Why kids love stories, 2

12Dec10

What have we established? Kids love stories, and some stories seem to be timeless. They occur across cultures and over thousands of years. Children’s picture books are loved through generations and these books and fairy tales seem to accrue power through repetition.  (OK we didn’t actually establish the repetition thing, but anyone who’s had the chance to read bedtime stories to kids knows how much they seem to need a story repeated again and again, night after night).

Here, I think, is the bottom line. To be interesting, fascinating and/or useful to children a story must address some challenge that the child feels, something she’s afraid of, something fundamentally problematic to her. But that isn’t enough. Susie doesn’t want to read a story that says Susie isn’t happy because her older brother and sister bully her. That’s just too realistic and too threatening. And an eighteen month old child who doesn’t want to go to bed, who doesn’t want to give up the bright, shining world to go to sleep, who’s a little afraid to go to bed alone and feels overwhelmed . . . he wouldn’t sit still for a book that showed him in a bed alone in the dark. One can imagine the four year old struggling with rules, with her own urges and with wanting to be independent from her mother. What kind of book would she sit still for and be fascinated by? It wouldn’t be Little Irene sticking a fork into the light socket and getting shocked, or worse, spanked. (Though you could make it work if you went way overboard, like Alexander and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day). And I don’t even want to get started with latency age kids and autonomy and sexuality.

So the story really does have to address developmental issues but they have to do it in a non-threatening way, they have to address these issues in disguise. Susie can’t feel aggressive and angry, but Max can. And he can sail off through a night and a day and almost over a year to put some distance between him and his mother before he’s in a place where it’s safe to allow the Wild Rumpus to start. So anyone who’s been bullied by siblings and feels angry with her mother feels some resonance with Cinderella and wants to listen again and again, and a nine year old who really isn’t thinking about leaving home and really, really doesn’t want to think about sexuality still thinks about herself in the arms of the prince, and the glass slippers are hers!

Kids love the books that speak to their own developmental fears and needs, but speak to them in a voice that goes directly to the place the fears come from . . . The voice children ask for over and over is the voice that speaks to their unconscious.

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One Response to “Why kids love stories, 2”


  1. 1 Books, Books, Books! | English 11487 Fall 2013

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