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Violence in Children’s Literature
How Much of it is Necessary?

Violence in Children’s Literature
  • Stories of Robin Hood & His Merry Outlaw... (by )
  • A Little Princess (by )
  • Kidnapped (by )
  • The Swiss family Robinson (by )
  • Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (by )
  • Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen (by )
  • Stories from Greek Mythology (by )
  • Wonder Tales from the Greek and Roman My... (by )
  • The Nine Worlds : Stories from Norse Myt... (by )
  • Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (by )
  • 1001 Nights, Vol. 1 (by )
  • The red fairy book (by )
  • The Blue Fairy Book (by )
  • The Green Fairy Book (by )
  • The yellow fairy book (by )
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Despite modern questions regarding violence in children’s literature and calls to eliminate violence from entertainment aimed at children, childhood has long served as a crucible of violence in life, play, and literature. In her 2010 paper “Does Violence Have a Place in Children’s Literature?” published by Oneota Reading Journal, Megan Creasey points out that children are naturally drawn to stories with violence, if only because they can relate to the violent situations portrayed in those stories. Authors, she says, can use the violent situations in those stories to teach children how to resolve problems without using violence.

Don’t believe that? Take a look at the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and the entire lexicon of Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Arabic, and other mythologies for themes of aggression and violence. Andrew Lang recorded folklore and fairy tales from around the world in his Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Pink, Orange, Violet, Brown, and Grey Fairy Books, all repeating themes of violence and heroism. While these tales frequently showcase the valor and derring-do of princes and knights, those same heroes find themselves mired in dark and violent action instigated by the villains of those tales. The traditional heroines of such stories find themselves the victims of violence, hence the traditional notion of the damsel in distress.

Consider other stories we now consider traditional children’s fare: Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert, Stories of Robin Hood & His Merry Outlaws by Joseph Walker McSpadden, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare,  A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Creasey notes in her paper, “Since aggression is a naturally occurring feeling in all humans, it seems ridiculous to expect that barring violence from children’s books would cease this urge.” For those who disbelieve in the propriety of violence in children’s literature and think that reading tales of violence will scar their children for life, consider these sage words attributed to G. K. Chesterson: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Rather than immerse children in worlds of senseless violence, the violence in children’s literature teaches a culture’s value judgments, traditions, and customs, says Guliz Sahin in “Reflections of Violence on Children’s Books” published through SciVerse ScienceDirect by Elsevier. Sahin notes that reading materials have an active role in children’s growth and development. Echoing Chesterson’s sentiment, he posits that violence in children’s literature can be used to transmit cultural values to teach moral concepts and responsibility.

By Karen M.Smith

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