Archive | January 2016

Glancing Back at Classic Children’s Literature

“. . . and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the ledge. In another moment down went Alice after it . . .”

                                                                                               —Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Welcome to my first blog. I’d like to share my love of children’s literature with you so that we can share these stories with children we know. Along the way, we’ll visit with Alice and Aslan and Baloo and Dorothy and a camel and a soldier to thank them for the lessons they teach. But first, I’d like to start with a bit of history.

The first book for children was a small wooden paddle four inches square covered by parchment and a thin layer of cattle horn on which was printed the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer. It was called The Horn Book. The year was 1450.

The first literature for children began in the Middle Ages as English lessons and moral lessons—stern warnings to fight evil with good that eventually included stories of wonder. In these tales we see a comparison to real life and make discoveries about ourselves and our world.

Here is a quick timeline of its history:

  • 17th century – A B C books or Primers are written; Charles Perrault writes Tales of Mother Goose
  • 18th century – John Newbury, one of the founders of children’s literature, publishes two hundred “Little Books”
  • 19th century – Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen write their folk tales; Lewis Carroll writes “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
  • 20th century – Beloved stories such as The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Jungle Book are written; the American story Tom Sawyer and poems such as “The Night Before Christmas” emerge

We think of classic stories as fairy tales, fantasy, and fables. Cinderella is our most beloved fairy tale. Her happy ending is our story of hope because her consistent joy is apparent in spite of being harassed by two evil stepsisters. Cinderella’s innate goodness is the true beauty that the Prince saw as he danced with her.

And just like fairy tales, we see magic in the fantasy of The Little Prince. We can thank the fox for teaching the prince how to tame him so to love him. The lessons the prince learns of love and vanity and loss change him and change the stranded pilot he made friends with forever. Fantasy shows us a world of imagination that is just as real in virtue and vice as our own world.

In Aesop’s fable about the wolf in sheep’s clothing, we learn it does not pay to pretend to be something you are not. Metaphor is a tool that teaches children about the lessons of the world and most importantly, the wonder in the world. In today’s children’s literature, moralizing as it was done centuries ago would not be accepted. Our modern time calls for teaching in a more positive light. As parents, teachers, and librarians, we can show our children these lessons and wonders by reading classic literature. All of us can be enchanted.

I started this blog with a quote from Alice in Wonderland. We saw that she followed the rabbit down the hole because she was curious. Each Monday I’ll explore the ways we see metaphor in classic literature for children. I look forward to your comments.

Blog originally posted in 2012 and refreshed for sharing.