Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters

The Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover artThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover art
Today I continue my (lately dormant) series of articles on how to choose children’s books.  In the last article in this series, “The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development”, I discussed the “developmental value” of complex stories for children.  Specifically, I argued that children’s books with complex plots and characters can promote important aspects of child development, such as reasoning abilities and memory.

In this article I will discuss a further feature that can give children’s books developmental value, namely exemplary characters. By “exemplary characters” I mean characters—fictional or non-fictional—that exhibit traits or activities that we hope for our children to value and embody in their lives.  In this article I will explain how exemplary characters can encourage character development in children, and how adults can identify such characters in choosing books for children.

If you would like to read this series from the beginning, start with “How to Choose Children’s Books”. Continue reading

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Plato on Developmental Value in Children’s Stories

Raphael's Plato pointing to the heavens: stories children values
I couldn’t resist posting this quote I came across recently in Plato’s Republic about stories, children, values, etc.:

“Socrates: You know, don’t you, that the beginning of any process is most important, especially for anything young and tender?  It’s at that time that it is most malleable and takes on any pattern one wishes to impress on it.

Adeimantus: Exactly.

Socrates: Then shall we carelessly allow the children to hear any old stories, told by just anyone, and to take beliefs into their souls that are for the most part opposite to the ones we think they should hold when they are grown up?” (The Republic 377a-b)

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The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling cover art
What makes for good children’s books?  In this series on how to choose children’s books, I have suggested that choice-worthy children’s books have both subjective appeal, and developmental value.  In other words, good kids’ books are appealing to a child, and help her grow.

One characteristic that can affect the developmental value of a kids’ book is the complexity of the book’s story.  In this article I will explain what I mean by “story complexity,” and what I see as the connection between the complexity of children’s stories and social development (e.g., emotional and intellectual development).  I will draw on prominent examples of recent juvenile and young adult fiction to illustrate my points: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter seriesHarry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal Winner.  While what I have to say will apply mostly to older children, I will also try to give some rough guidance on choosing complex stories for younger children.

If you would like to read from the first article in this series, How to Choose Children’s Books,” click here.

Children’s Stories and Social Development: Complex Characters

Viewed one way, the basic elements of a story are characters and plots.  Both of these elements may contribute to the complexity of a story.  First, I will discuss how the characters in a story may contribute to its complexity.  A complex character is one whose mental, emotional, and behavioral activity is developed by the author to such a degree that she seems deeply true to life. Continue reading

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Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury cover art
There is sometimes a difference between good children’s books, and books that children like.  But what is that difference?  I think it is summed up in the term “developmental value”: good children’s books are books that both appeal to kids, and help them to develop.

In the previous article in this series—“Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature”—I explained the notion of “developmental value” and its importance as a criterion for choosing children’s books.  In this article, I will begin to explain the specific qualities that might make a book developmentally valuable, focusing on children’s books that support language development.  I will explain the book characteristic I call “edifying language,” i.e.,  language that contributes in some way to a child’s development, and how edifying language contributes to child development.  I will also try to give some guidance on choosing children’s books that support language development.

This article is the eighth in a series on how to choose children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on How to Choose Children’s Books.”

Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Children’s books can be an essential help to a child in learning her native language.  Depending on how much a child is read to—and I hope the kids in your life are read to a lot!—children’s books can be a central example of how the language works, i.e., how sentences are structured, what the basic rules of grammar and syntax are, and what particular words mean. Continue reading

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Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature

This article is the seventh in a series on selection criteria for children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on “How to Choose Children’s Books.”  In this article, I will explain the concept of “developmental value,” and its importance as a selection criterion for children’s books.  I will also give a brief roadmap for the next several articles in this series, which will focus on the particular considerations that give children’s books developmental value.

Criteria for Book Selection: Children’s Literature

As I see it, there are two main criteria that should govern the selection of kids’ books.  First, adults should choose children’s books that have what I call “subjective appeal”. In other words, adults should choose books with qualities that make them attractive to children. The subjective appeal of a children’s book might consist in any number of considerations, such as an interesting theme, attractive illustrations, a good story, or humor. To this point in my series on how to choose children’s books, I have focused on this criterion of subjective appeal, and I have written articles on each of the considerations just noted.

However, there is a second general criterion that should guide adults in choosing kids’ books, which I call “developmental value.”  A children’s book has developmental value if it has qualities that allow the book to contribute to a child’s cognitive, emotional, moral, or even spiritual development. Continue reading

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