Can Children’s Books Affect Children’s Values and How to Make Sure they Do.
I certainly hope so, but the answer is not so straightforward. While there has been a few studies on the subject, the results are not conclusive. It is easy to measure and quantify the contents of books, but it is not so simple to do the same with their effects on young people’s minds. Common sense, however, seems to indicate the answer is ‘yes’.
Reading to children has many positive aspects, something I’ve written about earlier this month, not the less of which is bonding. But there is always a learning factor. Otherwise, why are we reading them books about animals and the noises they make? Though it is anybody’s guess why, like Dara O’Briain said in one of his stand ups, we are so invested in children learning these sounds, especially children living in cities who are unlikely to ever cross a cow. Though, if I had to venture a guess, it’s just a way to familiarise kids with sounds, something they will later see a lot of in school.
There are books about maths and language and science. But most of all, there are books that teach children about patience and friendship, books with morals.
But the problem is this: how do authors know what to teach children?
For me, it was easy. My children struggle with frustration when they can’t do something and give up very quickly. This is a problem I had when I was a child too. It was easy to pick this as a theme for my first story and, as I’ve explained elsewhere, it was a specific incident that inspired The Blue Giant.
The other factor for me was the Referendum in 2016 which gave birth to Brexit and the division that we live in currently. A lot of the issue is born due to unwanted (but very needed) immigration. The second theme for both The Blue Giant and The Branch Witch was one of open-mindedness and kindness to others we feel are different.
Are both these moral messages needed by kids? Most definitely.
Will they have the desired impact?
One can only hope.
Stories carry a heavy weight in the human subconscious. We are always telling stories. Whether you are reading a book, summarizing a movie you watched, telling your friend what happened to you last time you went out or, like me, what amazing adventure you got yourself into during the school run, we are constantly telling stories. They say everybody has a novel in them (whether they have the ability to write it or not, is debatable though), even people who don’t read. I have a lot of non-writer friends, of course, who suddenly go ‘I should try to write a novel!’ Let’s ignore the writer’s outrage at hearing somebody who has never put pen to paper say that, and focus on the fact that many people do think they have a story to tell. Some think they can write it, others feel compelled to tell you, because they are so sure it’s a winner, so you can write it for them (it wouldn’t work, in case you wondered, except if you get a ghostwriter). Is it because everybody has author ambitions? Or is it because, as a species, we have told stories since we walked out of a cave and sat around a fire?
I think the latter.
So, having created stories for our entire existence, is it even possible to deny the effect stories have on us? On a long term, probably not.
But what about short term?
And in children?
Again, difficult to say, not less because of the sheer amount of children books published nowadays. Moral message or not, new books are coming out every day. Tonight you might read a story about perseverance and tomorrow about being obedient, while the other five nights you’ll read stories about going to bed. How will children remember what Maven or Perry did to Yelena?
Well, I believe books need a bit of parental help. My kids, like any good artist’s children, don’t care much about my characters. P!nk’s son cried when she sang to him, so I take that it is a rite of passage for your kids to dislike what you do* if you’re an artist.
In the case of my kids, I use other characters. Whatever we’ve read, if they como to a specific struggle, I remind them of the panda/bear/cat/little girl/flying cactus of that story we read the other day and what did they do in that situation.
Neil Gaiman said he read any books at any age. He didn’t have restrictions in his reading, and he has come out a tremendously successful, seemingly kind and overall open-minded human being. That would be because he was able to judge what he read and what was good and what wasn’t so good. And that only comes from education.
The thing is, if you’re raising your children to judge others, there is no book that will make them change their minds. However, a book, a good children’s story with a moral message, might reinforce the concepts you are trying to teach them already.
So, can children’s books change children’s values? On their own? I don’t think so. Maybe as adults, the right book, the right information, could change somebody’s minds, but as children, I think they are too highly influenced by parents.
Children’s books, however, can underpin the values and principles we are trying to teach them. Ultimately, it all rests on the parents, like most of everything involving with children.
*It doesn’t only apply to children. Both my parents were in business and had a couple of shops. I always swore I would never have my own business. Swore it! And yet, here I am…
We’re about to release our first e-mail to the Young Readers’ Club, with a list of the best picture books to get the children for Christmas. Don’t miss out and join our club below before it’s too late!