back to list

Children's Stories

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 18, 2021

When I was growing up in the 80s, stories that were marketed as ‘children’s' were occasionally brutal.

Characters got maimed or killed, tortured or traumatized, met with horrid ends in worlds that were anything but rosy. And this was a pattern that wasn't limited to, say, English literature (e.g. undisneyfied Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Watership Down, Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Oliver Twist, and on and on and on).

And then, there were the fairy tales. The hardcore ones, like the actual Snow White, or the 12 Swans, or the actual Little Mermaid, or the Little Matchgirl or the actual Cinderella (and how everyone tried to fit their foot in the glass slipper). Gore, amputations, murder (casual or not), sudden death, torture and cannibalism weren't even rarities, let alone banned from stories.

The Greek lit that was marketed for children was also in the same vein. I remember reading about kids that starved to death and died before finally managing to get a handful of fries. About kids having to watch their teachers get murdered by a Junta. About a woman that married outside of convention and was shunned from family, ending up living a miserable life. About people that fall into addiction and never fully recover, and about kids playing war amidst a fight between toy industries and accidentally seriously injuring an old man.

Ditto the Greek fairy tales. I won't go into too many examples, but to give you a gauge, there is one where a princess got her heart carved out as a baby and became a cruel psychopath for 3/4s of the fairy tale and a guy that dies and can't get out of his coffin and when he does, he can't get in the underworld and ends up being torn apart by oblivion.

I think it's safe to say that today these stories would not get an E rating. Probably not even a PG rating. Today kids' stories tend to follow a mandate of ‘sanitization’ or keeping things ‘clean’. Sexuality, racism, social inequality, abuse, and especially historical realities are being censored and kept from young audiences or presented in unrealistic ways that have little to do with the reality they are growing up in. Society and its origins, including the struggles and fights that had to be given in order for it to develop is also muted and distorted, giving kids a potentially skewed impression of how things were and how things are in the world.

This is not a new thing. Children's books have been censored since forever, and this is a nice overview if you are interested in reading it.

The era I grew up in seemed to have a lot more freedom in what got published, and children were probably considered sturdier than now in what themes and literary experiences they could handle. Was it a good choice back then, or is it better now?

I may have bias in saying that I think progressively and with parental guidance, exposing children to books written for young audiences but which do not pull their punches about reality is a lot better than a sugarcane world where things get resolved by the power of friendship or where all adults are inherently good or all relationships are inherently non-toxic, or de facto non-toxic if they are of a certain category.

I remember some stories so well because the distress or horror burnt them in my mind with fire. But I also remember learning to navigate the world and its cruelty a lot better for it.

Watership Down was terrible to watch, but it made me think about how humans can cause immense pain just by being inconsiderate of other beings. It also taught me that animals also fight each other.

Peter Pan taught me about death and Alice in Wonderland taught me about human vices. All those Greek stories made me primed to understanding political nuance, as well as propaganda and manipulation. All before I could even put terms to the concepts. I'm glad to have read them when I did.

I write this article without an intent to preach or talk about ‘ye olde goode days’ but about how literature should be curated (NOT censored) when it comes to children, and I'd love for it to be an open conversation.

Do you feel that children's books (and stories in all mediums) prepare kids for adolescence and adolescents for adulthood? If yes, how, if not, how could it be better?

Don’t forget you can now advertise on DrunkDuck for just $2 in whichever ad spot you like! The money goes straight into running the site. Want to know more? Click this link here! Or, if you want to help us keep the lights on you can sponsor us on Patreon. Every bit helps us!

Special thanks to our patrons!!

Justnopoint - Banes - RMccool - Abt_Nihil - PhoenixIgnis - Gunwallace - Cdmalcolm1 - PaulEberhardt - dragonaur - Emma_Clare - FunctionCreep - Eustacheus - SinJinsoku - Smkinoshita - jerrie - Chickfighter - Andreas_Helixfinger - Tantz_Aerine - Epic Saveroom - Genejoke - Davey Do - Spark of Interest - Gullas - Damehelsing - Roma - NanoCritters - Scott D - Bluecuts34 - j1ceasar - Tinchel - PhillipDP - Teh Andeh - Peipei - Digital_Genesis - Hushicho - Sad Demon Comics - JediAnn Solo - Kiddermat - BitterBadger - Palouka - cheeko
- Paneltastic - L.C.Stein - Zombienomicon - dpat57 - Bravo1102 - The Jagged



nationafestdayy at 11:39PM, Sept. 21, 2021

We are one. Let us all be happy with our beloved country. We all need to collectively try to make India colourful and sturdy. Happy Independence Day.Our forefathers offered our freedom with their hard paintings and sacrifice. Now we ought to paintings tough to create a better state for generations that follow. Happy Independence Day!

PaulEberhardt at 1:00PM, Sept. 20, 2021

Crikey! Did I really write all that? Sorry. I gave this a lot of thought ever since I've published a picture book and started thinking about doing more in that field.

PaulEberhardt at 12:57PM, Sept. 20, 2021

Fact 5 (and this one's important!): Children notice when we keep things from them. Almost always. Also, children want to feel that we take them seriously (or rather not disregard them as persons) and hiding stuff comes across as a blatant way of not taking them seriously at all. I totally agree that the fact that violence is bad shouldn't be kept from them, nor that life has its scary moments that we all have to deal with (they know, you know). - Also I remember something else I forgot: always be aware of that your characters are potential role models. So if your hero solves problems with violence, kids may get the idea that violence CAN solve problems, after all (that level of abstract thinking is there, funnily enough). I'm not asking anyone to completely remove it, far from it, but please make sure to include some drawbacks to that kind of problem-solving. It's different with old fairy-tales, because you can always say it's an old tale and people could be quite nasty back then.

PaulEberhardt at 12:46PM, Sept. 20, 2021

What does this all mean for writing children's stories? Basically, don't feel held back and write what you like. Avoid unnecessary abstract concepts and when you need them, build them up step by step. Keep the language on an appropriate level, by which I mainly mean vocabulary and sentence structure. Again, it doesn't mean challenging, complex stuff is forbidden, but remember that it's supposed to be a sporting challenge. I strongly recommend that bad actions always have consequences, at least in the end - that's very relatable and kind of expected from you as well. Don't pretend you're part of your audience: they'll spot the lie as soon as you blink. Be an unusual adult. Recommendation: not too over the top, because that'll make you look fishy. With your story, too: you can go totally over the top if you want to, but make clear you do it on purpose because it's fun. Bonus points for those authors who manage not to look like trying to have a good influence.

PaulEberhardt at 12:35PM, Sept. 20, 2021

Fact 3 (I was lying about knowing just two things): as a rule of thumb, the smaller a children are, the harder it is for them to (a) put themselves into somebody else's shoes and (b) to think on an abstract level. This is well backed by pedagogic research and has to do with brain delevopment (which goes on until about 13, then is basically all scrapped and re-built during adolescence). Abstract thinking is the hardest part and evolves slowly. This is probably at the root of why a certain scenery can (for some) be scarier than a lot of violence that is far removed from everyday experience. Fact 4 (I got started now): if things like violence are too close to what adults think are their everyday experiences, it'll remind them of school textbooks and perceive it as a warning sign: "Attention! Serious amount of teaching ahead. Beware of moral messages!" - meaning that you'll lose your audience really quickly before you even started, unless you're REALLY good as an author.

PaulEberhardt at 12:24PM, Sept. 20, 2021

Fact 2: 2. Unless conditioned to at least make a plausible impression of liking it e.g. because their future gender role seems to demand it (which is unfortunately still very often the case) - or because they found out it's cute, and being cute gives you advantages and sweets - sugary-sweet, pastel-coloured fairylands where everyone is nice to each other will make kids wanna spew about just as much as us adults. They'll love it when a rainbow-coloured modelling mass is marketed as "unicorn shit" and will be inspired to draw rainbow-shitting unicorns just for the hell of it (and secretly love the opportunity to use the colours, because this is not to say they don't like colourful things). Again, this is highly individualised - never forget we're talking of little human beings here.

PaulEberhardt at 12:20PM, Sept. 20, 2021

It seems that we think very much alike, generally speaking, but as a teacher I feel I should add my two cents. I know two things for a fact: 1. small children can sometimes be very scared and troubled by things they read and see, but what of is a totally individual thing and hard to predict. They might happily enjoy how the knights get eaten by the dragon until someone finally and gorily lops the big lizard's head off, but get bad dreams from the voyage through the dark swamp a scene previously (not an actual example, but close).

TheJagged at 12:21PM, Sept. 19, 2021

And even all of this aside, no gory movie or violent videogame is gonna have as big an impact as the actual experiences a kid goes through in its young life. I couldn't watch certain scenes of the Beauty and the Beast till i was 16, cause the relationship of Beast and Belle reminded me too much of the abusive relationship my parents had with each other. :'^S A movie that may be totally harmless to one kid may be deeply traumatizing to another.

TheJagged at 12:13PM, Sept. 19, 2021

Another thing.... When it comes to drawing the line on what is ok to show to kids and what isn't. I'm not an expert on child psychology, but I do think it's very important to distinguish between *showing* violent content and *glorifying* it. I'd be more hesitant to show a kid a Michael Bay movie than say, Fullmetal Jacket. One makes it look like explosions, shooting things and sexism is fun. The other is arguably a lot more hardcore, but also makes it clear that the violence and suffering that are happening on screen are unquestionably bad things. Which is gonna have the better/worse influence on the kid?

TheJagged at 11:56AM, Sept. 19, 2021

I go with the Don Bluth mantra: Children can take dark stories as long as they get a happy ending. Children need to be exposed to scary things so they learn how to deal with being scared. If you never learned to face your fears as a kid, how you're gonna do that as an adult? "Fairytales" in that sense, whether written or animated or whatever, give a safe way to explore the unpleasant aspects of life, such as fear and terror. It provides a controlled environment that can't actually hurt you. In the end you can't shield kids from unpleasant experiences. Most likely than not, if not provided kids will willfully seek it out themselves. I certainly did that when i was young. I was an extremely easily frightened kid but i still watched specifically the kind of movies and cartoons that i knew would scare me. Like my brain wanted to forced me to "get over it". Which eventually i did. Now horror is one of my favorite genres. xD

Andreas_Helixfinger at 10:56AM, Sept. 19, 2021

@Bravo - It's good that you bring that up. Indeed, if somone's depression is clinical and is just biologically out of their control, then psychological medication and treatment may very well be necessary.

bravo1102 at 7:46AM, Sept. 19, 2021

@Andreas_Helixfinger depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by being sheltered and triggered by trauma but for many it is unavoidable because the illness is biological and as such requires medication and treatment. There is no such thing as "oh sadness is natural and just accept it and be happy" for those with clinical or biological depression. Only so much cognitive therapy and positive self talk one can do when the body insists its sad and you tear up and want to sink into the earth and not be alive and you really can't figure out why. You just cope as best you can. Actually traumatic childhood media can help children with depression build up coping skills. As a kid I watched war movies and film noir and westerns. Classic Looney toons certainly didn't skimp on violence and hard knocks. First movie I remember seeing in a drive in was The Godfather. I was still sensitive and suffered from anxiety and depression. Resilient because of traumatic shows, but still sensitive.

marcorossi at 12:04AM, Sept. 19, 2021

I think when I was a kid I read a lot of stuff that now would not be accepted, for example in old Mickey Mouse stories gunfights were common. This is mostly about the violence department. I can't tell about sex if there is more or less paranoia. On the plus side racial stereotypes were more common because people didn't know better. Dramatic stories for kids were more common but they were educational on purpose. About sex & violence, it seems to me there is a tendency to shield kids too much, then when they become adolescent everything with sex and violence in it tastes adult, and many people never grow up from that, in particular comics with a lot of sex and violence are perceived as adult while they are more for adolescents.

hushicho at 4:53PM, Sept. 18, 2021

Frankly I hated it as a child and I hate it now. People more often think they're artificially important because of including unpleasant things, but the world is unpleasant, and we get enough of that by being in it. I don't think everything has to be sunshine and rainbows, but the nonsense can fuck right off. Writing tragedy no young reader wants to read or watch but which gets awards is despicable, and sensibilities do change. The original "The Little Mermaid" is a miserable, wretched, joyless tale that has no legitimate reason to be popular, yet plenty of people -- usually joyless adults -- obsess over it.

usedbooks at 4:47AM, Sept. 18, 2021

The death of Professor Screw Eyes was pretty traumatic. (He was eaten by crows.) Tbh, I'm sure censoring family/kid stuff has gotten a bit nuts. They don't even say the word death in kid things now. However, when I was a kid, I didn't actually watch much kid stuff. We watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones. My favorite shows were Get Smart and Moonlighting. My neighbor's kids, however, were highly sheltered. They weren't allowed to watch The Little Mermaid because it had a witch in it. For some parents, no amount of censoring is enough. For others, they just explain fact vs. fiction and "these words are inappropriate for you to use" and just move on. The only banned movie in out house was The Goonies because it inexplicably traumatized me. I inconsolably wailed through the movie and was forbidden to ever watch again. (I saw it again in my 30s. I have no clue why child me was traumatized.)

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:51AM, Sept. 18, 2021

Sorry for rambling for so long. This is a subject that fascinates me greatly and I'm so glad you brought it up in this article. This has been my view and my thought process over this whole thing and I now leave it to others to give theirs.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:48AM, Sept. 18, 2021

Because I do believe that it is the lack of this sort of thing that has caused a split in peoples perception of the world. And is probably part of the reason why depression and anxiety has been such a big problem to people these past decades. Because there is a split going on in people caused by what they were preached and exposed to in their youth and what they now have to deal with in their adult lifes. You have this massive contrast that comes like a shockwave into peoples lifes traumatizing them to a degree of psychic impairment which is why so many people are on heavy psychiatric medication, not knowing how to deal with depression and anxiety in a natural way. Because our youth taught us that we should be happy at all times and therefore we treat pain and depression like it is a decease rather then a natural process that is part of us. Never allowing these negative experiences to settle, but constantly numbing them and making them even worse. Sadness is as natural as happyness.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:35AM, Sept. 18, 2021

I think by showing that cruelty exist in nature as part of the norm, not necessarily the norm by its entirety, because I have seen examples of compassion in nature as well, like a lionesse protecting a wounded Fennec fox from the male lion as if it was her cub or a dominant male silverback gorilla in a zoo standing guard for a kid, who had accidently fallen into the gorilla pit and lay half-conscious on the ground, to make sure the other younger gorillas did not attack the kid until the zoo personel could get to the kid in time and get him out of there. I feel like this way you provide kids with this fundamental, wholistic world framework, where both cruelty and compassion, pain and bliss, death and salvation, are both what nature is made of and in turn what we are made of, because we're a part of nature, and how these elements intertwine, which I think will help them to better deal with their future life situations and make way for a rational and realistic decision making process.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:16AM, Sept. 18, 2021

Honestly, I do think that some of children's media should be shaped to help children and adolescents to adapt to what they may have to face in their adult lifes. Like the example you gave regarding Watership Down, showing how cruelty exist even in the animal kingdom. Because indeed it does. Male bears are known to brutally kill the cubs of any female bear to make her want to mate again. Wolfs when they attack a sheep herd will often just kill a lot of sheep just sate their blood lust and show off to the other wolfs how strong and viscous killers they are. I once saw a documentary showing a zebra mother stomping her offspring to death because it was born with a deformity that seriously obstructed it's bodily motion, ending it now and sparing it the pain of not being able to survive growing up.

Forgot Password
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Mastodon