Children's Literature

Instructor: Chi-Fen Emily Chen, Ph.D. 陳其芬

Department of English, National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, Taiwan


Home
About the Course
Introduction
History
Study of Literature
Teaching Literature
Poetry for Children
Picture Books
Folk Literature
Fantasy
Realistic Fiction
Web Resources
Students' Works

Realistic Fiction

 

 Please read Chapter 11 from Russell, D. L. (2009). Literature for children: a short introduction.

Introduction Characteristics Types

Types of Realistic Fiction

Family Stories (domestic stories)

  • Family stories have been around since Victorian days when they were the mainstay of a girl's reading.

  • Family stories frequently rely on episodic plots, since they are built around the daily details and activities, the squabblings, the schemings, the reconciliations, in which families are normally engaged.

  • Many of the early family stories plumbed the depths of Victorian sentimentalism. For example, the family is portrayed destitute but virtuous, the self-sacrificing and dutiful children always ready to do more than their fair share for the family's well-being, and their widowed mother draws strength from their unfailing togetherness.

  • In early family stories, the family was a haven from the troubles of the world, whereas modern family stories often portray the family as the source of trouble. Today's family is characterized by working parents, single parents, neglectful parents, ungrateful children, sibling rivalry, and a general breakdown in communications.

  • Classic examples:

  • Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" (1867), presenting a realistic portrayal of mid-19th-century American family life with all its ups and downs.

  • Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" (1908), an early family story about an orphan and her new family.

Stories of Social Realism

  • This type of stories deal with friendship, self-identity, racial prejudice, child abuse, sexual abuse, homosexuality, and other social issues that may involve in human growth and development.

  • Classis example: Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884), depicting young people struggling with unlikely friendships and dealing with a troubled society.

  • The authors of this type of stories believe that it is better for young readers to learn about the harsh subjects of life from a capable and sensitive writer than from ill-informed friends or a bad experience.

  Adventure and Survival Stories

  • Adventure stories, often romantic, have long been popular with children. Many adventure stories are, in fact, survival stories, which depict individuals pitted against the forces of nature or, in many modern works, the forces of a cruel, insensitive society. They are usually coming-of-age stories depicting individuals rising above adversity, facing forces that are greater and more formidable than they are, and discovering themselves.

  • One key element in survival stories is their detailing of the means of survival - the protagonist's locating food, providing shelter from the elements, and securing protection from threatening forces.

  • Classic examples:

  • Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" (1883), the classic pirate tale with an exotic setting, mysterious characters, and an action-packed plot.

  • Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" (1719), the classic survival story depicting an individual taming the wild tropical paradise.

  • Scott O'Dell's "Island of the Blue Dolphins", one of the first modern survival stories conveying the message that in real life survival means sacrifice, suffering, adaptation, and often loneliness.  

  Mystery or Detective Stories

  • The mystery or detective story is a form of romance, escapist fiction creating a world more exciting, more dangerous, and more beautiful than we imagine our own to be.

  • The mystery first popularized in the early 19th century by Edgar Allan Poe. It always involves the solving of a puzzle - usually a crime. The success of a mystery depends on the clever planting of clues and the ingenuity of the puzzle and its solution. The mystery writer must keep a delicate balance, knowing just how much to reveal and when.

  Animal Stories

  • This type of stories hinge on the premise that animal characters share certain human traits - the capacity for love, loyalty, jealousy, fear, etc.

  • Realistic animal stories first appeared in the late 19th century and early 20th century and they were most popular in North America. The animals in these stories live as animals, behave as animals, and do not talk.

  • Animal stories often portray the relationship between an animal and a youthful human companion. One serious theme recurring in many animal stories is that of animals falling prey to the savage insensitivity of human beings.

  • Animal stories have proved to be among the most enduring of modern children's literature and are the frequent inspirations for the cinema. However, animal stories also have the reputation for being tearjerkers and lack appeal for older readers who like to go beyond such sentimentality.

  • Classic examples: Anna Sewell's "Black Beauty" (1877), Jack London's "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild" (1903).

  Sports Stories

  • Sport stories originated in the boys' magazines of the 19th century, but they became full-blown books in the 20th century.

  • Sport stories promote high moral character and good sportsmanship. They are usually coming-of-age stories, particularly when the protagonist gains self-knowledge through participation in sports.

  • Most sports stories hinge on the excitement of the game, the necessity for teamwork and fair sportsmanship, and the interpersonal problems that develop between the players. They are popular because of their subject matter, although too often the plots are predictable, the characters are stereotyped, and the dialogue is trite.

  Historical Stories

  • Historical fiction is set in a time period that is earlier from the time the work was written (at least a generation - 20 years - earlier).

  • Early historical fiction sprang from the Romantic Movement and appealed to the Romantic desire to escape from the frantic pace of modern life. In the later 19th century, historical fiction became popular with young readers who were drawn in by the exotic settings, colorful adventures, and heroic figures of the early historical novels.

  • The requirements of good historical fiction:

  1. Recreating the historical period.

  2. Avoiding overloading the story with historical background information.

  3. Making credible dialogues and using language suited to the historical time.

  4. Viewing history with sensitivity and objectivity.

  • This genre is now recovering its popularity and some very fine historical fiction is being written for children with an emphasis on reassessing and understanding the past, rather than extolling it.

  • Reading historical fiction is one way to broaden our horizons, to learn more about the people and places of our world by reading about the past. Another important reason is to learn to avoid making the mistakes of the past.

  • Classic example: Charlotte Yonge's "The Dove in the Eagle' s Nest" (1866) and Howard Pyle's "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" (1883)

Top