jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2012

What is "literature for children"?

Children's  literature as  a concept is defined as literature  exclusively
about  children.  Children's  literature  refers  mainly  to  stories,  poetry,
rhymes,  folk  tales,  drama,  exclusively  created  for  children  such  as
infants, toddlers and the young people as target audience.
Children’s literature which is exclusively written for children seems to
rest on three criteria: the first is whether the heroes are children or
teenagers,  the  second  is  whether  the  themes,  that  is  the  ideas,
relationships and language, are simple or complex. Simplicity of theme
is  therefore  the  over-riding  criterion  that  determines  and  defines
literature as children's literature. Literature is literature for children if the
ideas, relationship and language are simple. However, literature is not
children's literature if the ideas, relationship and language are found too
complex whether oral or written. For example, a classic literature like
Gulliver's  Travels  is  admitted  into  children's  literature  because  of
simplicity of its ideas, relationship and language. But the turn of the
screw or Lolila, let us say, would not be admitted as children's literature
because the ideas, relationship and language otherwise called the theme
are complex. Thirdly, children’s literature is often aimed at teaching
moral lessons.

Kinds of Children's Literature

There are many kinds of children's literature. These include: short
stories, folk tales, myths, legends, fables, novels.

Short Stories

 A short story is a kind of children’s literature. Story here means account
of past events or account of imaginary events. Short stories may be
found in special collection but may appear from time to time in
periodicals. Since they are short, stories of this kind are usually
somewhat restricted in their scope, number of characters, etc. Short
stories have the great practical advantage of being more manageable. A
story can often be read to a class at a single sitting or studied as a single
assignment whether in or out of classroom. The short story, also be
experienced simultaneously by the whole class, which often makes
discussion easier and invites comparison and imitation. To the child
reading means listening to stories acted as well as reading by oneself.

Folk Tales

Folk Tales refer to popular stories handed down orally from past generations. They give children a sense of security as they find that they
belong to the life of the different environments that they have to adapt
to. Parents and teachers tell children these stories at home and in the
school. The child's first experience of the story will be through an adult
who tells or reads and shows him pictures. Later he will find himself
able to join parts of the story, to tell parts or all of it himself, perhaps to
act it or write about it, and often the greatest thrill comes when he finds
that he can read the story for himself in his own book.

Myths and Legends

 Myths mean person or thing, etc that is imaginary, fictions or invented.
It refers to unreal story, handed down from olden times, especially
concepts or beliefs about the early history of a race, explanations of
natural events, such as the seasons.
A mythical story is usually an illustration of the origins of life and death
and the fundamental pattern of nature. The stories of Persephone,
Prometheus and Loki, for example, are metical. Persephone was the
daughter of zeus, who allowed her to spend six months of the year on
earth and six months in the underworld, a symbol of the buying of the
seed in the ground and the growth of the corn. Prometheus made
mankind out of clay and when zeus in his anger deprived them of fire,
Prometheus stole fire from heaven for them and taught them many arts.
If myths embody beliefs about life and the nature of mankind, then
legends usually tell of the shaping of a nation through the exploits of its
heroes. Legends are often quasi-historical and their characters, their
actions and the environment in which they live and struggle are fully
realized. The action is rooted in recognizable human behaviour,
although this may be transcended from time the time by magic and
superhuman powers.
 Legendary stories as those of Robin Hood can be told, suitably scaled to
junior school children of any age, but they can normally be explored
more successfully in the sustained and coherent way that makes for
deepening understanding, with children between the ages of nine and
twelve. Legends will provide children with endless material for their
own creative work.


 Fables are mainly didactic tales developed from several sources. 
We could identify the following as sources for fables:
• Jataka tales
• Panchatantra
• Jean de la Fontaine retelling of Aesop’s tales in verse
The characteristics of fables are the following:
• Stories are short.
• The stories have a lesson. They’re didactic.
• Animals and natural elements (i.e. rocks, the wind…) can speak as humans.
• Characters represent human characteristics or behavior. They have no name.
(i.e. the fox; it represents slyness)
• Few characters appear in these stories. Usually we only find two or three
characters in these stories.
• Plots usually present a single event.


The novel is a kind of children's literature. It is a story in prose, long
enough to fill one or more volumes, about either imaginary or historical
people. The Novels by Dickens are examples Novels tend to have fairly
complex structures, in which some or other of the following element can
be recognized:
• setting
• characters
• plot
• narrative
• techniques and
• language.

When we think of children’s literature we should remember the following names:

Charles Perrault

 Was a French writer who lived in the second half of XVII century. He was one of the first writers in European literature who turned his eyes to folklore.
Born  1628 in a clerical bourgeois family, Perrault received legal education and had high royal office.
In the second half of XVII century there was a dispute amidst French writers about the advantage of modern writers compared to the writers of antiquity. Charles Perrault played an important role in this dispute, opposing to the genre and thematic limitations of classical literature.
In 1671 Charles Perrault was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.
In Folk Art Perrault found rich stories and images to create new artistic works. He turned to folklore by collecting a number of stories and published them in 1697 under the title "Tales of mother Goose". This collection included eight fairy tales, including "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss in Boots",  "Little Thumb" and "Cinderella."

Grimm Brothers 

The Brothers Grimm became famous as the authors of fairy tales and were the most important historians of medieval language and folklore.

Jakob Karl Grimm was born on January 4, 1785, in Hanau, Germany. His brother, Wilhelm Karl Grimm, was born on February 24 of the following year. They were the oldest surviving sons of Philipp Grimm, a lawyer who served as Hanau's town clerk. As small children they spent most of their time together; aside from a brief period of living apart, they were to remain together for the rest of their lives. Their even-tempered personalities made it easy for them to work together on projects. The main difference in their personalities seems to have been that Jakob, the healthier of the two, had more taste for research work, and it was he who worked out most of their theories of language and grammar. Wilhelm was physically weaker but was a somewhat warmer person and more interested in music and literature. He was responsible for the pleasant style of their collection of fairy tales.

The romantic movement in Germany (a movement in the arts that favored a return to nature and a greater focus on national culture, especially folk tales) awakened the Germans' interest in the past of their own country. Although some work in the rediscovery and editing of medieval (from the Middle Ages, 500–1500) German literature had already been started in the eighteenth century, it was the poets and theorists of the next century who first focused national attention on the origins of German culture and literature. While most of the poets viewed medieval literature mainly as an inspiration for new writing, others turned their attention to the investigation of the past. The Grimm brothers were the most important of these early language and folklore romantic historians. The Grimm brothers' last years were spent in preparing a complete dictionary of the German language, tracing the origin of every word. The Grimms' dictionary was carried on by generations of scholars after the brothers' deaths, and it was finally finished in 1960. Its completed form consists of sixteen large volumes.Wilhelm died in Berlin on December 16, 1859. Jakob continued to work on the dictionary and related projects until his death in Berlin on September 20, 1863.

Hans Christian Andersen

Was a Danish writer, born in Odense. Physically unattractive, had a sad youth, marked by loneliness, melancholy, suicidal ideation and naive mysticism.   Andersen is known above all for his children's stories, written from 1835, with considerable success, editing from there almost one volume per year.

Success would follow him to his death. In full glory died of liver cancer on August 4, 1875, at age 70. The personality of the author explains his talent for writing children's stories, as his sensitivity led him to contemplate reality with a look always new. Between his productions, there is a distinction between fantasy stories (Elves, for example) and realistic stories (The Ugly Duckling)
Among his most famous stories are:

The Ugly Duckling

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

The Emperor's New Clothes

The Snow Queen

The Red Shoes

The Brave Little Tailor

the Little Mermaid

People who contributed to the analysis of Literature for children

Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) 

Was a Russian formalist who dedicated himself to investigate the similarities of the stories through a fairy tale morphology. In his "Morphology of the Folktale" (1928), Propp, based on historical analysis of ethnological materials relating tales from Africa, America, the European classical world, of Byzantine and Russian folk storytelling, and concludes that tales reflect historically locatable, previous mystical conceptions.
Propp extracted from his studies three basic principles:
1. Constant and stable elements of the story, are the roles of the characters, regardless of who performs or its embodiment.
2. The number of functions (or actions) that occur in the story, is limited.
3. The sequence of functions is always identical.


 Propp argued that all fairy tales were constructed of certain plot elements, which he called "functions" that occurred in an determined sequence. These are:


He also concluded that all the characters could be resolved into 8 broad character types in the 100 tales he analyzed:

The villain who struggles against the hero.
The dispatcher who makes the lack known and sends the hero off.
The (magical) helper who helps the hero in their quest.
The princess or prize :which is what the hero deserves, usually when it is about a princess the hero is unable to marry her because of an unfair evil, usually because of the villain and the hero's journey is often ended when he marries the princess,thereby beating the villain.
Her father who gives the task to the hero, identifies the false hero. Propp noted that functionally, the princess and the father cannot be clearly distinguished.
The donor who prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical object.
The hero or victim/seeker hero who reacts to the donor, weds the princess.
False hero who takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to marry the princess

Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990)

Was an Austrian-born American child psychologist and writer. He applied psychoanalytic principles to social problems, especially in child rearing. Bettelheim was a good storyteller and popularizer of Freud's ideas, and his books sold very successfully. He recounted his clinical experience in three books about the Orthogenic School, Love Is Not Enough: A Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed Children (1950), Truants from Life (1955), and A Home for the Heart (1974), and in The Empty Fortress (1967), which studies three cases of autism. The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976), a study of the role of fairy tales on the development of the unconscious, is Bettelheim's best-selling book. He also wrote a book on education in the kibbutzim, The Children of the Dream (1969), and many other works on children's education (Dialogues with Mothers, 1962; A Good Enough Parent, 1987; and numerous articles). Dr. Bettelheim taught us that fairy tales are an endless source of aesthetic pleasure and have great influence in the education of children.

 Fairy tales - Little Red Riding Hood - Cinderella - Snow White -Sleeping Beauty - Hansel and Gretel - exert a liberating function and training for child mentality and endow it with moral and emotional support. By identifying with the same characters in the stories, children begin to experience for themselves feelings of justice, loyalty, love, courage, not imposed lessons, if not as a joyful discovery, as an organic part of the adventure of living.

Maria Tatar

Maria Tatar is a teacher and a writer. She's not just any teacher though; Tatar teaches folklore, children's literature and Germanic culture studies at none other than Harvard University. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology. In an interview you can see at the Barnes & Noble website, Tatar says that the combination of horror and beauty is what drew her into the study of folklore. The woman is a prolific translator and annotator of classic fairy tales and has made herself "the" expert in the field. Maria Tatar expresses that stories share moral aspects, giving life's lessons and transmitting wonderful messages for kids. Nevertheless, she explains that moral is added to fairy tales when they are rewritten for children.
She is the author of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood , Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood and many other books on folklore and fairy stories. She is also the editor and translator of The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Brothers Grimm , The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, The Annotated Peter Pan, The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition and The Grimm Reader . She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In an interview for the Harvard Gazzete , Tatar talks about writing her book The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales (W.W. Norton 2002), teaching fairy tales and why she thinks the tales appeal to such a wide age group. 
For more information visit Maria´s forum: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tatar/

Kieran Egan (born 1942)

 Is the contemporary educational philosopher and a student of the classics, anthropology, cognitive psychology, and cultural history.
Kieran Egan criticizes the principles underlying the teaching in primary schools, whereby children learn only if we proceed from the concrete to the abstract, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, and the conceptualizing symbolicmanipulation. These approaches neglect the fundamental tools with which children have to attribute meaning to their experience and the new information they receive: imagination and fantasy.

Currently most of the authors, based on empirical observations, assert that children learn from what they already know. Therefore, when children come to school, are able to produce mental images and abstract knowledge have paired some very powerful: goodness/ badness, courage / cowardice, true / false, etc.. Both mental imagery as abstract knowledge allow children understand Snow White, or have in his mind the animals talk, even when they know from experience that this is not so.

If we know that the above is true, then we cannot say categorically that the child learns from the concrete to the abstract. Therefore we cannot say that history is not taught to young children because they lack the knowledge needed to make sense of abstract. Children have the conceptual tools necessary to make sense of history, to learn about our past, to understand the struggle for freedom and against violence, etc.. Children use these concepts to learn about aspects of the world and experience.

Tales from around the world

African tales

In Africa, in the grand scheme of things and time, printed material is a fairly new development, so these stories had to survive through generations without being written down. African folktales are intended to teach people, particularly the young people, about life lessons and ways they should conduct themselves in order to succeed in life and love. Most of the stories come from the south of the continent and , as is common in the oral tradition stories, appears animals with human characteristics and a high burden of symbolism. The stories are often accompanied with a moral end.

Common Themes In African Folktales

Anansi The Trickster 

Anansi (as he is known in Ghana), the famous spider is usually the “bad guy”; a frequent trickster in folktales circulated around the vast continent, he goes by many different names depending on the country and tribe where a story is being told. Through the character of Anansi, listeners can learn from his wise, humorous, and sometimes idiotic ways. This legendary character of Anansi has even travelled as far as Caribbean island folk tales, where he has the name of “Ti Malice” in Haiti for example.
Another very common characteristic of folk tales from Africa is the use of nature. In almost all stories, animals play a significant role, sometimes taking on human characteristics such as becoming the protagonists and cameo roles from which the main lesson or moral of the story is learned. Some of the common animal characters include:
A wide variety of birds
…and many others

The natural habitat and environment of these animals also teaches the listener about the land in which they live. Many folktales talk about the landscape and climate of the African continent, such as:
The suffering of the dry season or of droughts when rain hasn’t come for several years
The fruitful times of the rainy season that allow the rivers to swell and plants to produce
The vast savannas, muddy rivers, and spectacular sunsets provide a diverse backdrop against which the stories take place.
Just like in real life, and quite unlike the majority of Western folktales, not many African folktales end with “happily ever after”, but they spread important life lessons of selflessness, community engagement, honor, loyalty, honesty, and friendship.

Asian tales

Within the Asian continent the most famous tales are Arabic folktales, Chinese folktales, Indian folktales and Japanese folktales. This tales are told in their local dialects (Japanese folktales for example) which may be difficult to understand because of intonation and pronunciations differences, conjugations and vocabulary.
The animals or creatures are known by their abilities, foxes are mentioned frequently for instance. Another characteristic that these tales contain is marriages between humans and non-humans. The Asian tales allow children to experience the culture and heritage or tradition.

Latin-american tales

Similar to tales of other cultures, there are preserved elements of ancient story types combined with folklore of indigenous peoples.  In Mexican culture there are many popular cuento-tales of magic, many of which are based on historical events.  There are also many creation (pourquoi) and religious stories.  The trickster and noodlehead are familiar characters.  

Common characteristics:

  • Are generally part of the oral tradition of a group
  • Are more frequently told than read
  • Are passed down from one generation to another
  • Take on the characteristics of the time and place in which they are told
  • Sometimes take on the personality of the storyteller
  • Speak to universal and timeless themes.
  • Try to make sense of our existence, help humans cope with the world in which they live, or explain the origin of something.
  • Are often about the common person
  • May contain supernatural elements
  • Function to validate certain aspects of culture

Australian tales

Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines give us access to the fascinating and unknown universe of cultures whose origins are lost in the mists of time. In the visions of the Dreamtime the border between man and animal, between earthly and celestial bodies, are often blurred. All elements of the cosmos participate in a mysterious symphony of subtle harmonic nuances.
 Aboriginal children were told stories from a very early age; stories that helped them understand the air, the land, the universe, their people, their culture and their history. Elders told stories of their journeys and their accomplishments. As the children grew into adults they took on the responsibility of passing on the stories. These stories are as much a cultural necessity as they are entertainment and are still passed on orally though many are now recorded in print, audio and video.

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