by Chadwick Lewis (Rated G)
Whether they be in books, movies, or TV shows, there is certainly no shortage of children’s stories out there. This cannot come as a great shock to anyone, given the inquisitive minds of children. Children have a peculiar fascination with that which is unfamiliar to them. It is common for a child to stare in awe at things which seem rather ordinary to the grown-ups around them. It is this same sense of wonder that draws children to stories. These stories allow them to imagine people, places, and things they have never seen before, which is so exciting for them.
As long as there have been children with active imaginations, there have been storytellers willing to indulge these children’s fantasies. Thus, the fairy tale was invented. It is from the fairy tale that all subsequent children’s stories came to exist. Like a river flowing to the sea, the tropes of every great children’s story can be traced back to the stories found in the fairy tales of old.
When I say “great children’s story,” I do not refer to the awful, childish things that Hollywood frequently plasters across the silver screen or airs to television. These are characterized by nearly constant immature humor, lazy writing, and overly simple characters. These are the movies and shows that you as an adult look at, see that it isn’t something you would particularly enjoy to watch, and then dismiss your issues with, “Oh well, it’s just for kids anyway.”
Those stories ought to be avoided by adults and children alike because they contribute nothing of value. In fact, they can even be stifling to the development of the child because of the way these stories condescend to the child. Writers of these kinds of stories seem to be under the absurd impression that children are deficient in their comprehension skills. This is ridiculous since children are often some of the most perceptive people on the planet, which is why parents are often counseled to mind their behavior around their children. Children pick up on and take on what they are exposed to, which is why exposing them to stories that treat them as if they have lower intellects does not help them grow in any way.
This begs the question, what is a great children’s story? Put simply, a great children’s story is one that teaches the child how to live well in this world. Note that I did not say “live comfortably.” I said “live well.” There is a vast difference between these two. Teaching children to live for the comforts this world can offer leads them to complacency. Teaching them to live well, however, builds character. It shows them how to live as honorable men and women.
It is therefore vital that the children’s stories we show our children feature heroes and heroines that bear honorable qualities. They must be courageous, compassionate, kind, loyal, and just. They must be willing to stand for what is right and oppose what is evil. This requires the presence of villains that embody traits that are dishonorable. These sinister characters, through their scheming and ruthlessness, must present a genuine threat to the heroes and heroines. This way the child gets a clear idea of that which is wicked in the world and is afforded hope when the “good guys” are shown to be triumphant over the “bad guys.”
Through these fictional conflicts, the child is able to grow in a very practical way into an understanding of right and wrong. They are taught what to aspire towards and what to avoid. In this way, these stories can have a fundamental and helpful role in the raising of children.
It is also these conflicts that make these stories beneficial for adults as well. They serve as a reminder to us grown-ups of what we should be about. These stories may sometimes seem simple compared to stories intended for adults, but it is in their simplicity that their beauty and efficacy really shines. They provide us with straightforward examples of how to be a good person. It shows the character traits we ought to adopt, as well as how we can be true friends to the people around us.
In this way, the children’s story that is well-told can be of great encouragement to the adult. I daresay the majority of people understand this on some subconscious level. Why else would adults still be so attached to the stories of their childhoods and look to them with such nostalgia? Stories made each and every one of us. By holding on to these stories, we hold on to the lessons we learned from them. So revisit them, love them, and continue to learn from them. Never let anyone disparage you for enjoying it. You would not be who you are without these stories and these characters, and therefore they are important. They matter. Enjoy them for yourself, and be sure to share them with your own children, if you be so blessed as to have children. They need these stories just as much as (if not more than) you do.