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Fear and Risk in Children's Literature

The constant messaging nowadays to "stay safe" seems at odds with most of the books written for children in elementary school. Fairy tales, adventure stories, and even classic and seemingly gentle books like "The Secret Garden," encourage children to face their fears, take risks and stand up for what they believe in, even if it endangers themselves.

How are today’s children to interpret characters like the Pevensies in Narnia, Lina and Doon from the City of Ember, or Parvana from "The Breadwinner," in the context of risk-averse messaging? Do these kinds of stories still reflect our values, and what kind of benefits do children get from them?

  • I love this topic and can think of other books to discuss, too. Really, you could make the argument that if a children's lit protagonist is an orphan or in a non-traditional family situation, or situation of any kind (and most are), they're already taking risks. They may already not be safe, through no fault of their own. And I love that about good children's lit. I sense you're afraid we may lose that, and I share your concern. If no one claims this, I'm taking it! :) – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
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  • I wonder if a brief history of children’s lit might help contextualize this shift from adventure narratives to our cultural desire to protect children - from my knowledge a lot of children’s books first started out as instructive tales, like Aesop’s Fables or A Pilgrim’s Progress, and then developed into the children lit we recognize more broadly now. I also wonder if there could be an examination of the cultural shifts between some of these classic children’s lit works, like Narnia, and now. For example, would Narnia have been as successful if it had been released in 2020? Or is there something about post-WWII England that made those stories extra enticing? And how does this cultural context play into the understanding of fear/adventure? This is a great topic :) thanks for your ideas! – cassidyleone 3 months ago
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