Theme is difficult thing to teach. It seems to fall into the definition of I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.
Jerry Griswold, an emeritus professor of literature at San Diego State University, names five common themes from classic and popular works of Children’s Literature in his book, Feeling Like a Kid (Johns Hopkins University Press).
What he’s describing as themes seemed to me to be common characteristics seen in stories for children, but he explores the deeper meaning of each characteristic and explores why these situations work and are used repeatedly in a satisfying manner. And why they could be themes. Throughout his explorations I could feel his utter respect for children and for their specific needs – and for the books that provide a richness to that part of life.
From his charming and thoughtful book:
- SNUGNESS: Pleasure is taken from a tight enclosed place, a secret hideaway. Snugness is a bastion of security and a safe anchorage where the soul’d calmness can be restored and well-being enclosed.
- SCARINESS: Fear is more acute in kids’ lives. Whether threatening or pleasurable, scariness confirms the experience of living. It wakes us up.
- SMALLNESS: A child’s fascination with small worlds may be related to his or her own size, but it could also be a reflection of their diminished power. It all comes down to scale and comparison.
- LIGHTNESS: Interest in flying and floating abound. Could be an interest in leaving pressures and worries behind. Or, it could represent a child’s innocence of the world and its rules and weights.
- ALIVENESS: Talking animals and toys – the aliveness of things makes for a personable world. In this sense, a child is never alone.
I hope you find these ideas as interesting as I do to think about!
Sarah Wones Tomp