Morals in Children's Fiction
Storytelling appears in all cultures in various forms. Adults have relied on storytelling to instruct children in the norms and mores of their particular cultures. Stories and fables provide a forum in which young children can learn about right and wrong behavior as well the the more serious problem of good and evil. Moral stories are able to present a picture not only of ideal human qualities but also provide examples of redemption.
Fables are among the oldest stories that present moral instruction and lessons for children. Aesop's fables were written more than 2,500 years in Greece but the moral lessons still resonate with young children and their parents in the contemporary world. The typical structure of the fable involves an animal or inanimate object that takes on human voice and characteristics. The main character is motivated by goals, encounters conflicts and has to deal with the consequences of his behavior and conduct. Aesop's fables present moral lessons on a variety of issues ranging from the dangers of lying and being cruel to others, rewards for kindness and generosity, and the distinction between appearance and reality. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is one of the most well known stories in children's literature.
Grimm's Fairy Tales
The Grimm brothers collected numerous fairy tales, stories and legends from their native Germany in the early part of the 19th century. The first collection of fairy tales was published in 1812 under the title "Children's Tales." However, much of the content was criticized for being too violent and inappropriate for children. The Grimm brothers edited the stories to make them more suitable for a young audience. Stories such as "Snow White," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Rapunzel" have become classic stories in children's literature. The fairy tales offer numerous lessons in moral behavior and instruction.
Mark Twain set the standard for modern children's literature. "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" are adventure stories in which children are confronted with real life moral conflicts, treacherous adults, social injustice, responsibility and a plethora of other issues. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are presented realistically and not idealized. Their flaws as well as their good points are on display. In this sense, they serve as models and examples of moral and immoral behavior.
The market for children's books grew by leaps and bounds in the 20th century. Consequently, a number of books have become classics such as "Where The Wild Things Are," "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," the stories of Winnie the Pooh as well as all of Dr. Seuss's works. Each of these works, in their own way, present moral lessons and instruction for small children. In addition to the classics, numerous books are available that appeal to children at different ages.
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