Stories of Virtue and Vice: Stories and Character Development

Aesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of VirtueAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue
Stories can have a powerful influence on the formation of character and values in children.  As such, the potential for character formation via stories is an important criterion for adults to consider when selecting books for children.  In this article, I will describe how stories of virtue and vice can shape character in children, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s books with character-building stories.

This article is an installment in my continuing series on how to choose children’s books, which begins here.  In the previous article in this series I discussed the question of how adults should handle mischief in children’s books.

Stories of Virtue: Character-Building Stories

Historically, story telling for children has been a feature of most cultures.  Often, this story telling has had the purpose, at least in part, of forming the character of children.  Aesop’s FablesAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue and Grimm’s Fairy TalesGrimm's Fairy Tales, Character Building Stories of Virtue are good examples of character-building stories, i.e., traditional stories that have aimed at developing character in children.  As I noted in “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, the success of books like William Bennett’s The Book of VirtuesThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, Character Building Stories of Virtue suggests that many in our contemporary culture also recognize the connection between stories of virtue and character formation in children.  This connection with character formation is part of what can give stories developmental value for children. Continue reading


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


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)

Continue reading


Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Good Stories

This is the fifth in a series of posts on how to choose children’s booksHow to Choose Children’s Books is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning.  Last time, in Illustrations in Children’s Books,” I discussed how to choose books with illustrations that are attractive to kids of various ages.  In this post I will discuss the place of a story in rendering children’s books appealing to kids, and what to look for in a good kids’ story.

Now, it will soon be clear that I am a big fan of good stories in children’s books.  However, it is important to emphasize that not every subjectively appealing children’s book must have a story.  For example, a good ABC book might simply march through the ABCs without a story at all.  However, if a children’s book does not have a story, parents need to make sure the book is appealing to the child in other ways (e.g., via themes, illustrations, humor, etc.). Continue reading