1st Edition

Ethics and Children's Literature

By Claudia Mills Copyright 2014

    Exploring the ethical questions posed by, in, and about children’s literature, this collection examines the way texts intended for children raise questions of value, depict the moral development of their characters, and call into attention shared moral presuppositions. The essays in Part I look at various past attempts at conveying moral messages to children and interrogate their underlying assumptions. What visions of childhood were conveyed by explicit attempts to cultivate specific virtues in children? What unstated cultural assumptions were expressed by growing resistance to didacticism? How should we prepare children to respond to racism in their books and in their society? Part II takes up the ethical orientations of various classic and contemporary texts, including 'prosaic ethics' in the Hundred Acre Wood, moral discernment in Narnia, ethical recognition in the distant worlds traversed by L’Engle, and virtuous transgression in recent Anglo-American children’s literature and in the emerging children’s literature of 1960s Taiwan. Part III’s essays engage in ethical criticism of arguably problematic messages about our relationship to nonhuman animals, about war, and about prejudice. The final section considers how we respond to children’s literature with ethically focused essays exploring a range of ways in which child readers and adult authorities react to children’s literature. Even as children’s literature has evolved in opposition to its origins in didactic Sunday school tracts and moralizing fables, authors, parents, librarians, and scholars remain sensitive to the values conveyed to children through the texts they choose to share with them.


    Part I The Dilemma of Didacticism: Attempts to Shape Children as Moral Beings

    1 Transmitting Ethics through Books of Golden Deeds for Children Claudia Nelson

    2 Sermonizing in New York: The Children's Magazines of Mary Mapes Dodge and Jose Marti Emma Adelaida Otheguy

    3 Talking to Children about Race: Children's Literature in a Segregated Era, 1930-1945 Moira Hinderer

    Part II Ethical Themes in Classic and Contemporary Texts

    4 Discernment and the Moral Life in Prince Caspian and the Later Narnia Chronicles  Emanuelle Burton

    5 Making a Difference: Ethical Recognition through Otherness in Madelein L'Engle's Fiction Mary Jeanette Moran

    6 A Prosaics of the Hundred Acre Wood: Ethics in A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner  Niall Nance-Carroll

    7 Virtuous Transgressors, Not Moral Saints: Protagonists in Contemporary Children's Literature Jani L. Barker

    8 Model Children, Little Rebels, and Moral Transgressors: Virtuous Childhood Images in Taiwanese Juvenile Fiction in the 1960s Andrea Mei-Ying Wu

    Part III Ethical Criticism of Children's Literature

    9 The Rights and Wrongs of Anthropomorphism in Picture Books Lisa Rowe Fraustino

    10 Lewis, Tolkien, and the Ethics of Imaginary Wars Suzanne Rahn

    11 Heeding Rousseau's Advice: Some Ethical Reservations about Addressing Prejudice through Children's Literature Claudia Mills

    Part IV Ethical Responses to Children's Literature: Identification, Recognition, Adaptation, Conversation

    12 The Ethics of Reading Narrative Voice: An Anti-Bakhtinian View Leona W. Fisher

    13 Prizing Social Justice: The Jane Addams Children's Book Award Ramona Caponegro

    14 Katniss Everdeen's Emerging Moral Consciousness in The Hunger Games  Martha Rainbolt

    15 Using Children's Literature as a Spark for Ethical Discussion: Stories that Deal with Death Sara Goering


    Claudia Mills is Associate Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA. She is the author of many books for children, most recently Zero Tolerance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

    "This book covers a wide range of literary types and critical issues. The volume is held together by a joint focus on explicating the idea of ethical. This reader found it a highly interesting experience to delve into the many aspects and facets of the ethical as seen from a range of current critical perspectives." -- Helene Hoyrup, University of Copenhagen, Bookbird, Vol. 53., No. 2, 2015