Writers Reveal – Characters in Children’s Literature

Dark & Complex Characters

It’s that time of the month again – Writer’s Reveal. My topic is from Zanni at My Little Sunshine House and is:

Dark and complex themes and characters in children’s literature.

When I received this topic, I was quite excited and planned to hit the library and do some research. Well, the best laid plans and all that… I had a bout of the flu, then one son went and got greenstick fractures in two of his fingers and the other one has come down with glandular fever! So, no research has happened… in fact, the date of the Writer’s Reveal snuck up me, so this isn’t as in-depth as I was hoping it would be… but here goes.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you will know that I recently had a few fairy tales published in an anthology. Through this process, I read quite a few fairy tales in different forms. The older versions I read were quite a bit darker than the more modern versions. I don’t know if modern kids get scared a lot more easily or why this is, it’s just something I’ve noticed.

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post about the dumbing down of language in kids books, thinking about it, I wonder if the same thing is happening with the characters in kids books. Are we trying to kids a happier view of the world? I can remember a time when the witches in fairy tales were terrifying, now they seem a lot more cartoony than scary.

For me, there are some of my kids stories that don’t have very dark or complex themes and the characters are fairly basic. With my picture books I’m hoping that a clever illustrator can make them more complex with the use of facial expressions and the way the charcter is drawn. With my chapter books, the characters are able to come to life more in the longer story.

I know I’m rambling in this post – I really need to catch up on some sleep… This is a topic that I would like to explore more in the future when I’m not quite so tired.

Check out the other authors in the swap:


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  1. It’s true! Fairy tales from years ago do have scary characters. Witches and wolves and evil step mothers! I’m not sure if I agree with changes to the fairly tales of old to have more politically correct and less scary endings. I think all literature needs good and evil.

  2. I remember some evil characters gave me an excited scared feeling – Cruella de Vil and the witch from Snow White spring to mind. I think the dumbing down started as a trend in Victorian times, and has continued. I find it a struggle to write picture books, as i can see the illustrations so clearly in my head, but I have no idea if the illustrator will see the same thing! So I agonize over wording and so on. Times like this I wish I’d gone to Art School. Hope you guys get a smooth run for the rest of the year!

  3. Oh goodness Melissa, sounds like a terrible time at your place. I hope everyone heads to the road to recovery sooner rather than later. Sending some fairy wishes and butterfly kisses your way.

    I think that in a lot of ways children’s stuff has been made to seem nicer which is stupid because how many three year olds walk around talking about zombies? Well at least mine does and I know of a few others that know of them too.

  4. Interesting topic! I’ve noticed this trend too, how modern stories seem to be happier than older ones. I once heard from a teacher that the original versions of some fairy tales had tragic endings because they were intended to teach children lessons (e.g. “Little Red Riding Hood” originally ended with Red getting eaten by the wolf, to teach children that talking to strangers ends badly). My guess is that politically correct characters and stories are becoming more important nowadays. At the very least, many probably feel that children should be exposed to as much happiness as possible in their youth before facing the sad truths of the “real world”.

    Hope you and your family all recover soon! Take care!

  5. I think characters were scarier when I was smaller. But then, everything was scarier. And small things seemed bigger. Perhaps I’m remembering them as scarier proportionate to what I’d experienced in life?

    Wishing you and your family better health this next month!

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