What is the value of traditional literature in its contribution to children's literature?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Traditional" literature can be defined in many ways, and each of them makes a contribution to children's literature.  If "traditional" refers to folk tales and legends, children's literature has derived all kinds of elements from it.  The earliest folk tales and legends were not necessarily written for children but easily lend themselves to that genre--think Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.  If "traditional" means "classic," children's literature relies heavily on the themes from classic story lines, such as The Hobbit and Great Expectations.  If "traditional" means "historical," children's literature is full of Harriet Tubman, Abe Lincoln, and Paul Revere kinds of characters. If "traditional" refers to literature which is moral and even spiritual, certainly those influences can be seen in children's lit, as well.  Ironically, of course, some literature written for children (such as many of the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm) is anything but moral. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my mind, the most pressing question here is the idea of what constitutes "traditional literature."  There is much here that needs to be discussed and evaluated.  When the term "traditional literature" is used, what is being discussed?  What defines "tradition" in literature?  Which tradition, in particular, is sought to be embraced?  I think that this becomes critical in not only assessing the notion of literature, in general, but its influence on children's literature.  I think that there is a belief in children's literature that the acknowledgement of individual voice is extremely important.  This is reflective of the modern conception of voice and freedom that can be seen in literature of the modern setting.  If we examine literature of different time periods, we might be able to see similar patterns representing themselves.  I think that this definition becomes a critical part of the equation here.

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