Posts Tagged ‘themes in literature’

I spent Monday working in a high school. My job takes me to various public schools, but I spend most of my time in elementary schools. Even though I currently live with a teen, it is always good to hang out with real teens. To see them in action, to listen to them talk, to be reminded who my ideal YA readers are.

If you write for young people, there is an excellent chance that at some point you will be interacting with your readers.

We can’t always predict what your readers will ask (see Suzanne’s post), but you have to be ready for as many possibilities as you can anticipate. I’ve set WIPs aside because I realized I didn’t want to have to represent–or defend–a particular topic or issue. 

May I suggest a Meet Your Reader Test? Some questions to think about:

  • Do you want to talk face to face about your topic/theme?
  • Does the topic thrill you? 
  • Are you an expert?
  • Do you have more to say on the subject than you could ever fit within the confines of a book?
  • Does the story lead you places you want to be?
  • Are you ready to face any controversies that could arise from a discussion about your book?
  • Can you calmly discuss opposing views?

Yes? Well then, write on!

Sarah Tomp



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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

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A lot of readers find our site when looking for the THEME of a particular book.

Identifying the theme of any book is difficult because it requires thought. It’s personal. It has to do with how that particular story made you feel and/or change. It’s the thing that makes you want to talk about the book.

There is no one right answer, which is why it’s hard to find the answer online. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that theme can be almost any idea – any great truth – as long as you can back it up with examples from the story. It might feel like something simple – something that parents and teachers have been telling you all your life. Like: Cheaters never win or Slow and steady wins the race or Your brother is perfect and we really do love him better than you. You may or may not agree with the statement, but hopefully you can tell what the author thinks.


  • What problem did the character(s) face?
  • Why did he/she have this problem?
  • Did he/she make the right choice(s)?
  • Would you have made the same choice? Why or why not?
  • How did the character change?
  • As you read, what made you feel (pick one): mad, frustrated, sad, hopeful, elated?

Here are some possible themes for Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Check out this link if you are unfamiliar with this story. You may not agree with all of these themes, but what is important is that there are examples of how this particular idea was shown in the story. All you have to do is pick one and stick with it.

  • Lock your door when you leave home.
  • Blondes have a sense of entitlement.
  • The smallest and youngest always get picked on.
  • Small bears and girls have a lot in common.
  • Beggars still want to be choosers.
  • If you’re going to act like a human, you’ll have to deal with them when they show up at your house.

Have fun with it – this is where a book becomes real – because theme is when a reader brings their own thoughts and beliefs to the mix of plot and characters and setting. That’s why stories matter!

Sarah Wones Tomp


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