Books should teach children something


What makes a children’s fiction book desirable for parents? Is it the compelling plot? The design? The cost? Or perhaps it’s what they think their child will take away from it? (Notice how I’m deliberately focussing on this being the parents’ choice).

Some context

As part of my day-time job, I spend days and days telling the general public why they shouldn’t feed the wild ponies. Why? Because not only is it bad for them, it can cause them act aggressively towards those who (quite rightly) won’t surrender their picnic, and it encourages them to loiter near roads and places where there are lots of people and potential snackage.

We use printed articles and leaflets, social media, blog posts, and still we encounter this behaviour of feeding and petting wild animals. So why is this? Stubbornness to accept that their behaviour is in some way damaging? Or a lack of knowledge?

Perhaps we didn’t ‘catch’ this behaviour when they were younger and now its ingrained in them? FYI, I’ve never understood why we use the idea of ‘catching them whilst their young’, it suggests we grab them off the streets, sit them down and feed them life lessons: thou shalt not pick thy nose, thou shall always send a thank you note, etc. It also suggests that we can’t change people’s behaviour or teach them once this window of opportunity has gone.

So what?

It got me thinking about what we expect from books children read or we read to them. Now I’m not suggesting children’s books shouldn’t teach children or contain what we perceive to be important messages, but does every book have to do this? There are books that do both sides of this debate marvellously, but as someone that one day wants to write books for children, I find myself already thinking about who is reading what I write and what they could take away from it.

And let’s not forget that there’s always the idea that even if a piece of fiction isn’t ‘designed’ to teach children, it does anyway through the act of it being read to them or them reading it. I could go on, but for now I’ll revert back to my original idea.

So, should children’s fiction teach them something? Share your thoughts below.

An interesting little bit of reading on writing children’s fiction can be found here on the Guardian’s website by Scarlett Thomas.

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