Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing books for children by Leanne Willetts

(me enjoying a book with a friend)

In this article, I explore my experiences with children's literature both in my youth and as an Early Childhood Educator. I discuss folk tales and some of my favourite picture books.

Literature is a powerful tool that must be used wisely. We must always be conscious of the messages it is sending to children.

The world is not a bed of roses and, if we wish to dramatize this fact through the use of literature, that is our choice. During one placement block, I volunteered at a preschool day care in the core area. These children were socio-economic special needs. Possibly due to their environment, some children had aggressive tendencies. The Director's files recorded histories of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Cinderella's struggle to find love was a favorite tale for these children.

I, as a child, was entertained by a variety of literature. One book I remember with fear is Sleeping Beauty. Many have described this story as being wonderful, romantic and so on. Seldom is the tale described as a horror story, but to me it truly was. The vision of the innocent babe falling prey to the villainous fairy haunted my dreams. I firmly believed that, as long as I was with my parents, nothing could harm me. Sleeping Beauty told another tale. The innocent babe was attacked and there was nothing that her parents could do.

Graduating from the University of Winnipeg

(Professor's comment:  I'd be interested in seeing you think some more about why you might have reacted as you did to Sleeping Beauty.) 

These two accounts state some of the advantages as well as disadvantages of Grimm (or that genre) fairy tales. Some children are ready for this form of literature. We are told that it helps them work-out problems they may have which are unreachable in reality. Fairy tales, then, give the child a chance to work through the problem with the security that, when he shuts the book, the fictional problem will be resolved.

Some children, however, are not ready for this form of literature. Instead of helping them to deal with realities' horrors, it creates horrors which their mind cannot escape. 

What then is the solution? Clearly it is not to favor one group to the detriment of the other. We, as day care professionals, must remain sympathetic to both groups. 


We must ensure that our libraries contain a wide range of books. Once again, expanding your library takes careful thought. The idea is to attempt to appeal to the widest range of literary taste. 

(Professor's comment:  Should there be no attempt to guide and develop taste?)

It is important to expose children to a variety of literary forms. Books which I would include on this list are as follows:

-Books from the Sesame Street series such as The Monster at the End of this Book. This book creates a fun, joyous reading environment. It's humour is warm and at a level which children can understand.

(Professor's comment:  Both of these statements need some evidence to support them.)

Books written by Robert Munsch such as Love You Forever. This is the story of the special relationship between parents and children. It is a warm loving story. A story which I believe is important to share with all children. Robert Munsch has great skill in storytelling.

(Professor's comment:  This particular Munsch story has always seemed to me to celebrate a particularly manipulative style of parenting.)

Our duty is to collect special stories, then display them in an appealing manner that invites children to look. The final judge should and must be the child.

(Professor's comment:  only?)

Remember, be sensitive to the uniqueness of each child.

I wrote this article on September 13, 1987 for the University of Winnipeg's Children's Literature. The professor's comments are highlighted in red.


Sharing Stories with Children
(an article about my 2015 experience of reading stories to a group of children)

Next week:  I've kept this blog for five years--since October, 2010. I've post an article (or short story) on time, every time--with very few exceptions. With a record like that you might think I could be a journalist. Hmm. Yeah, you might think that. And, in fact, several years ago, I considered a career in journalism. I showed up at the college for the entrance exam--and everything. But... Well, I'll explain what happened after that in a short story that I'll share next Sunday night Monday. Please stay tuned.

Sharing my author journey...

As I've shared in my last post, I'm currently reading this book...

And it has already earned its weight in gold.
In my latest reading, the key word was 
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said, "Don't put anything in a story that does not reveal character or advance the action." While he's talking about writing for adults, this is doubly important in picture books. Every word, every sentence must be part of the whole and must lead to the ending. (p. 14-15)