Ten Values of Children’s Literature
1969 Annual Convention of the
International Reading Association

Undoubtedly, children’s literature has countless values, but this
paper will focus upon ten benefits of good literature enjoyed by children from three to fifteen years of age. It is difficult to distinguish
between adult and child literature. Ordinarily, mature books have more
pages, and offer more complex plots and characterizations, and are more
concerned with sex and mayhem. Many values of children’s literature can
be cited, but the most precious benefit is the delight and enchantment
which good literature affords boys and girls.
Competent observers can measure enjoyment by subjective means such
as the sparkle in a child’s eye as he shares his favorite book about a
horse or a dog, a sense of kinship which peers have when they discuss
The B rrowers (57) or Wind in the Willows, a deep sense of involvement
in difficulties of Wilbur and Charlotie in Charlotte’s Web, (88) or the
quiet contemplative look of a boy curled up in a chair immersing himself
in A Wrinkle in Time (22). Some children enjoy literature for its
therapeutic value. A boy who reads The Loner (90) by :ester Wier empathizes with the nameless child who wanders alone to migrant camps, and
the controversial book, Drop, -Dead (12), by Julia Cunningham depicts a
lonely boy and his inner turmoil concerning the meaning of security and
Younger boys and girls enjoy poetry when it is presented in an enjoyable manner. The very young child relishes the rhythm of the words
in “Mrs. Peck Pigeon” by Eleanor Farjeon, or “Jump and Jiggle” by L.
Beyer. He struts as a pigeon or pantomimes the movement of creatures
jumping and jiggling. He can march up and down a hill to the “Grand Old
Duke of York” or listen to the rhythm and story of “The Pasture” by
Robert Frost. A child loves melodious lines in poetry or prose or
listens to the alliterative tune of S in “Sea Shell” by Amy Lowell or
the W and Wh sounds giving the speed of a train in “Whickety-Whack” by
Aileen Fisher. Again he may listen to the words of Margaret Wise Brown
in “Little Black Bug” or be lulled by the tune of “April Rain Song” by
Langston Hughes. Occasionally a child may dramatize such a poem as “A
Fairy Went A Marketing” by Rose Fyleman or “The Owl and the Pussycat”
by Edward Lear.
Older children enjoy reading horse and animal stories. Boys and
girls in the fifth and sixth grades immerse themselves in books by such
an author as Marguerite Henry. Her volumes such as Mistyof Chincotea
(E2), xim.21..asito. (26), and Gat…2f121.1ziaj.Pridepaiata-7;727., are2
relived imaginatively. Somehow boys and girls can identify with the
words of Mrs. Henry as her distinctive prose recreates the training of
horses in White Stallion of (28). They sense the cruelty and
avaraciousness of hunters who almost destroyed mustangs for dog food in
Mustang Wild Spirit of the West (29).
Other books of realistic fiction are appreciated by intermediate
grade children who are finding their places in a peer group. A poignant
book enjoyed by such readers is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
Poor Wanda Petronski, a Polish child from a motherless family tries to
win friends by telling about her hundred dresses even though she daily
wears a faded, well-ironed dress to school. Peggy and her satellite,
Maddie, taunt the child because she is different. Another story about
friends and poverty is The Noonday Friends by Mary Stolz. The contrast
of ideals between Simone who desires a beautiful world and Franny who
recognizes ugliness is clearly delineated, and a quarrel plays a central
part in the story.
Good literature extends the imaginative power of childhood in a way
to allow readers to cope with every day life problems. Such classics as
Alice in Wonderland (8) and The Wizard of Oz (4) pave the way for
science fiction and moon landings. An unusual fantasy involving the
kingdom of Tatrajan is Tatsinda (19) by Elizabeth Enright. All of the
animals have names that commence with “ti”; the names of people start
with “ta”. C. S. Lewis introduces the country of Narnia in his seven
fantasies, which commence with The Lion the Witch and_the Wardrobe (41).
Lloyd Alexander has capitalized upon Welsh legends and mythology in his
imaginary land of Prydain. The High King is an exciting adventure fantasy where the forces of good and evil battle with each other, as valiant
heroes fight to destroy the dreadful cauldron which creates “mute and
deathless warriors”. In addition to Charlotte’s Web (88), young children love Stuart Little (89), an earlier book by E. B. White, which
offers many amusing adventures to a little mouse boy who even substitutes
as a teacher. In The Mousewife (20) by Rumer Godden children sense the
friendship between a timid turtledove and a busy small mousewife. Again,
children are pleased with such animal fantasies as Rabbit Hill (37) and
the Toush Winter (38) by Robert Lawson. In these books one finds that
animals also look at humans as strange persons. An English fantasy
author, Mary Norton, has created the miniature world in The Borrowers (57).
This has been followed by such sequels as The Borrowers AfielaT3g77
The Borrowers Aloft (60), and The Borrowers Afloat TOT Pod and Homily
Clock are disturbed when Arrietty wants to discover a larger world, and
the problems of these lilliputran creatures capture the imaginations of
children who even form Borrower’s Clubs.
The imaginative power of very young children can be extended through
such stories as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (79) by
Dr. Seuss, Tico and the Golden Wing TWErti’Lionni, and Sam Bangs and
Moonshine (337135 Evaline Ness. Dr. Seuss has created many highly
imaginative books but his earlier one on Marco’s fantastic daydreams
on Mulberry Street offers opportunity for amusing daydreams. Younger
boys and girls can imagine that they have a Wishing Bird similar to the
one in Tico and the Golden Wings (48). Boys and girls who read Sam Bangs
and MoonshirieTET’can have fun distitguishing between real talk ana
moonshine talk, and can empathize with Samantha who dreams of mermaids,
lions and baby kangaroos.3
Literature can enlarge imaginative horizons, but it also develops
an appreciation for beauty. Primitive man expressed nearness to nature
through ritual chants such as those reproduced by Richard Lewis in
Out of the Earth_i_DIEL (42) or in The_Sky Clears (15) by A. Grove Day.
Both of these volumes reproduce a ritualistic Navaho chant commencing
with the words, “The voice that beautifies the land”. Eskimos add their
original rhythmical verse to Beyond the High Hills (71) which is accompanied by magnificent color photographs by Father Guy Mary-Rousseliere,
an Oblate priest. Natalia Belting reproduces beauty and a sense of closeness to nature in such volumes as The Earth Is On A Fish’s Back (5),
The Stars Are_Silver Reindeer (6), and The Sun Is A Golden Earring (7).
Each of these books reproduces ideas about nature by people around the
world. A recent volume, The Wind Has Wings (18) Poems from Canada,
compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson also speaks of beauty
in the dramatic flaming forests of Canada. Patricia Hubbell offers
poetic glimpses of beauty in Catch Me Ayind (32). Both !!Gemini” and
“To the Sun” offer a closeness between a poet and the heavens.
Anothei type of beauty and kinship with nature is felt in such
novels as Island _of the Blue Dolphins (62) and The Black Pearl (63) by
Scott O’Dell or Ishi, Last of His Tribe (35) by Theodora Kroeber. In
all of these volumes children sense the beauty and terror of loneliness
as man seeks to survive against the forces of the elements such as a
roaring ocean, the raging wind or unknown monsters of the sea.
A third type of man’s nearness to beauty is expressed in Oriental
verses such as the Japanese haiku form. Richard Lewis has contributed
greatly to this philosophy of beauty in The Moment of Wonder (43) a
collection of Chinese and Japanese Poetry which is illustrated with
paintings by Chinese and Japanese masters. Lewis has also created three
books with striking photographs by Helen Buttfield. One of these is
Of This World (44), A Poet’s Life in Poetry which depicts the life and
poetry of the Japanese Haiku poet, Issa. The other two books are The
Wind and the Rain (45) and The Park (46). In A Spring Garden (47) is
edited by Lewis and is illustrated with dramatic colored pictures by
Ezra Jack Keats. Poems in each of these sources focus upon the quiet
immediacy of beauty.
A fourth value of children’s literature is its contribution to the
growth of a more compassionate or humane human being. In this modern
world of violence, the compassionate individual is often forgotten. In
“Renascence”, the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay speaks of “the compassion that was I”. Younger girls sympathize with Sarah in The .Courage of
Sarah Noble (14) by Alice Dalgliesh and with the brave girl in The
Princess and the Lion (12) by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Sarah Noble has to
conquer fear with courage while alone in the wilderness with owls,
wolves, and unknown Indians. The little Abyssinian princess in the
Coatsworth story travels a dangerous journey with Asafa, her mule, and
I4enelik the lion, to save a kingdom for her imprisoned brother, Prince
Michael. Little Paco, the Indian in the Stinetorf volume, A Charm for
Paco’s Mother (80), feels charity and compassion for many others as he
desperately seeks to pray at the great stone cross on Christmas eve. A
kid is caught dangling in a rabbit snare, and a wheel on Zorro’s cait
needs mending. Malinchina, a little girl has to be cared for while the4
miller seeks a new tree for a wheel. Then there is the stranger at
Mitla and the little charcoal worker, Miguel, who desperately needs a
warm coat.
One feels great compassion for Negro slave, Estebanico, whose
character is so beautifully dilineated in Walk the World’s Rim (3) by
Betty Baker. This is the tale of the Cabeza de Vaca expedition as seen
through the eyes of Chakoh, an Indian lad who suffers hunger and many
hardships in accompanying the expedition. Chakoh learns that the world
is a large place and the white man’s god is different from his Spirit of
Misfortune. One can also empathize with Ishi in Ishi, Last of His Tribe
(35) when he realizes that the death of each one of the old people means
less surviving members for his tribe until at last he is alone. Again,
children can empathize with Manolo in Shadow of a Bull (91). Although
he is the son of the greatest bullfighter in Spain, he does not have that
afiCion or unconquerable urge to fight the bull, and he must make a decision to do what he wants to do in spite of the Spanish community’s
expectations. A beautiful novel for older children is North to Freedom
(31) by Anne Holm. David has lived twelve years in a concentration camp
until he is suddenly allowed to escape. This odyssey takes the boy from
prison camp to Salonikl and north to Denmark. David has to learn that
there is a green and gold world in contrast to the gray oppressiveness
of ugly prison life. He also needs to create a God of his own, a God of
green pastures.
A fifth value of good literature is its wonderland of words. Readers
of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (8) relish the
clever puns, similes and images which leap and scurry across this imaginative fantasy. The poem, “Jabberwocky” with its “brillig”, “slithytoves” and “frumius Bandersnatch” gives a grasp of the original courage
of new words by a gifted author.
James Thurber in The Wonderful 0 (81) offers a satirical fantasy of
a world in which all words lick the letter O. Sesyle Joslin carries out
somewhat this same idea in her fantasy, The Night They Stole the Alphabet
(23). In this book Victoria has many adventures searching for the lost
twenty-six letters in strange places. Norton Juster has also introduced
a vast kingdom of words when Milo visits the ruler of Dictionopolis in
Themphantom Tollbooth (34).
Some specialized books on words for younger boys and girls are
Ounce, Dice, Trice (72) by Alastair Reid, Sparkle andain (70) by Ann
and Paul Rand, A Crowd of Cows (21) by John Graham, and The Alphabet
Tree (49) by Leo Leonni. The Reid book coins original words; the book
by the Rands offers sparkle to language; the Graham book cleverly discusses groups of words, and The Alphabet Tree (42) beautifully depicts
an alphabet tree and a world where the “word bug” patiently teaches
letters to form themselves into words.
Mary O’Neill has developed books directly related to the wonderland
of words in both 221112,212E12.2112ras (65), and Take A Number (66). A
clever writer, Eve Merriam, succeeds in making words sparkle in her book,
It Doesn’t Always Have to Rhyme (22). Children reading most literature
written by good authors add to their word banks, but literature also
offers a vast storehouse of information.5
A sixth value of good literature consists in its cultural store of
facts which enhances learning in other areas such as history, art, and
geography. S. Carl Hirsch has written a history of lithography in
Printing from Stone, the Story of Lithography (30). WIM….1110WM. NM.ImmmMO Oscar Ogg, the MilOOMMWOOMOMOIMMO
calligrapher, adds additional information about the alphabet in The 26
Letters (64).
An interesting historical novel is Caxton’s Challenge (24) which
has been written and illustrated by Cynthia Harnett. This is a fictionalized account of the battle between a firm using scriveners and William
Caxton who popularized the printing press in England around 1475. One
of the books printed by Caxton was TheCanterbury Tales which have been
selected and edited by Anne Malcolrnson in A Taste of Chaucer (50). Two
other books about Chaucer which offer a wealth of information are: They
Lived Like This in Chaucer’s En-land (56) by Marie Neurath and John Ellis
and Chaucer and His World (7 by Ian Serraillier.
Another fascinating book of word history is The Bay.eaux Tapestry
(16), the Story of the Norman Conquest; 1066 by Norman Denny and
Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book reproduces the famous tapestry which
glorifies the Norman Conquest of England. A recent novel for older
children about the Norman Conquest is Banner Over Me (23) by Margery P.
Greenleaf. This is a study of two brothers engulfed in the conflict
between King Harold of England and William of Normandy. Another type
of information is an appreciation of artistic principles.
A seventh value of good literature is its contributions to art
appreciation. In recent years colorful books are being written about
art, the opera, famous artists, and ballet dancers. Pupils can read
these volumes and see their beautiful illustrations which contribute to
their cultural growth. The First Book of Paintings (54) by Lamont Moore
introduces art appreciation through such aspects as line, shape, space,
light, pattern, balance, rhythm, and contrast and unity. The art style
of thirty-one different artists is reproduced on these pages.,
at Pictures (11) by Kenneth Clark also presents such artists as Titian,
Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Goya, as well as others.
Franues Robert Nugent has authored a series of small books with
approxiLaately sixty-four pages in which each volume focuses upon part
of the life and work of one artist. One of these is Jan Van Eyck.
Elizabeth Ripley has created a series of biographies of artists on such
ones as Botticelli, Diirer (74), Picasso (75) and Vincent Van Gogh (76)
as well as many others. A recent book for younger children is Long…Ago
in Florence (17) by Marion Downer which is the story of Luca della
Children can become interested in music through reading biographies
of musicians. Opal Wheeler wrote an earlier biography, LudwigBeethoven
and the Chiming Tower MadBells (84), and Opal Wheeler and Sybil 10.N. ONION.* Deucher
have combined their talents to create several biographies such as Franz
Schubert and _His Merry Friends (85), Joseph Haydn: The Merry Little PeasantMT, Sebastian Bach, the Boy from Thuringia (E77 and many others.6
Warren Chappell has created lovely books featuring the theme and
music of The Nutcracker (9), Sleeping Beauty (10) and others, and Frans
Haacken has beautifully illustrated Peter and the Wolf (68) by Serge
Prokofieff. Peter and the Wolf (68) offers motivation for involvement
activities in creative drama and writing. Literature also helps us to
understand ourselves and others better.’
A recent book which meets many needs is Tales from the Ballet (69)
which is illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Ballets are defined
as stories with music which are without words. Tales are portrayed such
as “The Wood Nymphs,” “Ondine,” “Billy the Kid,” “The Firebird,” “Swan
Lake,” and many others.
An eighth value of good literature is its help in raising the self
concept of a child who has a poor picture of himself. In recent years
numerous books are being published in the field of black literature as
the ghetto child living in an urban environment frequently fails to
identify with literary selections written for those persons living in
other more favored environments. An inherent danger in such literature
lies in a tendency to offer only books of social protest or books about
an Afro-American hero such as a baseball player, jazz singer, or person
serving the underground railway. Teachers of reading should be cautioned
to select black literature of high quality written in good style. AfroAmerican children are acutely sensitive of their environmental heritage
and will be quick to detect “phony” books written to capitalize upon the
popular market. Stereotyped characterizations and novels or poetry
written in pedestrian language should be avoided.
Two recent books on poetry for urban children are I Am the Darker Brother An Anthology of Modern Poems by Negro Americans T1T, edited by
Arnold Adolf and On City Streets t36) An Anthology of Poetry selected
by Nancy Larrick, and the collection in I Am the Darker Brother (I) offers such poems as “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes, “The Glory
of the Day Was in Her Face” by James Weldon Johnson and “The Daybreakers”
by Arne. Bontemps. Some of this literature is dispirited, bitter, and
cruel. On City Streets (36) is a collection which offers poetry with
more hope and less despair. For instance the much quoted poem “Mother
to Son” offers a vision of hope for a better world won through the
agonies of toil and privation. Rachel Field sings of city streets where taxes go by like tireless amber-eyed beetles in “Manhattan Lullaby”.
An unusual new novel which is biographical in style is The Narrow
Pathl_AEAfrican Childhood (77) by Francis Selorney. This is the story of Kofi who was born in a village on the Ghano coast. His grandfather
has eight wives and twenty-five children. Kofi’s father is educated and
a teacher in the village school, but his discipline of the child is merciless. The boy’s emotions, grief, terror and despair are intermingled with a mysterious African heritage with a light veneer of
An eighth value of excellent children’s literature is its part in
forming a foundation for more difficult adolescent novels, poems; and dramas. For instance, children who have not had an opportunity to enjoythe rich storehouse of folktale, myth, legend, and epic stories find
little enjoyment in appreciating such classics as The Iliad and The
Odyssey. If a child has read a story of “Daedalus and Icarus” he appreciates allusions to such tales in more sophisticated-poetry. If a
boy or girl is unfamiliar with Jupiter or Zeus, Minerva, Cupid, Psyche,
Odin, and other Gods and goddesses, he “tunes out” when these allusions
appear in later novels and tales. If a speaker mentions “the goose that
laid the golden eggs” the reference is lost on the ears of a listener
who has never read a traditional tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
A ninth value of literature is the heroic image which it gives to
childhood. Some pupils can identify with the heroic impulse through
reading mediaeval legends which incite the imagination with deeds of
prowess. Jennefer Westwood has translated and adapted Medieval Tales
(83). In this volume students can read such favorites as Chanticleer,
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and such tales as “Aucessin and Nicolette” and “The Story of Roland”. Henry Treece has written The Windswept
City (82). A novel of the Trojan’s war, which relates events through
the eyes of Asterius, a slave to the aging and homesick Helen.
In recent years many books about Beowulf have been written for
younger children. One of these is Beowulf the Warricr by Ian Serallier.
Several classical heroes appear in William Mayne’s Book of Heroes (52)
and Hero Tales from the British Isles TOT retold by Barbara Leone
Picard. Modern children can visit city museums to study mediaeval types
of armor, and they can share a vision of a world where men accepted
their responsibilities and faced challenges with courage and strength.
Myths, legends and folktales offer universal values which are worldwide in scope. Most cultures have a favorite cinder lad or cinderella
who works diligently under unfavorable circumstances and are rewarded.
Folklorists have claimed a thousand versions of the Cinderella motif.
Each country has its own variant of a folktale. A child reading Sea
Spells and Moor Magic (40) by Sorche Nic Leodhas with its Scotch touch
or Leprechaun Tales r22Yby Kathleen Green with its Irish Lepr?chauns
or the Oriental flavor of The Crane Maiden (51) by Chihiro Iwasaki learns
valueable character traits in a nondictactic manner.
This brief presentation has introduced only ten values of good
children’s literature. Books bring pleasure to readers and extend
imaginative powers. Literature enhances an appreciation of beauty and
a kinship with the terror of loneliness in an alien world. Many books
help readers to become more compassionate, but people should he sensitive
not sentimental beings. Good writers present a wonderland of words, not
hackneyed similes and metaphors. Some books offer a cultural storehouse
of information. A few selected books for children offer artistic embellishments and an appreciation of the arts. Some literature helps to improve the self concept of children who feel alienated from a middle
class Anglo-Saxon culture. A rich heritage of myths, legends, and folk
tales blaze trails for more difficult journeys into adult literature.
The heroic impulse of pupils can be encouraged through the reading of
heroic legends and epics. Literature is world wide in scope and its
values are universal. Long ago, Andersen created “The Chinese Nightingale”8
a tale in which a little timid bird brought life to a Chinese emperor,
but officials of his court preferred the glittering artificialities of
, a mechanical jewel encrusted bird which was false. Children in our
culture should not lose this little nightingale; they should treasure
the real, genuine, and beautiful things of life

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