What are we teaching our children through books?

By Margaret Welwood

Most of us want to instill a love of books and learning in the lives of children—and what else might we be teaching them?

Whether you’re a home educating parent evaluating materials, or someone who simply enjoys reading stories to young children, it’s interesting to think about the values we’re passing on through the stories we share.

For example, what I learn from a story about a runaway cookie that was eaten by a fox is that lying gets you dinner. If this isn’t a concept you wish to encourage 😊 could you, for example, talk about misplaced trust?

And are there values you would like to encourage? Wilderness Cat portrays respect for parents and God’s provision, and the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series is rich in humor and in faith lessons.

Our children enjoyed Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories for years, with their highly transparent lessons on courtesy, honesty, kindness and faith. I can still remember my friend reading “Jesus Understood” to the class when I was in grade two, and I read it to our children. However, for this and other older books that were written at a time when political correctness was not an issue, I recommend reading the story over first. You may want to make some small changes, or be prepared to explain the context.

My Bible Friends presents Bible accounts in a clear, gentle manner. When scheming Queen Jezebel meets her doom, for example, children are simply told that she was taken away. Beautiful paintings and sensitive text make this series highly appropriate for young listeners.

Speaking of Biblical values, in 15 Bible Stories Not for VBS DiAne Gates explains why some stories don’t work well for children. She also gives us a blow-by-blow (figuratively, of course!) account of her adventures with the unruly neighbour boy.

If you prefer a more secular approach to values, Little Croc’s Purse presents honesty and courage with huge doses of humor and cuteness, and Tanglebird shows the compassion of a human family for a klutzy bird.

Ingenuity and compassion play pivotal roles in A Storm Called Katrina, a realistic tale of one family’s struggles after the hurricane, and their kindness to a little dog seeking a playmate.

There’s a heightened appreciation in the love we feel for those we have almost lost. This powerful truth is brought home with great gentleness in Taking Care of Sister Bear.

I also like a couple of indie books for beginning chapter book readers. In Cool Kids Wear Glasses, an eyewear prescription and two girls who think for themselves propel Mandy on a journey from Queen of Mean to truly cool. Human and rodent youngsters learn valuable lessons in You Can Go Home Again, a suspenseful, family friendly story of an irresponsible little girl and her pet mice.

I suspect that most of us want to promote empathy. What better way than to put yourself in another person’s shoes (or feathers)? Are You My Mother? is a story that children easily relate to.

Marie and Mr. Bee offers a different take on people with disabilities. The hero, who just happens to use a wheelchair, demonstrates empathy and compassion as she rescues a troublesome drone.

In a more serious vein, A Home for Dakota is a well-deserved rant against puppy mills. However, it can be told to the younger set as a simple story of a sick and angry girl and a frightened dog finding friendship and healing. There are interesting possibilities for promoting empathy here. Why did the girl dislike Dakota when she saw that the dog’s fur was falling out? And why was Dakota hurt by words that she couldn’t understand?

And now, what of “negative” values? Besides the “lying gets you what you want” scenario, are there other themes or values we might want to avoid, or even counteract?

According to the American Psychological Association, “there are three major effects of watching violence in the media (i.e. video games/television): children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, children may be more fearful of the world around them, and children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others.” We can surmise that books portraying violence would have the same effect.

On the other hand, I read of a study that concluded that children who watched portrayals of violent acts might or might not be more likely to commit them–it depended how the villain and victim were portrayed. If the villain was someone the viewer respected, the influence was negative. But if the violence was portrayed from the victim’s point of view, the movie could promote compassion.

Food for thought?

The parables of Christ, Aesop’s fables, fairy tales, and modern stories . . . all have lessons to teach us and the children in our lives. As we enjoy sharing these stories with little ones, let us also be mindful of the opportunities to share ideas of enduring value.

Author Bio

Margaret Welwood savored storytime with the five children she and her husband raised. She now delights in writing and editing books for children, reading and playing with her grandchildren, and tutoring English as a Second Language and literacy.

Please visit check out Margaret’s picture books for children, and see her vendor page for her editing services. Margaret’s books are available on Amazon.





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27 thoughts on “What are we teaching our children through books?”

  1. Nice job, Margaret, in skillfully navigating a subject that could easily get political! AND, for choosing a sensible middle-of-the-road position, instead of taking sides. Though, I’m sure there are those out there who would take you to task for NOT taking a position (progressive or conservative).

    But, let’s face it, those in those respective camps who have kids are likely going to buy the books that teach their respective values. Personally, I’d rather that kids learn the values we can (hopefully) ALL agree on: honesty, compassion, reliability, hard work, responsibility, kindness, etc.

    1. Hi Peter,

      You make an excellent point. People will buy books for their children that reflect their own values. Some parents even protest some books offered in schools that teach contrary values.

      Unlike some political correctness values that disregard some values in order to promote others, the ones you listed are most important so children can learn to navigate the real world.

    2. Thanks, Peter. I’m glad you appreciate my including books that are both Christian and secular. And yes, I agree with you that we try to buy our kids books that align with our values. I’ve found it very useful to have both a secular and a Christian slant (customer’s choice) at the end of my first two books. People really like having a choice, and some customers bought both versions in order to please different people.
      One small point re “progressive or conservative”–perhaps we need to be a little careful about labels. I sometimes wonder what people in North Korea, for example, or Saudi Arabia, who might prefer more individual freedom, are labelled by their governments. And our federal government is making, in the name of inclusion, some restrictions on freedom of speech. Some people see that as progressive, while others see it as regressive.
      BUT–this is not a political forum, I appreciate the compliment, and I enjoyed your story about that freelance writer on your website! I did freelance writing for magazines for a few years, and enjoyed it very much.

  2. Such an important subject given the horrible violence our children see on television and film. My adorable cat is named SAM and this is his story of compassion, kindness, and the beauty of diversity.

    Introducing child-loved, award-winning, SAM: The Cat Without a Tail. The perfect #children’s #gift 🎁.

    “5 / 5 stars. Fantastic read, engaging, enthralling. A must read. I loved the whole concept of this book, the imagination of the author is brilliant. It’s always quite a feat to introduce a new story and making it believable. Gloria makes it perfect. It is absolutely brilliant!!!. Very entertaining. Great fun.

    “This is a great book to teach children not to make fun of others just because they are different. The message behind this book is something to take into account in the education of children today. As a teacher I will advise this book to my students.

    “Well written and colorfully illustrated, it has the capability of captivating children. My verdict, very good, excellent read, top class. A MUST READ!!!” THE BOOK CLUB – Books and Literature

    Amazon: http://bit.ly/SamTail
    Available in #eBook and #Hardcover

    1. Hi Gloria,

      You’ve tackled the issue of diversity with a cat:) Cool. Margaret did the same with a little girl in a wheelchair. Yes, it is so important to reach children with illustrations like this without going overboard.

  3. I wanted with my books, to let children and parents know, that they don’t need to suffer more than they already do. So:

    “Teaching Children Self-Confidence through Service to Others.” Children today face immense pressure to fit in with their peers. This pressure is leading to record rates of depression among preteens and teenagers and this to suicide. Parents look for ways to build their children’s self-esteem; however, teens look to their peers and popular culture for acceptance rather than their parents. This puts parents in a challenging situation. Most children of this age group have issues with acceptance and this is explored and resolved in a positive manner within the story line of the Talon series, Matica shows children and teens that they can overcome great obstacles with love, patience and a selfless attitude toward helping others and experience exciting adventure on the way.

    Children suffer from all sorts of afflictions and through my book they can learn how to coup with everything, as Matica did, the main character in my TALON books. She had to learn it in her early life. Children can find a “Condor” as Matica did. Not literally a condor, but every child or adult for that matter, they are battling with none curable afflictions, should find something that let them forget what is happening to them. Finding a “Condor” would help them to overcome that.

    that is all explored in my Talon book series.

          1. Gina – Gigi, right. Nice meeting you. I love my name as well.
            But how can a author live without getting paid? Was self-published, must get some money back. I know, it’s hard. when I am writing to parents, i know they have a difficult child, they don’t even like to look at my books. They say, they have enough to cope, That means for me, they don’t want it different, they don’t want to try something else. so they stay miserable. What a world. Don’t say like to change and see, that they can do something about and be happy and make the child happy as well?
            sorry to put it on you. I am so frustrated to see parents suffer and they don’t like to change. I just don’t understand that.
            I hope you understand what i mean.

    1. I checked out your books on Amazon. What an interesting author bio!
      And I love your idea that children can overcome depression by helping others. Clinical depression may require medical intervention, but if we’re just feeling blue and useless, helping others can give us a real lift. What a great lesson!

      1. Thank you Margaret,
        Something out of my books:
        ‘He taught me, that life is not ending, when something different is coming your way. One has to embrace the difference and life is going on.’
        That means, if you have an affliction, don’t dwell on it. Leave it behind and go on living.
        Right? will it help you when you are miserable all your life to have that? Is it not better to be happy and live life the fullest?

  4. Dennis Kitainik

    As far as political correctness, we should NOT change the text AT ALL, we should NOT explain unless the child asks, and we should DEFINITELY NOT waste our money on buying ANY stories which have been rewritten to be politically correct (i.e. turned into garbage) — because we should raise our kids to REJECT the ideas of political correctness, this is the ONLY way we can SAVE our civilization from being subsumed by savages!

      1. Dennis Kitainik

        Kindness and compassion (to our own people) yes, diversity NO — we all know by now that diversity is a ploy for the destruction of our way of life from within!

        1. I’ve had to face the diversity police head on in a charity where I was volunteering. It was ridiculous. Our board members had to be so many of this color and so many of that socio-economic background. I really don’t think Americans understand the true meaning of love one another. Sigh.

        2. Does it depend on the kind of diversity, in your opinion? For example, “Marie and Mr. Bee” features a character who just happens to use a wheelchair. Her forest friends make accommodations for her disability without comment, and Marie bears the consequences of a poor choice and reaps the benefits of a good choice just like the rest of us. To me (of course I’m prejudiced–it’s my book!), that’s an example of what diversity should mean–we are all people. Period. Parents of children with disabilities say they appreciate this approach.

          1. Dennis Kitainik

            Well, yes it does — I was speaking specifically about CULTURAL diversity, because THAT is the kind of diversity which undermines and ultimately destroys nations!

    1. I see you feel very strongly about this!
      I actually do make changes to a story as I’m reading it out loud. For example, “Black Beauty” has what some might call “mild profanity,” and I changed it when reading the book out loud.
      I agree with you about not buying classics that have been rewritten for political correctness, but I don’t have a problem with rewriting for reading level. I think that exposes students to some works of great literature they might never know about otherwise.

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