Traditionally, children’s books used to reinforce messages that children are powerless and unimportant. Books for children were written with the aim of teaching children to adopt to adult’s values. The underlying messages in the books were that children must change to fit into the world – the adult world.
Today, more and more children’s books send a different message. The ultimate aim with the story is to empower children. So if you want to give you child books that will help them thrive and reach their full potential you want to choose child-centered books. Or at least you want to be aware of yourself that a story might be childist so that you can discuss the books from this perspective.
You can discuss books and characters with even young children. Showing young children that books and stories can be questioned and explored is important skill. Not all books have a beautiful message, still, you can learn and grow from them. Reading is questioning and exploring ideas.
Childism is prejudice against children. The psychoanalyst Elizabeth Young-Bruehl defines it as the belief that, based on their age, children are less valuable and less capable than adults.This belief that adults are more important that that their needs are more important is not only widespread but also underlying all forms of child abuse. Yet, childism is not also more subtle than outright abuse. It is part of our attitudes and you can still believe that you love children while you at the same time refuse to allow them to have an opionion. We may fail to respect their views.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a legal document that advocates childhood as a time of rights and responsibilities. Children are not blank slates that need to be filled with the best and most suitable ideas so that they can fit into society rather children are often nowadays seem as active participants that contribute to society. The empowered child is often portrayed in contemporary children’s stories.
Children in many stories contribute to their own lives, families, and communities. Childhood is portrayed as a period in life where children can make a difference through their own decisions and actions. Children’s values are important.
Many children’s books take the social hierarchy for granted. Adults holds all the power.
Children’s books have the power to empower children. Picture books provide young children with examples of social structures and they do influence how children view and also value themselves and others.
Discussing picture books is important. Ask yourself and you child if this book acknowledges children’s or young animals’ competence. Are children and young animals in the story valued for their uniqueness and curiosity? Are they allowed to be creative and solve problems? Are children and adults allies or enemies? Do they solve problems together ?
And if not, what if they did? How would that change the story?