Many may say that children’s literature is at the very epicentre of our culture, with fairy tales being the origin. If you ask a person to recollect the plot of Snow White, it is conceivable that they will be able to outline a version of the tale. Fairy tales and other popular children’s books,] are ingrained into our culture- for example, the character Mary Poppins, created by P.L Travers, is a figure of perfect domesticity and is used as a model within society for the archetypal ‘good mother’. The word fairytale has become synonymous with an idyllic setting, with the phrase ‘fairytale wedding’ often being used to describe a dream ceremony. So if children’s literature is so central to our culture, why is it often regarded as inferior to adult’s texts?
Children’s literature cannot be discounted as secondary to the works of Shakespeare, or Chaucer. Writers such as J.M Barrie, or Lewis Carol are just as crucial to literature, as it is their didactic novels that we read as children that shape our understanding of culture and language. Lewis Carol introduces the idea of language as an arbitrary concept in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, making this not only a childish tale but a critique of language and social constructs.
When you begin to analyse children’s literature, it is realised that these stories that are perceived to be for children are written with great complexity. It becomes impossible to believe that these texts, which are rich with satire, social critique and ideologies, are merely intended for children who may be initially naïve to these elements. It both introduces children subtly to these ideas and reveals them starkly for the more experienced reader. For example, Kenneth Grahame’s novel The Wind in the Willows offers for children a tale of friendship and overcoming personal faults through the animal world, however from an adult perspective, this novel can be seen as a satire of the male middle class who exert patriarchal and classist views on the poor. The chapter ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, could even be said to be an allusion to the hidden elements of homoeroticism within the male middle class in the early 20th Century.
Children’s texts introduce important ideas, such as inclusivity, and the acceptance of deviation from the norm. Some children’s texts even explore more complex ideas such as feminism, postcolonialism and posthumanism, yet they present these ideas in an accessible way. This is why these texts are so very vital within literature, as it is not necessary to delve into complicated texts to understand and see examples of important ideologies. Books like A Bear Called Paddington, written by Michael Bond explores immigration, and the hostility that immigrants often face in Western countries. It shows Paddington trying to adapt to his foreign surroundings, despite animosity from taxi drivers and shop keepers, purely because of his difference. Yet this text shows Paddington facing these obstacles and thriving, and ultimately being accepted. This text teaches children about the toxicity of racism and the importance to accept those who may appear different, and not to undermine the intellect or talent of a person just because they find it difficult to adapt to our culture.
Children’s texts can be enjoyable and easy to read, whilst being profoundly complex and intriguing. They should not be disregarded due to their simple use of language and accessible format, as they often have the ability to present intricate ideas, whilst remaining entertaining and light.
Children’s books are the foundation of our education and shape the minds of the young. Acclaimed texts such as Jane Eyre, or The Great Gatsby, are extremely important within literature, yet they are books that one will read later in life once they have some understanding of social issues and concepts. That is why children’s texts are so important, as they form the basis of our understanding of the world and its ideas.