Children’s literature has always been a powerful tool in education. Playing an essential role in the development of children, books psychologically and linguistically aid their growth.
However, the socio-emotional messages that children’s books convey are often overlooked. I want to focus on how children’s books tackle diversity, sexuality and race, and the emotional and developmental effects of discussing these important issues within a children’s medium.
Children’s literature offers children an opportunity to discover their heritage and other people’s heritage while encouraging empathy toward others and their culture. Discussing sensitive and important issues exposes children to other people’s stories, motivations, and lives, helping them connect to other people on an emotional and psychological level.
Novels such as ‘Coming To England’ explore national identity and heritage whilst making this difficult topic digestible for children. Children’s books also tackle contemporary issues and how they impact children; ‘The Boy At The Back of The Class’ shows the child’s perspective on the refugee crisis and shows how children are impacted by a variety of crises. In a multicultural society, stories such as these help children understand others, their culture, their heritage, and the society they live in.
They understand that emotions are natural and should be expressed in a healthy way
Not only teaching empathy, children’s books also explore emotions; something new that children may be experiencing and struggling with. When children read stories that can help them understand and accept their feelings, they understand that emotions are natural and should be expressed in a healthy way. This helps children develop a level of emotional intelligence and growth through the exploration of their own, and others, feelings. It causes them to self-reflect on how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. Novels such as ‘What Am I Feeling’ normalise emotions, and show how they are an integral part of life.
One of the most important ideas that children’s books teach is that everyone is different in society, and focus on how difference is not a negative, but something positive that should be uplifted and celebrated. Children’s literature shows children people who are different, in a plethora of ways, and helps to transport young people into their experiences and histories.
Children have the opportunity to learn about people who are disabled, immigrants or those who follow a different religion. Authors primarily explore these issues through representation; by including characters of different races, ethnicities, religions, and children with disabilities, authors show children that not everyone is like them, while also promoting messages of solidarity and welcomeness towards people who are different.
Additionally, this helps minority children feel heard and encourages them to embrace their differences by showing them a variety of differences that makes everyone unique. For example, ‘All Are Welcome‘ highlights and celebrates all the differences that children possess and showing that our differences shouldn’t divide us, but unite us. Children’s literature can educate and promote the values of equality, unity, and representation, which are integral values within our societies.
One of the increasing topics that have been discussed in children’s novels is pride
Ranging from the depiction of divorce, bullying and prejudice, children’s books explore topics that children experience and show them they are not alone in their situation. One of the increasing topics that have been discussed in children’s novels is pride; being proud of your heritage, features and culture.
The discussion of these topics has been primarily aimed at black children, who experience discrimination regarding their culture and features, predominantly their hair. Novels such as ‘How We Love Our Hair‘, which encourage self-esteem and hair love towards afro hair from a young age, help foster confidence when 70% of black children feel under pressure over afro hair.
Children’s books also foster the idea that children are not alone in these struggles; it shows that problems such as bullying are widespread and helps normalise how children may feel in these situations. ‘How I Beat My Bully‘, based off of true events, teaches children how to empower themselves in difficult situations. Not only aimed at children, the novel also illustrates what adults can do to help children empower themselves in similar situations. Children’s books enter the mindset of children and help children and adults figure out solutions to problems and how they can uplift themselves during and after these events.
Despite the colourful illustrations, fun rhymes, and comedy, children’s books are powerful in educating children about important topics. Children’s literature gives children awareness and appreciation of their own culture as well as others; it develops their emotional intelligence; and encourages children to self reflect on their own emotions, families, and societies.
Children’s books are the key to building empathy, understanding, and acceptance from a young age
Even when books are not aimed at necessarily targeting important issues, they still do through their depiction of the society we live in. The ‘Great Big Book of Families‘, aims to teach about family diversity, yet it also explores racial diversity, LGBTQ families, and how familial structures can be tied to cultural difference. Overall, children’s books are the key to building empathy, understanding, and acceptance from a young age.
Article images courtesy of @usborne_books via instagram.com. Featured image courtesy of Kelli McClintock via Unsplash.com. Image license can be found here.
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