Literature for Children: What it says about Society

One of those random thoughts that gnaws at my mind.

Where do the stories come from that we pass down to our children, and where do the new legendary stories come from?

Quite simply, they come from life experiences, and that should disturb us greatly at this time for this generation of teens and youths.

Many of the nursery rhymes and fables that survived the ages are from one of the darkest periods in Western civilization. Pocket full of Posies, a poem of the black death.

Ring around the Rosie (Praying on a rosary)

Pocket full of Posies (pleasant smells to chase away the evil vapors)

Hush-a Hush-a (Final breath)

We all fall down (death)

or The Destitute old woman who lived in a shoe, next to the starving old woman who couldn’t find even a bone for her dog.

old lady

These and other stories were about the struggle to simply endure, not to prosper, not to excel. Just to survive.

The Arabian nights were created between Arabia and India during cultural revolutions, Sinbad’s glorious voyages and overcoming adversity. Aladin’s Win-fall, Ali Baba and his servant’s outwitting of the outlaws. Even Sherizadi’s outwitting of the Sultan, were all uplifting stories of gain through wit, will and knowledge. A broad new horizon to discover awaited the bold and daring.

The end of the 19th century brought us those new horizons again as the industrial age took hold of our world. Jules Verne, Baum, and others brought up new worlds. From the deepest sea to Oz. From Wonderland to the Moon. Even through the early parts of the 20th century that hope and drive was with us in Tom Swift’s adventures, Buck Rogers, followed by the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift Jr. But then something began to change.

Comic books that were exciting Good vs Evil, where evil always lost was the first sign of change.

Heroes by the mid 70’s to the 80’s were becoming more grey, anti heroes were on the horizon. Superman and Batman were accompanied with Swamp Thing and Hex. By the mid 80’s even Superman and Batman were losing their purity. And now over the last decades what have we seen as the stories that draw our children?

Vampires and forbidden, doomed love of Shakespearean proportion. Children forced to survive in Dystopian worlds of overpowering unexplained, unaccountable governments, and once again, enduring.

Our children learn what they feel will help them in their future, even if it’s simply instinctual, society provides the tools and the next generation absorbs what most closely aligns to it’s needs. Just as a farmer’s son will begin to learn to farm from being exposed to the farm community and the culture he exists within, a child with access to books will learn what the culture around him teaches him to learn.

We have come full circle, once again we seek to endure, to survive. We have pulled our gaze away from the far horizon and closed our curtains to the fearful unknown darkness, locking our shutters from the mysterious wind and the things that go bump in the night. We light a candle in our safe little homes and whisper into the night.

Bring around the Rosie

Pack it full of dangers

Hush you Hush you

Or we’ll fall down.


Dan O’Neail 12/2015


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