human needs. 120 In this perspective, the Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia was used to say that if he did not believe that literature could produce a change, he wouldn’t have continued to write. 121
Stories are also able to convey health information about prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Several researches highlight the role of storytelling as a source of beneficial effects in primary prevention. Reading a storybook or listening to stories is helpful for children as it promotes pupils’ emotional expression and psychological wellbeing; it can be used to stimulate changes in young people lifestyles, encouraging them in practicing physical activity and reducing the consumption of sweets and soft-drinks, ultimately resulting in a measurable reduction of body mass index in specific cohorts. 122
Bibliotherapy facilitates behaviour´s externalization, promotes empathy and prosocial behaviours, and helps solving problems such as bullying and teasing, which represent common situations in every school. Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of treating bullying through bibliotherapy, that can become an innovative approach to promote a respectful school environment. A huge amount of children’s stories has been used in order to prevent and give other perspectives on bullying, demonstrating that children’s books can serve as a useful channel of exchange between parents, teachers and children. An example for that is the Child Adolescent Teasing in Schools (CATS) book review project and website, where – after the exposure to a fictional story about teasing and bullying – children share their own experience and are guided to develop successful coping strategies against teasing and bullying occurring at school. 123
Children’s books have been also used to let students learn peaceful alternatives to the violence of modern society, focusing on conflicts prevention in the classroom and the way for overcoming the problem. 124 This has led to the creation of specific lists of books which help children to better understand and cope with some situations of discomfort such as traumatic stresses.
“Therapeutic libraries” have been established for paediatric patients or their families in hospital setting according to the vision that literature can help children to improve their quality of life, reducing stress and pain levels associated with the hospitalization process. 125
In a randomized trial, a combination of storybooks and workshop sessions have been successfully tested in primary prevention programs for anxiety management, showing a significant improvement in coping skills and perceived self-efficacy: every session was based on a story describing characters facing common stressors and how they deal with their daily problems. 126 It can be said also that children’s literature offers strategies to overcome the anxiety and the fear of the unknown, stimulating reflection and re-elaboration of personal criteria to be applied in real life. 127 Bibliotherapy is used in school setting (from primary to high school) to foster social and emotional growth, offering the opportunity to find a deeper understanding of self, solutions to personal problems and enhanced self-image. 128 , 129
Finally, as demonstrated by the worldwide success of self-help manuals, bibliotherapy could be a helpful resource to reduce unhealthy food habits for the prevention or treatment of obesity, as well as in supporting who want to quit smoking or other addictions both in young people and adults. 130 - 132
Limitations of this work are mainly due to the initial design of the study, representing an exploratory work that found few on-field experiences concerning the use of narrative-based strategies to promote health and wellbeing among schoolchildren. A future work, carefully planned as systematic review, could take advantage from the findings of this first attempt, in order to better refine a comprehensive search in scientific literature.
Children’s literature offers young people the possibility to acquire a system of values (educational role), to be engaged in motivating learning activities (didactic aspect), and to deal with inner conflicts and life difficulties (psychological value). Based on international evidence, children’s literature and specifically developed storybooks can encourage the adoption of healthy choices and represent a useful preventive tool to foster young people’s global wellbeing, helping them to better cope with emotional/social problems while proposing proper patterns of behaviours and conveying health contents. 133 - 136 Children’s literature is a helpful tool to “educate”, “teach” and “heal”, so that narration could be considered among the possible educational strategies which can be used for pedagogic, didactic and therapeutic applications in the promotion of children’s global development both at home and at school.
Implications for practice
This review indicates that children’s literature not only presents a strong pedagogical and didactic value, but it can also generate benefits for global development and wellbeing of young people. Moreover, children’s literature can be regarded as a flexible instrument that facilitates the transmission of health contents to the students, allowing teachers to become “health educators”. Narrative-based strategies have the potential to be integrated as useful approach in the school curricular activities to specifically convey health contents (at least in primary and secondary school). 135 , 136 Being able to impact emotional experiences and individual motivation, children’s literature should be considered as a powerful educational tool also for health professionals, who can take advantage from the use of stories to spread health information. Actually, narration is a “transformative” mean that can be useful – in the frame of educational contexts – especially for the prevention of obesity, risky behaviours and addictions (cigarette smoking, alcohol, drugs, bet). Finally, beyond the possibility to prevent future diseases at individual level, thanks to well-designed narrative-based interventions in school setting, children can become themselves “health promoters” and “inter-generational multipliers” of desirable effects by influencing in a positive way their families and community. In this perspective, the use of children’s literature to convey health contents and promote wellbeing in school children might represent an interesting instrument to foster collective health.
This review did not need any formal approval from ethical committee.
There are no competing interests concerning this article. This research has been carried out in the frame of institutional activities of the PhD in “Human Relations Sciences” of Bari University and UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development, without receiving any external funding or economical support from third parties.
MP, PP and SC have conceived, prepared, written, approved and revised the manuscript.
Authors are grateful to Prof. G. Mininni, Director of PhD Course in Human Relation Sciences at University of Bari “Aldo Moro”.
Ilr Magazine – Good To The Very Last Book
The importance of children’s literature.
Every educational process begins with literature, because it assumes an informative role and opens the doors to knowledge, provides access to knowledge, brings information to practical life. There are many ways and several resources to work with literature such as (tales, poems, legends, stories, characters, fables, theaters, illustrative images, ludic, picture books, etc.).
Children’s literature allows children to write better, developing their creativity, because the act of reading and the act of writing are closely linked. In this sense, “children’s literature is, first of all, literature, or rather, it is art: a phenomenon of creativity that represents the world, man, life, through the word”. It merges dreams and practical life, the imaginary and the real, ideals and their possible/impossible realization.
Children’s literature has the task of transforming dreams into reality, it is an excellent resource for the teaching-learning process, for the child’s growth, its joy and its magic. Children’s literature in the early stages of learning has a forming and socializing function.
Children’s literature promotes the child in its developmental and socialization process, and in this phase the child’s interests are related to sound, rhythm, individualized scenes, books with few texts, many prints and rhymes, dealing with animals and known objects and scenes familiar to the world of children. In this literary process, one finds – if the privileged space to stimulate the subject as generator of the magical hypotheses, as it affirms.
It is the magical mentality phase, in which the child makes little difference between the external and the internal world. Literature will help – there to make the distinction between the “I” and the world through books, engravings of objects in their environment. Between 4 and 6 years the child prefers to read magical realism: fairy tales, legends, myths, fables, which can offer imaginative change, because at this stage of his development the child is essentially susceptible to fantasy.
Literary texts provide skills, knowledge and languages suitable for children with different levels of understanding. Literature promotes the integral formation of the child, stimulating them with several teaching methodologies such as: legends, fables and short stories that are richer narratives of knowledge.
It is observed that stories such as: Little Red Riding Hood, The Beauty and the Beast, The Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs and all their characters, even being “old” stories continue to be an attraction for children, and efficient methods against anguish, suffering and child fears.
When these stories are presented to children with concrete methodologies in search of developing the imaginary, certainly these children find in the characters of the story their “idol” or their “hero”, and this fact develops in children feelings of curiosity, interpretation, interest, affection, magic and courage.
The importance of children’s literature as a creative stage within the general problem of imagination, since it is not clear at what age or in what form and circumstances it appears in the child.
However, in the development of literary teaching, the mediating teacher must pedagogically use all available resources to contribute to the learning of the students in an appropriate way, where each child demonstrates his or her capacity and ease in imagining, understanding, interpreting, writing, reading and speaking in a formal way through storytelling.
Because only an excellent class where the diversity of pedagogical resources is present together with play in the teaching-learning, is that the children have built their own understanding of the real world, of the socialization among others in a gradual and meaningful way through their creativity and imagination.
The literary process is fascinating in all ages, we must keep in mind that the habit of literature does good even for adults. We must break down the barriers of prejudice that still exist in some contexts of society, which believe and interpret the literary process in an empty and meaningless way with human life in society, because this analysis stems from unobserved and deeply studied questions about the literary genres and the cognitive development of people.
Literature acts as an instrument of mediation for the development of the child in a participative and critical way in the teaching-learning process, its educational character contributes in a positive way to the socialization and formation of the child, in its interpretation of the world, people, cultural and linguistic varieties and its own personality.
Literature is a verbal art in which it involves a representation and a vision of the world that are centered on the creator of literature, where he draws elements from the world to help the reader structure his cultural universe.
In summary, considering reading as an achievement that occurred gradually, it is observed that it is a fundamental element in the formation and construction of knowledge of the child, and that it goes far beyond the mechanical decoding of written lines, but in the curiosity and consequent discovery unveiled through it.
We understand that the vast description around the potential extracted from children’s literature, as a post in this work, which can, above all, contribute to the formation of active and competent readers, consequently to a significant learning of the child in the educational process, because as we know the first contact with books should happen in the child’s childhood and preferably with their relatives.
The family is very important in the educational process, and it should seek to develop the child’s imagination, creativity, taste for reading and writing, opening spaces in the child’s life in the acquisition of knowledge and social communication in formal and non-formal contexts.
Just as the school is responsible, the family is also responsible for the teaching-learning, because when the school and the family decide to collaborate and act together in the search for strategies and knowledge projects, certainly this teaching-learning process is modifiable, beneficial, meaningful and pleasant for all members of the school community.
Importance of Literature for Children
Literature plays a very crucial role in children’s lives while they are in their developmental stage. It drives them to have massive success in their future. Children always get involved with the pictures in books or papers where they get a chance to explore various colors and characters. It helps children to understand and imagine the story behind those characters. But the only question that remains is whether the words involved in the books are able to impact children’s lives, to acknowledge them and to help them become the ultimate person.
Let’s understand how literature impacts a child’s learning process.
Help to explore new ideas.
Well, many of the responses would be an overwhelming ‘YES’. Most teachers and parents always try to teach some great lessons or concepts to their children through fictional literature, which is quite good and easily accessible. They are also good for children to understand the concept and develop their learning skills. Bibliotherapy is the name given by the professionals for this type of progressive learning for children. It is also known to be a kind of medication when it comes to learning and understanding. Reading an inspirational book can help a person dive deep into it and get a great lesson. Mindful experiences through books can help people find some practical solutions to their current problems. Literature plays the same role with children too, instilling great powers of knowledge and learning in their lives. Also, in this generation, children are even more eager to explore things around them that they know or that they have always wanted to figure out.
Enhance their creative thinking.
Over a long period of time, many things can be changed, but the thought process of a child still remains funny, receptive, and innocent. They always live to consume and transact with their surroundings, which helps to explore their creativity and learn new things. Some research has also showcased the growth and involvement of children in various activities through literature. It has made children expand their ways of thinking and understand new creative skills. Children can empathize with those little characters from their favorite cartoons or animated movies, which helps them learn and develop their moral thoughts. Through their learning from literature, they can implement new things and values in their lives.
Select the perfect book for them.
Literature is extremely valuable and must be taught both at school and at home. While providing the perfect and valuable book to the children, keep in mind that it should encourage them to read. This will give structure to their development and help them become involved with the environment, which plays an incredible role in their learning stage. Parents and teachers must help them choose the right book to explore their creative and ideal minds. Pick some inspirational, motivational books that are informative and give unique and innovative information to the children. Literature assists them to scale up their knowledge and grow up as successful people in their future.
Finally, when it comes to children’s lives, literature plays a responsive role and has the power to improve their creativity, knowledge, emotions, and language development. This leads to the overall development of the children.
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Children’s Literature and Its Importance
The development of early reading skills is critical for modern children, and educators pay much attention to the choice of books and the quality of their content. Reading helps to calm down, relax, examine the world, enlarge the level of knowledge, socialise, and even build confidence (Young Readers Foundations, 2018). However, the global pandemic has affected the book industry and provoked reading difficulties among children, which results in re-evaluation of early reading skills and the role of adults in children’s reading experiences (Cabrera, 2020; United Nations, 2021). A range of children’s books has to be improved, focusing on phonological awareness, the combination of literacy skills, and the involvement of supportive people.
Range of Children’s Texts
The growth of children depends on many factors, and one of them is a range of books young readers could use. Today, children’s literature includes picture books, short stories, poetry, songs, and comics that address young readers (Alvstad, 2019). Each source of information has its peculiarities and goals. For example, picture books contain visual and verbal material with the help of which children contribute to their symbolic understanding, analogical reasoning, and the differentiation between reality and fantasy (Strouse, Nyhout and Ganea, 2018). Young readers observe images, listen to what is read by an adult, and make their first meaningful comparisons. Fantasy books, or chapter books, introduce the world of magic, paranormal events, and unusual situations where animals could talk, and ordinary subjects possess power (Corona, 2017). Realistic fiction and traditional literature are used for educational purposes to help a child learn about the world and become its meaningful part.
Importance of Developing Phonological Awareness
When parents, teachers, or other regular caregivers choose the reading material for their children, they have to use specific teaching strategies. Talbot (2020) underlines the significance of phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate letter sounds) as a part of phonological awareness built in the preschool period and defines reading and spelling skills. Phonological awareness is necessary to identify and use different phonological units, which allows understanding words, improving learning, and reading independently with time (Milankov et al. , 2021). When children are able to combine sounds, they get themselves prepared for reading and spelling. With time, educators must explain the meaning of sounds and syllables. Still, spelling and writing have nothing in common with phonological awareness in children’s literature because associations between letters and sounds only matter (Clayton et al ., 2019). As soon as children succeed in using and comprehending phonemes and sounds, they take a crucial step to develop their early reading skills.
Texts to Develop Early Reading Skills
Early reading is an achievement for many families where the child’s development is considered. As well as reading to a child plays a crucial role, the promotion of reading skills has to be encouraged with attention to children’s linguistic and cognitive competencies (Niklas, Cohrssen and Tayler, 2016). Pre-literacy skills may be well developed or damaged, depending on the chosen book. Therefore, it is important to know why reading matters and what can be done at an early stage when knowledge is minimal. Many researchers agree that children whose reading is driven by interest are more successful in developing their skills (Parry and Taylor, 2018; Saracho, 2017; Walgermo et al ., 2018). Not to lose their desire to read or at least observe books, children need motivation, extra support, and professional stimulation like a favourable environment or an appropriate context (Axelsson, Lundqvist and Sandberg, 2020). Thus, parents and educators try to offer exciting short stories to their children where rhyme and simple words are used. Pictures also raise the interest of a young reader to pay more attention to the book, advance comprehension and vocabulary.
The Role of Adults in Supporting Children Experiences with Literature
In addition to the quality of the texts in children’s literature, the role of parents has to be underlined. These people usually support the development of the child and the enhancement of language and reading skills (Reggin et al ., 2019). When a child attends a school, a number of rules should be followed, which affects the attitudes of children toward reading tasks. Thus, parents begin literary progress early before formal schooling. Parents are the first teachers for their children who introduce reading for pleasure and learning new material with fun (Bano, Jabeen and Qutoshi, 2018). The role of adults in supporting children’s experiences with literature may be improved in many ways. There can be storytimes for a family to read something new. To make this activity more captivating, adults should share similar books (to prove their interest in the child’s activity) or create a reading corner at home (to encourage the reading desire). Bano, Jabeen and Qutoshi (2018) show that children whose adults never support their reading experiences lag behind the group. Adults show to combine reading with games, determining fluency, speed, and comprehension.
Reflective Reading Skills
In addition to properly developed reading skills, children need to know how to reflect on when they read or hear. In most cases, students try to memorise the answers to specific questions and ignore the rest of the text when completing their regular tasks (Bano, Jabeen and Qutoshi, 2018). Reflective reading at an early age is a chance to show children how to enjoy the reading process and its outcomes, how to know the answers and pose new quotes, and how to participate in an interesting discussion. Young readers like to compare themselves with characters and think about what they could do like the main characters (Walgermo et al., 2018). Regarding such intentions, self-awareness, a deep understanding of the text, comparison, and questions are defined as the necessary skills in reflective reading.
Skills in Selecting Texts for Children
Finding children’s literature should not be a challenge for parents and children. There are many recommendations on how to choose a text for early childhood reading activities. Saracho (2017) combines a high literacy level with self-concepts and interests. One of the skills to select a text is observation and critical thinking. Parents and other engaged adults should know what their children like and prefer to know. In most cases, young boys are attracted by construction and cars, and girls want to know about fashion or animals. Comprehensive development and the ability to compare and contrast are also critical skills as they allow adults to offer a variety of books. Finally, cooperation is what young learners appreciate and want to observe in their relationships with adults.
Children’s literature plays a vital role in early childhood development. A number of skills should be recognised at an early stage, and reading is an activity when the first tasks emerge. Children read together with or for their parents or listen to what their parents tell. As such, phonological awareness, fluency, critical thinking, and analytical skills are formed during the first reading practices. Young readers need support from adults, and the role of their parents becomes an essential part of the research. Reading is not only an interesting and informative but motivating and supportive background for children to succeed in writing and further education.
Alvstad, C. (2019) ‘Children’s literature,’ in Washbourne, K. and van Wyke, B. (eds.) The Routledge handbook of literary translation . New York: Routledge, pp. 159-180.
Axelsson, A., Lundqvist, J. and Sandberg, G. (2020) ‘Influential factors on children’s reading and writing development: the perspective of parents in a Swedish context’, Early Child Development and Care , 190(16), pp. 2520-2532.
Bano, J., Jabeen, Z. and Qutoshi, S.B. (2018) ‘Perceptions of teachers about the role of parents in developing reading habits of children to improve their academic performance in schools’, Journal of Education and Educational Development , 5(1), pp. 42-59.
Cabrera, I. (2020) World reading habits in 2020 [infographic] .
Clayton, F.J. et al . (2020) ‘A longitudinal study of early reading development: letter-sound knowledge, phoneme awareness and RAN, but not letter-sound integration, predict variations in reading development’, Scientific Studies of Reading , 24(2), pp. 91-107.
Corona, L. (2017) Children’s literature types .
Milankov, V. et al . (2021) ‘Phonological awareness as the foundation of reading acquisition in students reading in transparent orthography’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health , 18(10). doi: 10.3390/ijerph18105440
Niklas, F., Cohrssen, C. and Tayler, C. (2016) ‘The sooner, the better: early reading to children’, SAGE Open, 6(4). doi: 10.1177/2158244016672715
Parry, R. L. and Taylor, L. (2018) ‘Readers in the round: children’s holistic engagements with texts’, Literacy , 52(2), pp. 103-110.
Reggin, L. et al . (2019) ‘Parents play a key role in fostering children’s love of reading’, The Conversation , (September).
Saracho, O. N. (2017) ‘Literacy and language: new developments in research, theory, and practice’, Early Child Development and Care , 187(3-4), pp. 299-304.
Strouse, G. A., Nyhout, A. and Ganea, P. A. (2018) ‘The role of book features in young children’s transfer of information from picture books to real-world contexts’, Frontiers in Psychology , 9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00050
United Nations (2021) 100 million more children fail basic reading skills because of COVID-9 .
Walgermo, B.R. et al . (2018) ‘Developmental dynamics of early reading skill, literacy interest and readers’ self-concept within the first year of formal schooling’, Reading and Writing , 31(6), pp. 1379-1399.
Young Readers Foundations (2018) The importance of reading: why we should read books every day .
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ChalkyPapers. (2023, June 22). Children’s Literature and Its Importance. Retrieved from https://chalkypapers.com/childrens-literature-and-its-importance/
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The importance of children’s representation in literature and media
Children’s representation is a key issue for child development and growth, and it has taken different forms over time. Children’s literature has played an important role in the discovery of the external and inner world of children , but the lack of representation of some ethnical groups has also represented a big challenge which is still far from being satisfied. In this sense, media have tried to fill the gap, falling into the same stereotypes which affected the literature’s world. Nevertheless, there are some actors who could still promote a shift in culture.
Why children’s representation matters
Children shape their reality according to the models they build with many bricks: stories, songs, films, plays, experiences and many other factors which help them in codifying the reality into common patterns to be reproduced. Through these elements, they discover how the world they live in and themselves, too.
In particular, stories play an important role in children’s representation: they provide information and models, they guide the reader through the discovery of the world, both real and imaginary, and they convey values such as friendship, empathy, courage, sense of belonging, emotions and diversity which are essential for child development and growth.
At the same time, what stories and books taught to children before is now replaced by media content and this is why children’s representation should take into account both aspects: literature and media.
Children’s representation in literature and media plays a significant role in child development and growth because it helps children to understand the reality they live in or to discover other cultures, giving them the opportunity to develop empathy and respect for cultural differences. Children’s representation is important to how kids build their perspectives on their own ethnic-racial group , as well as that of others (Rogers, 2021). In this sense, children’s representation has a double dimension: on one hand, it support the discovery of an external dimension, and on the other, it provides inputs for the discovery of the inner dimension.
But what happens if children don’t find representations about themselves or the reality in which they live?
The consequences of the lack of representation
“Children, especially in the early years, are like little sponges, absorbing all the information around them and then actively making sense of it.” – Hunter, 2018
In this sense, the lack of representation of the reality in which they live may also affect them in a long-term perspective and under many points of view. For instance, research shows that a lack of representation in media can lead to negative psychological outcomes for those with identities that are underrepresented or negatively portrayed (Tukachinsky, Mastro, &Yarchi, 2017). Exposure to negative media depictions of their own ethnic-racial groups can undermine children’s sense of self, whereas high-quality children’s media can promote positive ethnic-racial attitudes and interactions (Rogers, 2021).
A study on the effects of television on elementary-aged children shows a negative correlation between TV exposure and lower self-esteem for Black girls and boys and White girls, but it also emphasized a positive correlation between TV exposure and higher self-esteem for White boys (Martins & Harrison, 2012).
The same findings are shown by the research that underlined how identifying with popular characters with the same identities in mainstream media leads to higher self-esteem on several dimensions (Ward, 2004). The scientific literature about the effects on children’s well-being supports the importance of realistic, diverse and inclusive representation in children’s media.
Moreover, if children do not perceive themselves as represented by the media or the literature they consume, they may also begin to feel invisible, unimportant (Levinson, 2020) or less important than others. The risks related to this aspect play along with the reaffirmation of a single narrative which is based on stereotypes , and which hinder the possibility for individuals to achieve their goals and dreams on the basis of their personal capacities and aspirations. And if children do not perceive themselves as architects, teachers or engineers they may not perceive these carriers in the future.
If children do not have the possibility to see people with their identities and features being portrayed in a positive way, they may rely on the assumption that their identity is fully represented by those stereotypes which define who they are. The “problems with stereotypes is not the fact they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”. That is what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines by the “danger of a single story” (Adiche, 2019).
The state of art in children’s literature
The affirmation of the importance of children’s representation in literature can be linked to one important milestone which goes back to 1990 when Rudine Sims Bishop codified the “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” metaphor in order to describe the role of children’s literature. According to Bishop, window books “[offer] views of worlds that may be real or imagined,” and “are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created by the author” (1990).
In mirror books, “we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience,” which, Bishop argues, is a “means of self-affirmation” (Bishop, 1990). In this sense, children’s literature can represent a mirror for the society, both reflecting the reality we live in and “projecting how we want our children to be” (Dahlen, 2020).
Since then, children’s representation in literature has gained more and more importance and the definition of “representation” has changed over time according to the reality which it was changing, too. For a long time, the children’s literature world has been what Nancy Larrick called “all-white” (Larrick, 2020), but with time, more and more characters representing different ethnicities started to enter the scene of children’s books as a response of the lack of representation.
This was possible thanks to the increase in demand on the part of the consumers, but also thanks to an entire generation of authors who grew up with no reference to such diversity and who wanted to contribute to a shift in culture.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education analysed the percentage of children’s books written by and/or about non-white people from 1985 till today. In the period between 1985 and 2015, the percentage of children’s books written by and/or about non-white people fluctuated between 9 and 14 percent (Dahlen, 2020).
In 2016, the “about” percentage reached 22 percent, but this increase in representation also showed a dark side: as many white authors created more characters of colour and with ambiguous ethnicities, e.g. brown-skinned, they promoted also stereotyped characters which fostered false perceptions about the ethnicities they represented. This aspect was also underlined by the 2016 “by” percentage which amounted to only 13 percent, significantly lower than the 22 percent “about.”
In the period between 2018 and 2020, the percentage of children’s books written by non-white people fluctuated between 23.79 (2018) and 28.56 percent (2020), whereas the “about” percentage fluctuated between 29.64 (2018) and 30.25 percent (2020) (CCBC’s website).
The CCBC statistics show a slow increase in diverse books over the past decade, with more drastic changes in more recent years. According to Lee & Low’s 2018 infographic, the numbers rose from 10 to 14 percent between 2013 and 2014, and then “jumped” to 20 percent in 2015, 28 percent in 2016, and 31 percent in 2017 (Corrie, 2018). These data depict a positive trend which is still far from representing the reality American children live in which half of the country’s children are non-white (Dahlen, 2020).
Lee & Low’s infographics demonstrate that the “diversity gap” is not a problem specific to children’s literature, but to power and media industries generally. Their Lee & Low’s 2018 infographic used the 2017 CCBC data and communicated that only 7 percent, or 288 of 3700 books surveyed, were written by Black, Latinx, and Native writers (Corrie, 2018). In this sense, literature and media have a common element which hinders a truthful representation of the reality that children live which is represented by power.
The role of the media in children’s representation
Media play a key role in the life of children and young people which has increased over time. In 2019, young people spent an average of 2 hours per day watching television shows (Rideout, 2019) and by the Covid-19 pandemic , the use of media contents has increased given its multiple purposes: entertainment, connection, education , creativity and link with the external world (Rideout, 2021).
Given this context, it is important to consider the main effects of such early and constant media exposure in relation to the positive or negative impacts of children’s representation. An important contribution to answering this question is offered by the Cultivation Theory which states that exposure to media helps to shape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviours, and viewers adopt the assumptions and beliefs of media content as reality (Gerbner & Gross, 1976).
Children are particularly vulnerable to media messages and use what they see in media to create their beliefs about themselves and others. Therefore, the media industry holds great power over the socialization and self-concept of young people (Levinson, 2020) and they play a significant role in children’s representation.
An interesting report on North American children’s (up to age 12) television content highlighted the recurrent use of stereotypes and the scarce correspondence to the reality in which children live (Lemish& Johnson, 2019). For instance, 65 percent of characters were white, and female characters were more likely to be non-white or racially ambiguous than male characters. Also, 38 percent of characters were women or girls, while almost 51 percent of the US population is female.
Apart from that, female characters were twice as likely to solve problems using magic while males were more likely to solve problems using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) or their physicality (Levinson, 2020). Moreover, only 1 percent of the characters showed signs of physical disability or chronic disease , even if 20 percent of the population lives with a disability (Okoro et al., 2018) and only 2 percent of the characters presented a lower socioeconomic status, whereas about 20 percent of the American children live below the poverty line (NCCP).
The latest report at Common Sense, “The Inclusion Imperative: Why Media Representation Matters for Kids’ Ethnic-Racial Development”, has highlighted the underrepresentation and the stereotyping of people of colour in movies and TV roles(Rogers, 2021). For instance, despite accounting for 18 percent of the population, Latinos only make up 5 percent of speaking film roles. Characters of colour in shows most watched by children between 2 and 13 are more likely to be depicted as violent and women of all ethnic-racial groups in adult programming are more likely to appear in sexualized roles (Rogers, 2021).
According to the perceptions of the parents and caregivers involved in the research, white people are often portrayed in a positive light in the media their children are exposed to, whereas one in four believe that portrayals of Black, Hispanic and LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to be negative (Rogers, 2021).
The above-mentioned studies show how children’s representation in the media does not reflect the reality in which children live but, on the contrary, it promotes a narrative which is based on stereotypes and predefined roles in which children may identify. Once again, the media risk promoting a “Single story” (Adiche, 2019).
Who are the main stakeholders to promote a shift in culture?
Promoting a shift in culture in children’s representation in literature and media is essential in order to fulfil children’s right to “discover and develop their personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential” ( Article 29 (1), lett. a) CRC ). To achieve this goal, all the actors involved in the life of a child play a significant role.
First of all, publishers and librarians contribute to the cause by selecting which books to print and sell. In this way, they can influence the possible choices that consumers can make. In a globalized and interconnected world , it is easier and easier to have access to different sources of information, but this also depends on the open-mindedness and awareness that these actors have about the importance of children’s representation.
With this respect, also consumers have the power to influence what the market offers them, both in terms of books and media content. In particular, parents are more and more attentive to the content their children consume and they ask media creators to deliver content that better reflects the diversity of the world in which their kids are growing up (Rogers, 2021).
In this sense, also authors and creators have the power to influence the contents they produce in order to better represent the reality in which children live and to inspire them thanks to their privileged role. They provide “windows” (Bishop, 1990) to the external world and they guide children to the discovery of the world and themselves, too.
Last but not least, children are the key actors to promote a shift in culture which is more representative of the reality in which they live and more respectful of their identities , needs, thoughts and aspirations. The best way to achieve this goal is to start talking about their stories and to include themselves in the stories they imagine, because each single story is important and needs to be told.
Humanium is at the forefront in supporting the diversity and inclusiveness of all children all in order to make their voices heard. We advocate for a world where children’s rights are respected and protected, and we work to assure that children of all backgrounds, genders and ethnicities are represented by the media and the literature equally! Discover how to stand up for children’s rights, join our community , interact with our work , and share our mission through our website , Facebook page or newsletter !
Written by Arianna Braga 
For More Information:
Books by and/or about Black, Indigenous and People of Color (All Years)
Lee & Low’s 2018 infographic
Adichie, C. (July, 2019). The danger of a single story. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en , accessed on 16 February 2022.
Convention on the rights of the child (1989) Treaty no. 27531. United Nations Treaty Series, 1577, pp. 3-178. Retrieved from https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/1990/09/19900902%2003-14%20AM/Ch_IV_11p.pdf , accessed on 16 February 2022.
Corrie, J. (10 May, 2018). The Diversity Gap in Children’s Book Publishing, 2018. Retrieved from https://blog.leeandlow.com/2018/05/10/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2018/ , accessed on 15 February 2022.
Dahlen S.P. (2020). “We Need Diverse Books”: Diversity, Activism, and Children’s Literature. In: op de Beeck N. (eds) Literary Cultures and Twenty-First-Century Childhoods. Literary Cultures and Childhoods. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32146-8_5 , accessed on 16 February 2022.
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 I would also thank Professor Sarah Park Dahlen for her valuable insights and comments on the topic which enriched this article.
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