The role of fantasy literature in the juvenile reading habit

Thesis (M.A.), 2003

129 Pages, Grade: 1,8 (A-)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Children, Books and Reading Today – Literary, Psychological, and Sociological Aspects
2.1 Children’s Literature
2.1.1 Defining Children’s Literature
2.1.2 A Synopsis of the History of Children’s Literature
2.1.3 Genres of Children’s Literature
2.1.4 Research in Children’s Literature
2.2 Child Development Theories
2.2.1 Maslow’s Theory of Human Needs
2.2.2 Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
2.2.3 Piaget’s Theory of Developmental Levels
2.2.4 Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
2.3 Children’s Reading Needs and Reading Interests
2.3.1 Reading Interests and Reading Preferences
2.3.2 Reading Needs and Psychological Background
2.4 Children and Reading Today

3. Fantasy
3.1 Defining Fantasy and Fantastic Literature
3.2 Fantastic Matters
3.2.1 Fantastic Journeys
3.2.2 Good versus Evil
3.2.3 Other Worlds
3.2.4 Time Switching
3.2.5 Visitors of the Unknown
3.2.6 Miniature Societies
3.3 The Function of Fantasy Literature, Aspects of Value

4. Motives for the Success of Fantasy in the Contemporary Juvenile Readership – Construction of a Possible Concept

5. An Analysis of Representative Pieces of Children’s Fantasy
5.1 J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings
5.1.1 The Lord of the Rings - Contents
5.1.2 The Lord of the Rings – Analysis in View of the Work’s Popularity among Children
5.1.3 The Lord of the Rings – Concept Applied
5.2 J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter Series 1-
5.2.1 The Harry Potter Series – Contents Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5.2.2 The Harry Potter Series - Analysis in View of the Work’s Popularity among Children
5.2.3 The Harry Potter Series – Concept Applied

6. Conclusion

7. Appendix: Reader Responses to The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter Series
7.1 The Lord of the Rings
7.2 The Harry Potter series

8. Bibliography
8.1 Primary Literature
8.2 Secondary Literature
8.3 Newspaper Articles
8.4 Internet Resources

1. Introduction

A discussion of children’s literature as a topic of a research paper suggests the treatment of something new, a matter rather unexplored, or at least not as exhausted as most aspects of the quite popular area of children’s literature tend to be with respect to student’s papers in English literature. ‘Something new’ would imply a book recently published, considering that a new publication is not likely to be exhausted by studies. This would also call for a discussion of the readership, as time changes very fast today and people change with time, so that children living around the turn of the millennium may ‘need’ and expect different things than children of the past. In fact, the present situation for children’s literature is a subject of particular concern, for technological development has influenced the matter of reading to a large extent and voices become audible that fear a decline of reading culture especially with reference to children and youths. This changed reading situation will be the starting point of my paper.

Yet, there are more possibilities to step out of the common framework of student papers. In view of the current reading situation, particularly a person concerned with literary studies will have an interest in books that are still popular among children - those published recently, for they reveal knowledge about how contemporary authors may meet contemporary children’s needs and expectations, and books from the past, too, since they provide information about universal validity. This interest, then, inevitably directs the eye to books like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, for their popularity among children is recognizable in the media, bookstores, the toy industry, schools and even on the street. However, the first similarity between the two books is that they both belong to the genre of fantasy. Moreover, in recent years there has been a wave of interest in fantasy observable in movies, computer games, children’s (and other) books that gives rise to the assumption of a specific weight or importance of the matter among contemporary children. By designing a concept and thereby expanding the theoretical framework with a practical approach, I will try to find out whether the thesis of a significance of fantasy literature for young people can be upheld. I will seek reasons for the popularity of fantasy in children’s books and the possible ‘therapeutic’ effect on the reader that would justify the apparent success of the fantasy trend. The application of the concept to the two works that I regard as having a strong influence on the fantasy trend will specify the topic in form of a book analysis and will hopefully give information about their success.

When dealing with the role of children’s literature today it seems reasonable to start from a discussion of children’s reading pattern against the background of the cultural, sociological and psychological conditions. We are living in an age of mass media, constantly differing modes and rapidly advancing modernizations that imply significant changes for children as well as adults. Today, children are granted a higher degree of equal treatment and autonomy due to the new perception of the child as it arose from developmental history and the change in family structures. Contemporary children are exposed to a wealth of leisure activities, especially designed for young people, including TV-programs, internet, computer games, periodicals, children’s sports etc.

Naturally, in the face of this enormous supply children’s reading habits have changed. According to studies of children’s leisure activities, only 43 percent of US-American fourth graders and 19 percent of eighth graders report that they read for fun on a daily basis[1]. The British-American Tobacco research centre reports a change in German media habits stating that in 2001 43 percent of German youths between 14 and 29 years old prefer reading in their leisure time (compared to a percentage of 47 juvenile computer users), while only five years before, in 1996, 47 percent maintained a preference of reading, which meant a number twice as high as the number of computer users (23 percent)[2] ; the share of television in the juvenile leisure time amounts to 93 percent[3]. A study, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and released in November 1999, reveals most children (age 2 to 18 years) are exposed to an average of 6.5 hours of daily media exposure, of which television is the most dominant[4].

It is certain that today’s children, youth and society in general are increasingly confronted with all kinds of media. As is demonstrated by the studies above, in this context books come second to the diverse kinds of electronic media. Starting out from this condition, an analysis of the books children do read is particularly interesting. For there is still observable a strong tendency for young people to read, even though the supply of electronic media has influenced the matter of reading to a large extent.

One of the most striking factors that bear testimony to the fact that books still manage to attract young people, was the publishing of Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books (the first volume was published in 1997). The success of the first four volumes of the series (three are still to come) among children as well as adults was overwhelming. Within a short time there was a real ‘Pottermania’ involving the adoption of terms such as ‘Muggle’ or ‘Quidditch’ into popular culture, bookstore parties for the hundreds of disguised children besieging the stores on the release day (according to the publisher’s advice in Great Britain the books were sold only after schools were closed for the day to prevent truancy), just as the books’ domination of bestseller lists for weeks and their honouring with a variety of awards.

Although it is essential to realize that the extensive commercialisation played a major part in the books’ success, it should not be forgotten that children and youths only read books they like to read. They do not wait for hours in front of a bookstore to simply have the book; they make the intellectual effort (that most television programs, for example, do not demand from children) and read the book.

The great success of the Harry Potter series seems reason enough to take a closer look at this book. In order to provide a broader basis for an analysis of children’s reading habits I decided on additionally discussing a work from the past that was outstandingly successful among children and still is. With this aim in view I chose - as a milestone of fantasy and one of the first books that strongly influenced the following fantasy trend of the 1970s and 1980s - J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, originally not intended for children, but read and enjoyed by them from the time of their publication until now.

The first part of this paper will examine the theoretical background of a discussion of children’s literature. In the chapter about children, books and reading I will introduce the reader to the matter of children’s literature by giving a definition and a survey of its history. A short overview of the genres in children’s literature seems important to me with regard to the subsequent discussion of the comprehensive genre of fantasy, in which elements of other genres play a part, too. Additionally, some research into the subject will be presented. Furthermore, I will focus on the readership itself by giving a survey of the theories of child development that I regarded crucial, and in the subsequent chapter try to illuminate children’s reading interests and reading needs in an attempt to find out the reasons why they read. The section will be closed by a portrayal of the reading situation of contemporary children in the age of mass media in order to relate the psychological area to the present situation.

Taking into consideration the fact that the Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings as well as a variety of other successful children’s books are classified as fantasy, this is the area which I will next discuss. Beginning with a definition of the term ‘fantasy’ and a look at the genre, I will deal with the effect of fantasy literature on the juvenile reader and try to investigate in how far the genre meets the reading predilection of today’s children and youths. At this point I will start to investigate whether my thesis of the significance of fantasy in children’s reading patterns is justified.

At the beginning of the second part of my paper I will gather and organize the information gained in the preceding chapters, constructing the concept for an analysis of representative children’s fantasy in the light of the thesis I have put forward. In order to set this part off from the rest of the paper and emphasize the form of a concept, further explanations of the separate headings will be written in a smaller typeface.

What follows then is a detailed discussion of the works I have chosen. With respect to the broad scope of both works and their ramified contents, a short summary will be given. Subsequently, the works will be discussed in view of their popularity among young people on a general basis, not on a basis that depends on the genre. As a third and decisive step, the concept will be applied in order to relate the possible reasons for the books’ success to the framework of fantasy and find information in their success to support the concept I have introduced.

The works I will discuss are well-known in a multitude of countries all over the world and technological developments have affected conditions in most cultures. For these reasons and because children’s books tend to follow a similar pattern in their response to similar, child specific needs that are not dependant on the nationality, I will not limit this paper to the treatment of a single culture. Bearing in mind the difficulties that might occur in this case, I will try to evolve an examination of international application within the bounds of possibility.

Keeping to this rather universal or central orientation and due to a necessity to limit this paper to a certain scope, I will also refrain from an extensive discussion of sex specific, social and ability specific differences among children and will furthermore concentrate on an approximately intermediate age group.

2. Children, Books and Reading today – Literary, Psychological and Sociological Aspects

2.1 Children’s Literature

2.1.1 Defining Children’s Literature

Before entering a discussion it should be considered what exactly is meant by children’s literature. First of all, where can we draw the line between literature for children and literature for the young adult reader? True, there are two separate bodies of literature for children and for juveniles with different topics and emphasis, made distinguishable to parents, teachers and librarians by publisher’s designations about the addressed age group. Still, taking into consideration that children’s reading patterns are considerably individual, there cannot be any clear distinction between those two fields.

Adequate literature for children depends to a high degree on the taste of the respective child, his/her ability to comprehend and his/her reading interest. Consequently children of the same age can differ enormously in their reading pattern. While one child might enthusiastically read books particularly intended for children, the other might look for reading material dealing with more complex issues although this may be commonly regarded as an ‘adult book’.

Apart from this, it is difficult to find a distinct definition for the term children’s literature considering the vast amount of reading material that has been directed at and read by children over the years. Even a rather superficial look at this issue justifies Zena Sutherland’s fundamental question: “Is every book that children read a part of their literature?”[5] Starting from the assumption that this is the case, a book like Robinson Crusoe for example, originally not intended for children but loved by generations of young readers, must be included in the category of children’s literature. Considering the rather short history of children’s literature that will be described in the following chapter we realize that, in this instance, a wealth of ‘adult’ classics like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is to be included in the still not definite category of children’s books. Yet, including such books in a definition of children’s literature causes a new problem. For it is assumable that “sometime, somewhere, all books have been read by one child or another”[6].

When dealing with children’s literature, the researcher is faced with a body of literature that is generally considered as children’s classics with respect to the success it had and has among the young readership, but which was actually not meant to address children (like Robinson Crusoe). There are furthermore books that have been very well intended to suit children, but are scarcely read by them, or much more appreciated by adults (like some of the didactic books written to instruct children) next to the books both aimed at children and read by them (like Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking). And finally there is a category of ambiguous works that emerged from an education-related orientation towards two target groups[7] and appear to achieve different, and sometimes opposing, reading experiences for adults and children (like Lewis Carrols’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh), marking “einen Bereich, in dem Kinderliteratur und Allgemeinliteratur sich überschneiden”[8].

Apart from this, Margaret Marshall offers a number of possible categorizations: By format, by genre or theme in fiction, by broad theme or specific content in non-fiction, by age of reader (further subdivided by reading age, reading stage, interest age, school stage), by ability or disability of the intended reader, by codes and symbols such as the Dewey classification scheme, by publisher’s series and miscellaneous categories such as by language, by popularity, by multi-cultural content, ‘quality’ v. ‘trash’.[9]

Today, the reading material aimed at children extends from picture books, comics, pop-up books and choose-your-own-adventure books to children’s poetry and folk literature including tales, myths, fables, epics, and legends. The material embraces modern fantasy, mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction and biographies just like animal, sports, family and problem stories. There is realistic fiction covering almost every topic, informational books on numerous topics and children’s magazines – alongside the multitude of adult books that have been adopted into the children’s book world.

All this goes to show that, in order to find a tangible concept for further discussion, only a series of definitions fulfils our conditions. According to the Metzler Literatur Lexikon, within the context of children’s literature (Metzler assigns both children’s and juvenile literature to this concept), we are principally dealing with “…[dem] Schrifttum, das Kinder und Jugendliche aus dem literarischen Gesamtangebot einer Epoche herausgreifen und rezipieren (Kinder- und Jugendlektüre), [sowie dem] literarische[n] Gut [...], das die vermittelnden Instanzen als für Kinder und Jugendliche geeignet ansehen (sanktionierte Kinder- und Jugendliteratur)“[10]. Mainly in agreement with this thesis Karl Ernst Maier understands the term ‘Jugendliteratur’ as a collective name that refers to both children’s and youth’s literature and includes “Schriften, die in der weitaus überwiegenden Zahl von eigenen Verlagen oder Verlagsabteilungen hergestellt und dem jungen Leserpublikum als Freizeit- und Privatlektüre angeboten werden [...] Zur Jugendliteratur zählt aber auch, was vom jungen Leser als Lektüre gewählt wird, ohne dass sie schon von der Produktion her speziell für ihn gekennzeichnet ist.“[11] ; whereas Sutherland outlines her definition of children’s literature as “books that are not only read and enjoyed, but also that have been written for children and that meet high literary and artistic standards”[12].

This paper will be based on a definition of children’s literature including books that have been addressed to and books that are consumed by children and youths, from the age they start reading to the age they enter adulthood. In the face of Hunt’s thesis that no book can be excluded from the access of ‘one child or another’ and simultaneously agreeing with Marshall in the statement that “however good a book is and however marketed, promoted and recommended, we cannot say that every child will enjoy the book”[13], we will refrain from a biased or rigid definition and leave boundaries open.

2.1.2 A Synopsis of the History of Children’s Literature

Dealing with the subject of children’s literature we should start with a critical look at its history. As a matter of fact, the mass of modern-day top-quality children’s books is a product of the past. This means that the current children’s literature has developed out of the efforts and missteps that had been made earlier. Thus, when studying literature of the young reader we need to cope with questions like where and how it took its origin, what its source was and where it is going. Only then, by viewing the past with the knowledge of today while examining the present with a certain amount of historical information, can we be in the position to judge.

One of the most influential factors in literature is the culture in which it is produced. Any author, conscious of this fact or not, is a product of the culture he/she lives in, and in this way, literature can be seen as a mirror of society. Particularly children’s literature reflects the conflict and controversy in its society on the subject of moral standards and lifestyle, since children are educated according to the moral rules of the period. Children’s books are characterized, probably above all, by society’s perception of the roles of children. Just as the image of the child changed from century to century so did the content of books directed at the young reader. Even today, the question of the appropriate content for children’s books is among the most controversial aspects in a discussion of children’s literature.

As was already mentioned in the preceding chapter, before the eighteenth century young readers read the books that were available, works that were then regarded as adult literature, since there was very little literature children were targeted at. Thus, “all pre-1700 texts can be considered as (also) children’s texts”[14]. Nonetheless, this chapter will give a short summary of the early history of children’s literature, taking into consideration that even before 1700 there was a small body of literature published for children, though less attractive to its target group than what was not addressed to them.

The earliest books for children were written by monastic teachers and meant to instruct the young readers, not to give them a joyful reading experience and by far not serving the purpose of entertainment. These books, mostly written in Latin and either rhymed or in the form of question and answer, constitute the basis of didacticism that has a strong influence on children’s literature up to now. Alongside the publication of instructional children’s books in the mid-fifteenth century, England’s first printer William Caxton published a series of books for the adult reader, including the stories of Ulysses or King Arthur, which were consumed by children to a great extent.

With the appearance of the pedlars and their chapbooks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, children got in touch with the condensed versions of legends and fairy tales, poorly written but enjoyed by children for their elements of adventure and their quickly varying order of events. “Badly written, crudely illustrated, unhonored though they were, the chapbooks preserved and popularised some of the precious elements of literature that children love”[15], but similarly outraged parents and teachers to a degree that produced a reinforced turning to instructional, religious children’s literature. Not only in England and the United States under the religious movement of the Puritans did easy literature pave the way for a new didactic wave in children’s books. Maier describes the German readers’ orientation ‘downwards’ to a literature, “die seine Sinne massiv befriedigte”, followed by a similar consequence: “In der Literatur für die Jugend siegte vollends der Schulmeister und Pastor über den Dichter und Erzähler”[16].

With the publication of Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose (Contes de ma Mère l’Oye) in France around 1697, the child reader increasingly became familiar with printed fairy tales. In 1744 the follow-up model A Little Pretty Pocket Book by the London publisher John Newberry, who firstly discovered the child as a potential consumer, caused a “battle between the religious/educational and commercial interests for the market in children’s books”[17] as well as a growing tendency to fantasy literature.

As early as the seventeenth century the English philosopher John Locke propagated his view of children as “rational creatures with individual needs, not miniature adults to be taught by rote”[18]. His ideas concerning learning through play just as his general educational theory are still of interest nowadays. Nevertheless the European and North American children’s books writers of the nineteenth century re-orientated their works to didactic aims. Literature lacking a direct pedagogical value or showing strong fantastic and unrealistic tendencies was not appreciated. This revived didacticism was not anymore theologically orientated, but aimed at intellectual, rational education. Fantastic literature was forced out of the mainstream.

Romanticism initiated a change in the conception of children’s books and produced a children’s literature of “vornehmlich literarischer Prägung, während zuvor und wieder späterhin vor allem Theologen und Pädagogen auf dem Feld der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur aktiv waren”[19]. The end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of children’s literature[20], then brought the change of the status on the subject of children’s books due to a new approach to childhood. A wealth of children’s books came into being and survived into the present. As a result of the breaking down of social barriers the population became more literate and a growing supply and demand situation in connection with mechanical progress in book production enabled a standardized mass production and wide attraction of texts to a mass literate population. Likewise, the new conception of the child initiated the development of a new kind of children’s literature that was not only intended to inform and educate but to entertain, too.

After the First World War, there was an expansion of the family and adventure story alongside the development of non-fiction works for children and the appearance of children’s periodicals. The establishment of the Newberry Medal in USA in 1922 and the Carnegie Medal in the UK in 1936 are examples that give evidence to the new acknowledgement of children’s books as a worthy body of literature. The Second World War was followed by another acme of the creation of children’s books in the USA and England. In post-war Germany a period of sentimental, unrealistic children’s books as a reaction to the political situation was only brought to an end with the release of Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. This fantastic narration can be seen as marking the borderline of the formerly known representations of children and the incipient orientation towards non-authoritarian educational concepts; a “Revolution in der Kinderstube”[21] took place. In the 1970s, the teenage novels appeared and signified another development of children’s literature.

In the course of the following years, the development of the social voice caused a social realism that integrated factors like race, class and sex into children’s literature. Apart from that, a flowering of fantasy fiction characterized the 1980s. The increasing range of children’s books combined with a wider readership led to the inclusion of children’s literature into educational studies and finally to a body of literary criticism and analysis.

2.1.3 Genres of Children’s Literature

In the course of the development of children’s literature, a large quantity of different kinds of books for the young reader filled the shelves in libraries and bookstores. Today, children can choose from a variety of literature that is not second to the many genres in adults’ literature. However, classification is a complex task, for a genre is not always definite and the boundaries to other genres are open, sometimes overlapping. Categorizing several works into a genre indicates that all of the texts share a common group of characteristics. Conversely among these works “we can identify as many differences and variations […] as we can find similarities”[22]. Still, some elements play a more important role within each type of literature. On this basis, a brief summary of the genres most commonly directed at and read by children may provide a general idea about this topic.

Researchers of children’s literature differ in their choice of genres. With respect to the rather small framework of this paper and a main emphasis on children’s fantasy, it will here be demonstrated only a shortened and summarized reference to the most common genres in children’s literature.

Traditional Literature

Traditional literature is originally passed on orally; it is regarded as the expression of universal wishes and needs. In most countries, there are variations of one story, diverse as they are giving an insight into similar and universal psychological and emotional desires. Due to the response to universal human needs this type of old literature can be seen as relevant for human nature today as it was for previous generations right back to the beginnings of the human race.

- Folktales: founded on simple dualities like good and evil, weakness and strength, poverty and wealth, quest and achievement, folktales are regarded as attempts to explain life and the world. The stories follow a strict pattern: Good conquers evil after a battle, good is rewarded and evil is punished.
- Fairy Tales: in contrast to fantastic literature in general, the fairy tale mainly deals with realistic characters, human beings not fantastic creatures that live in a magic world. Fairytales serve the psychotherapists as means of diagnosis and curing and are regarded as “Schlüssel zur Welt”[23]. They are based on the same dual features as mentioned under folktales and therefore correspond to the human need for order and orientation. The decisive factor is, “dass […] eine Form vorliegt, in der das Geschehen, der Lauf der Dinge so geordnet sind, dass sie den Anforderungen der naiven Moral völlig entsprechen, also nach unserem absoluten Gefühlsurteil ‘gut’ und ‘gerecht’ sind”[24]. The fairy tale enables the reader to experience that time and place are not necessarily of concern. The inner truth, which is identifiable in the underlying moral, the clear progression of plot and the simple structure of good and evil characters are elements that grip the child.
- Myths: in majority interpretations of natural phenomena that explain creation, religion, the meaning of life and death just as the cause for good and evil. Myths are written or told in a simple style in order to achieve the effect of the original spirit.


Fantasy literature brings the irrational into the given world of the child. It confronts the realistic, empirical and ordinary world with a world of irrationalities and inexplicability in that the unusual takes place. Fantasy can be subdivided into several types of which only three will be demonstrated in the summary given below. A more detailed discussion of the genre fantasy follows in chapter 3.

- High Fantasy: the focus is on the conflict between good and evil. Time is portrayed as flexible matter that can suddenly change, overlap or mix up. In contrast to humorous fantasy, the tone is serious or sometimes even deferential.
- Humorous Fantasy: the writer of fantasy can create his/her fictional world in an either serious or in a humorous way. Together with the fantastic elements the humorous and comical style offers a varied entertainment that can work on the level of word play, demanding a certain level of maturity[25], or on all levels of understanding responding to the young child too[26]. A combination of humorous and fantastic elements can achieve the effect of a questioning of norms.
- Science Fiction: the stress is on scientific laws and technological inventions. In comparison with the very closely related genre of fantasy in which it is sometimes categorized, the world invented is based on a realistic concept, though it may be on other planets, far in the future and totally speculative.

Realistic fiction

Realistic fiction contains all stories that take place within the bounds of possibility, dealing with situations that are possible, while not necessarily probable. The focus is on personal and particular problems. The protagonist’s problem constitutes the source of the plot and can refer to any kind of conflict in children’s life that could happen and is convincingly true to life, as we know it. Realistic texts can be as exciting or imaginative as fantasy. They are founded on a portrayal of real life and are therefore plausible.

- Adventure Books: characterized by action, anticipation, challenge and excitement and for that reason covering the majority of children’s books in as far as these elements are integral components of diverse genres of realistic and fantastic children’s literature. In a more limited definition, the adventure story deals with a protagonist (or a group of protagonists) that solves a mystery, overcomes a dangerous situation or undertakes a journey, mostly without the help of parents or authorities. Adventure and the unusual, unexpected and strange stand in close connection. The story involves the overcoming of a danger by ingenuity and courage and usually ends with a successful completion of the adventure.
- Historical Realism: historical fiction takes place in the past. The setting is determined by time and place and has a strong influence on the plot, since characters are portrayed as products of their period. Themes are universal, but stand in relation to a specific time.
- Sports Stories: there is often a formula plot like the protagonist’s way from a beginner in any kind of sports (but mainly team sports) to the hero that saves the final game in the last minute of playing. The emphasis is on team play and sportsmanship as well as on personal growth. The game description is an appealing element to the child reader.
- School Stories: the genre originated in Great Britain where the school form of the boarding school lead to a story form of special interest for children and teenagers. Adventures in the absence of parents (while next to the authority of teachers), the description of a community of an approximate age-group (=peer group) and the portrayal of strong and weak characters within the clear-cut structure of a school organization are typical for the school story.
- Animal Realism: characters are equipped with human behaviour, thinking and language. Just as non-fictional animal books, the animal fiction provides information about appearances, habitat and life cycles of animals, but includes a conflict or adventure.

Non-fiction: factual books for children provide information about thousands of topics and aid the child in relating facts to concepts, often with diagrams and drawings.

Poetry: children’s poetry embraces nursery rhymes for the very young, verse, narrative poetry, ballads and lyrics. It offers the child an encapsulated meaning by sense of rhythm and rhyme and poetic imagery. Children’s poetry touches as many fields as prose. There are fairy, fantasy, adventure, animal, nonsense, nature, realistic, political, satirical, romantic, religious and philosophical poetry for children of all ages.

2.1.4 Research in Children’s Literature

An initial conflict with regard to research into children’s literature is to be seen in the differing approaches of (at least) two “distinct, if shifting, categories of people who write about children’s books, categories that have almost become traditional since they were named by John Rowe Townsend in 1968: ‘book people’ and ‘child people’.”[27] Research into children’s literature is both child specialists’ and literature specialists’ domain, a fact that means exploration from different points of view and with different aims. Sociologists, psychologists, teachers, librarians and parents, representing the ‘child people’, are mainly concerned with “Einfluss und Wirkung des Textes auf den Leser”, implying that “[Der] junge[n] Leser selbst [ist] Forschungsgegenstand“[28]. The ‘book people’ or literature specialists, like scholars or humanists, appear to be more interested in the literature – its content, form and structure - than in the audience it is addressed to.[29]

Moreover, enquiries on the subject of children’s literature are carried out in various fields of research. Thus, when dealing with children’s literature we find ourselves confronted with questions of scientific disciplines such as literary studies, literature didactics, literature sociology, sociology, social psychology, neurology, psychoanalysis and more[30]. The sociological aspect has become a major issue in studies of children’s books in as far as research today deals with the reflection of social and cultural values to a great extent. But the psychological and the educational or functional aspect just as the aforementioned literary aspect are involved proportional depending on the researcher.

As a result of the many fields of research a lack of consensus characterizes the methods of investigation. However, a methodology is sociologically determined on the main part. Common research methods are survey or descriptive research, statistical research or historical research. Descriptive research gathers contemporary data by means of questionnaires, personal interviews of children and the adults concerned with children (teachers, parents, librarians etc.) or observations of groups of people in order to find out about reading interests. Statistical research as a rather problematic method evaluates information on quantitative relationships between persons, objects, events, institutions and nations. Problems occur when taking into consideration that the factors involved, such as sex, age, social class or economic level, are not determinants but variables, and therefore are extremely difficult, if at all, to be controlled. Within historical research methods the present state of children’s literature is related to the past with the intention of examining possible influences and consequences. Additional information can be gained by direct observation, case studies and content analysis.

On this background, examinations have been carried out about the influence of mass media on children’s reading pattern, the role of social and cultural status of parental home, sex-specific effects, age-specific and type-specific reading and educational values.

Most researchers agree on a changed reading situation due to the supply of other, more passive and in that way easier consumable ways of entertainment (for example TV and computer games). Still, a decline of the reading culture is commonly denied[31] (more information on this issue will be given in chapter 2.4).

With respect to social environment, it has been stated that factors such as income and profession of parents, number of brothers and sisters, education, social status of home and residential area, but also the cultural status of home that is not necessarily dependant on social stratum, stand in close relationship to children’s reading pattern.[32]

Studies of developmental psychology give information about a diverging reading interest of boys and girls that is to be seen as a result of social structure rather than psychologically substantiated[33]. Within the framework of an examination of reading interest, researchers worked on exposing reading impetus and motivation in psychological as well as sociological contexts. This area will be discussed in greater detail in chapter 2.3.

Another concern of developmental psychology is the factor of age with respect to reading. Children’s literature was divided into various age-group-literatures according to the understanding of childhood and youth of the changing epochs. Since an establishment of studies of reading ages and stages within the framework of child reader researches, scientists have tried to construct models that classify the different stages of life and reading interests. Charlotte Bühler, as one of them, instituted a system that was regarded as model for literary age division for decades:

- “Struwwelpeter-age”: 2 – 4 years (literary pre-period )
- “Fairytale-age”: approximately 4 – 8 years
- “Robinson-age”: 9 – 11/12 years (already more differentiated reading interests)
- “Hero-age”: 12 – 14/15 years (later supplied)
- “Transitional age”: (to adult literature): beginning with 14 years (girls) and 15 years (boys)[34]

Still, it has to be stated that the modifications caused by social and historical factors make a theory of fixed alleged reading ages exceptionally difficult. Opinion among researchers is divided. While Beinlich holds that “der Terminus ‘Lesealter’ [...] unbedingt (wie ‘Lesestufe’, ‘Lesephase’) in der theoriebezogenen Leserforschung, der pädagogischen Praxis und Theorie, in der Entwicklungspsychologie und Soziologie als grob sachinadäquat gemieden werden [sollte]“[35], others refer to the necessity of taking into account individual divergences in children’s development, but approve a demonstration of the development of human spheres such as reading development in form of stage categorization with the aim of recording particular tendencies[36].

As a result of the problematic division into reading ages/stages a new division into ‘reader types’[37] became the subject of discussion. This reader typology embraces studies of interest types, experience types, external reading pattern just as psychological approaches that examine psychophysical processes and reactions of comprehension. In the course of the last 30 years the role of the social background has increasingly gained importance.

On the side of literary research are also various focuses of research. However, generally speaking, there is less literary research than social science research in the field of children’s literature. On account of the widely held assumption that literature for children is inferior to adult literature inasmuch as it is viewed both more simple and more trivial (and intended for a ‘lesser culture’)[38], a great number of literary researchers and book critics perceive children’s literature as not worth an analytic study. Within the research that is applied to literary standards, there have been presented examinations of aesthetic components like images and symbols, rhythm and rhyme, style and composition by the members of the ‘new criticism’ school, who focus on the autonomy of the literary work. Other categories of literary research explore social, political, and cultural influences on literary creation. The reader response theory, a category of literary research that includes the child’s position in an analysis in contrast to the methods mentioned before, examines interaction between child and medium. The reader response theory works from different positions such as psychoanalytic view, hermeneutic view, phenomenological view, structuralist view, political or ideological view and post-structuralist view[39].

In the course of the Seventies more and more theories found their way into a discussion of children’s literature in sequences so close to each other that a revision of theoretically out-dated concepts could not match the speed of succession anymore. As a result, a mixture of diverse standpoints and methods was adapted in practical, critical and pedagogical works. According to Bamberger, this multi-lateral approach turned out to be “ein gesunder Kompromiss”[40] in most cases of research in children’s literature.

All methods presented may constitute a possibility for orientation. But since analysis on the field of children’s literature is dependant on an understanding of its consumers, and these consumers are human beings and not formulas[41], the researcher faces a deficient outcome that should be regarded as a warning about a dogmatic application.

2.2 Child Development Theories

Becoming a grown-up means going through a time of continuing changes. The growing process involves psychological and cognitive developments, advances in motor skills and physical growth. Developmental psychologists search for an explanation of children’s needs, their cognitive abilities, psychosocial state and moral and social development at different ages so as to find out what children are like at separate stages of life and how they can or should be encountered.

In order to pave the way for an understanding of children’s needs and interests with regard to literature, it will here be given a brief survey of children’s developmental stages in form of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, Jean Piaget’s developmental levels and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development[42]. All outcomes will be related to some extent to children’s literature.

The following theories of child development and child perception have been developed on the background of sociology and psychology rather than in close relation with literature. With respect to the intensely personal nature of responses to literature and the cognition that a division into stages or reading ages is a delicate matter, it is appropriate to view the following theories as orientation, not as conclusive age designation.

2.2.1 Maslow’s Theory of Human Development

Rooted in a humanistic philosophy of education, Abraham Maslow worked from the standpoint that individual identity represents the key for an understanding of the whole human species. According to Maslow, human needs construct a hierarchy from the most basic, physiological demands to more complex psychological needs, of which the lower levels must be fulfilled before the higher levels come into relevance. Though Maslow mainly worked with adults, his idea can be applied to persons of all ages.

Levels of this hierarchy of needs from bottom to top are:

Need for physical well-being: A sense for physical comfort is among the first experiences in human life. Apart from the people that care for us, eating and sleeping are essential factors of well-being. Furthermore well-being involves everything that provides comfort from the basic life-supporting things to objects of luxury. As physical comfort is dependant on material security to a certain extent, the lack of security and the desire for it frequently determine motives for action and theme of story in books as well as in real life.

In literature, particularly in fairy tales that came into being at a time of widespread material deficiencies, symbols of physical comfort like opulent feasts, extensive meals, brightly burning fires and luxurious or comfy homes refer to this human need. Even today, the uncertainty of material security makes the longing for it a pressing need. Representations of comfort and material wealth in literature captivate readers old and young, for they reflect their search for security.

Need for Love: Giving and receiving love is a human need so crucial that it provides its own substitutes when not satisfied. Thus, people tend to project their warm feelings on animals or subjects, when missing a person to share their feelings with. The need for love affects family feelings, friendships, devotion to pets and, with increasing age, involves romantic feelings towards a person of the opposite (or same) sex. A relationship that provides love and trust causes spiritual strength that enables people to cope with difficult situations.

Books that portray affectionate relationships on the one hand, lack of love and outsider positions on the other hand, allow young readers of difficult family situations to identify with an unwanted character, find substitutes for their own dissatisfying circumstances and recognize the same needs in other creatures.

Need to belong: In close relation to the need for security, the need to belong characterizes human behaviour. Growing out of “merely egocentric extensions of children’s self-love”[43], the need to be an accepted member of a group forms up initially in sense for family, and with the growing recognition of others, in more and broader areas like friends, school, city and country. Analogous to the need to belong to a group, there is the need to identify with ever broadening circles of people.

Children’s literature reflects this sense of the group inasmuch as it often deals with stories about the family, the school and circles of friends, supplying representations of favourable group experience just as problems of acceptance.

Need to achieve competence: The process of achieving competence begins with the infant’s first actions of grasping, babbling and crawling and determines human life most often to the end. The physical and intellectual progress causes a sense of satisfaction that is important for the general well-being and the individual identity. The need to achieve competence and thereby master situations is linked to the need to belong, because the completion of tasks by competence may become a compensation for rejection and a step toward acceptance.

Stories of individuals or ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ that refuse help and achieve success by competence, extremely popular in adventure books, attract children, because they reflect their wishes of how they would like to act themselves.

Need for knowledge: A certain intellectual security is another factor significant for a steadfast position in life. Apart from that, curiosity is a main characteristic of the child: hunger for knowledge must not necessarily aim at a specific position, but is a part of human nature.

Today children’s books offer knowledge about almost every area of interest. While non-fictional books inform about thousands of topics in particular, there is information about one or the other aspect of human life in every book.

Aesthetic needs: Although standing in some way in contradiction to the rather utilitarian needs for achieving competence and feeling secure, the need for beauty and order is not to be underestimated in human life. In all kinds of arts, the artist tackles some aspect of life and re-creates it, creating the possibility of a new dimension beyond the realistic report of facts that can be received by the consumer. Children are searching for aesthetical satisfaction like adults, though both may act subconsciously.

Books offer various kinds of aesthetical fulfilment in shape of content, style, and illustrations.

2.2.2 Erikson’s theory of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s concept of psychosocial development starts from the assumption that maturity is achieved by going through different stages based on each other. Each stage comprises a psychosocial conflict that is relevant to the person’s effort to gain individuality and to learn to function in society. The psychosocial crises have to be resolved before the next stage can be entered. According to Erikson, the stages of psychosocial development emerge from the experiences acquired in interaction with the world. Factors in children’s lives that noticeably determine development are the interaction between child and adult and the significance of play, in which children learn about their inner perceptions and about the external world they are supposed to fit in.

Erikson’s first stage begins in infancy with the crisis of Trust versus Mistrust. This stage will not be included as it is not relevant to children’s literature. In the second stage, characterized by the conflict Autonomy versus Doubt (ages 18 months to three years), children alternate between the desire for independence and the uncertainty of cutting themselves off. The child relies on the support of elders whereas play can grant access to the development of autonomy within own rules. Parents and their educational rules are dominant with respect to the prevailing social order. With regard to literature, this stage would imply an interest in family relationships.

The next stage of Initiative versus Guilt occurs in the phase between age three to six and is marked by an increasing expectation for responsibility on the side of the parents. Corresponding with this new independence, there is a learning process that involves the realization of the own behaviour in contrast to the behaviour of other people. In conflicts, a sense of guilt is likely to come up. Solitary daydreams and play with other children provide space for imagining the future and dwelling on the present situation as well as coping with life crises. For members of this stage group Sutherland suggests a kind of literature in which characters, too, experience conflict in interactions, for children can “experience along” with story characters in their experience of taking more responsibility.[44]

From age seven to eleven children are in the stage of Industry versus Inferiority, according to Erikson's stage division. The present conflict is the child’s attitude toward the skills he/she is required to master. The fear of feeling inferior when lacking competence pushes children to practise skills and constantly measure themselves against their equals. Books for children passing this stage of development often deal with characters trying strength and struggle to prove their abilities. Other books focus on the child’s perception of parents. Analogous to the significance of mastering new tasks, informational books are likely to win even more importance among children of this age group.

From ages eleven and upwards, Erikson establishes the stage of Identity versus Role Diffusion. The focus is set on the search for identity. The complex term identity deals with cultural as well as personal identity, identity as member of a group and individual identity. As a result of the often contrasting nature of inner demands and outer demands diffusion arises and evokes instability. Establishing identity means coping with questions concerning the own person of now and the person one will become. Furthermore, the relationship with parents is crucial, since parents stand as key figures in the developmental process of detaching oneself of dependence, possessing control on the one hand and giving security on the other hand. Play takes on character of role playing and experimentation with adult’s manners in society. Realistic adolescent’s fiction often presents character portrays in line with the reader’s position, so that readers can follow the character’s development, compare it to the own experiences and find parallels in discovering the own person.

The psychosocial crises that Erikson distinguishes within the child’s development emphasize the matters likely to be factors within one age group. In order to gather as much information about children’s development it is useful to combine all theories presented.

2.2.3 Piaget’s Theory of Developmental Levels

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, whose theory of mental development is of great importance in educational science, worked on a biological basis, applying a method of study that mainly depends on observation and classification of behaviour. Starting from the assumption that human emotion and cognitive development evolve from the same basic processes, he regards intellect and affect in indispensable connection for a discussion of child development.

Piaget mentions the terms assimilation and accommodation, conversation, and reversibility as basic factors in children’s cognitive development. According to Piaget, the child gathers new information about the world and assimilates it into the already existing units of knowledge (= schemata), an operation that is only successful when the recently gained experience can be combined with previous experience in the child’s life. When the new information is incorporated in the child’s thinking, accommodation takes place, meaning a modification of existing thought structures in order to reflect the newly won perceptions. With the terms of conversation and reversibility, Piaget makes reference to the child’s ability to deal with the difference between appearance and reality. The young child inclines to judge on a basis of superficial qualities. During the growing process experiences prove that outward appearance sometimes turns out to be not matching the real nature of an object, a person or a situation. As a result, reversibility of mental processes gradually is replaced by conversation of thought patterns.

In Piaget’s model of cognitive development, the stage of sensorimotor intelligence expands from birth to age two. The child is predominantly concerned with the coordination of movements. Language is merely used to name objects and things.

The second stage of Piaget’s model, the period of preoperational thoughts, is subdivided into the preconceptual phase (ages two to four), the intuitive phase (ages four to seven) and the period of concrete operations (from about seven to eleven). Children that have entered the preconceptual phase get more and more involved with their environment and start to discover things around them. Still, behaviour is principally based on subjective judgement and egocentrism. Concept books correspond to the child’s curiosity and concern to discover the world. Children in this stage do not yet have a definite perception of reality and often explain things by unrealistic, sometimes magical reasons. There is furthermore a tendency to humanize lifeless objects or animals. This certain overlap of fantasy and reality in children’s minds conducts to a special liking of folk tales containing anthropomorphisms and further to a liking of fantasy that is generally preserved into successive stages.

In the course of Piaget’s intuitive phase, children develop an ability to verbalize their thoughts and the things they are concerned with. Language is more successfully used. Additionally, there is a shift from egocentric behaviour to a position in which they start to observe what is happening around them and become more able to think in terms of other people. Consequently they progress in a generalization of experiences and are moving toward conservation in terms of recognizing differences between appearance and reality. Corresponding to the developing perception of others, children begin to project themselves into roles and identify with fictitious figures. They moreover begin to develop a sense of empathy for ‘different’ (handicapped, foreign, etc.) people instead of simply stereotyping them as different. Still, there is a tendency to stereotyping with regard to things and people in real life as well as characters in books. Attributes are often perceived as absolute, so that characters are likely to be seen as purely good or bad. The increasing ability to think oneself into other people evokes an interest in relating to story characters. Sutherland suggests an “experience with realism in literature […] that might give opportunity for talking about the feelings and motives of character” and points to a dealing with folk literature, including an occupation with its “typically flat characters”.[45] Since differences between the outward appearance and the real state of some matter are not yet fully worked out in this stage and children are still open for explanations not matching the order of the human world, a liking of fantasy, often in connection with humanized animals, continues to play a role in children’s reading pattern.

In Piaget’s period of concrete operations children develop the ability to cope with a problem by combining performance with a verbal explanation in an attempt to reason out the problem. Gradually logic is applied to things experienced. According to Piaget, children in this stage acquire an understanding of spatial and temporal relationships. Together with the developing understanding of things around them children achieve a new level of self-development that in turn supports their understanding of other people and the ways in which they are related to them. There is furthermore a step from one-dimensional thinking toward the mental ability of relating one experience to a system of interrelated parts. Resulting from the newly developed inclusion of other dimensions like time and space, an interest in books dealing with the past (for instance historical fiction or biographies), the future (science fiction) and far or unknown places (adventure stories) is likely to occur. Children are now able to cope with conservation as well as reversibility, consistent with Piaget’s view of the concepts. During the transition to the next stage, children begin to acknowledge the rules that govern their lives in line with Piaget’s thesis of the internalisation of moral values. This acknowledgment can be met by providing books with characters that experiment with rules, question or reject them.

Piaget’s last stage in children’s development, starting from age eleven and lasting until age fifteen, is the period of formal operations. In this stage an ability to think beyond immediate experiences creates a basis for the establishment of theories about varied aspects of life. Stereotypical thinking is turning into an inclusion of different aspects that take part in shaping an idea. The child is progressing in understanding others and negotiating relationships. The development of communicative qualities enables children to consider other points of view and thereby exchange knowledge. In terms of conservation and reversibility, they are able to “establish whether information is valid by comparing what they see and hear about things (their perceptions) with what they know and deduce about those things.”[46] Additionally, a progressing ability in relating parts to wholes facilitates recognition of underlying order that becomes observable when children in this stage become sensitive for story structure and elements of plot, climax and resolution. Within the process of linking information to already existent knowledge and the elaborating of more and more knowledge, a certain intellectual security is achieved. The young reader is secure enough to distance from disbelief and take part in stories that are far from the familiar, empirical world but reflect universal concerns.

2.2.4 Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development

Following Piaget’s development of moral values and social behaviour in which the process of gaining maturity is characterized by a development of moral behaviour from the young child’s immediate reaction over the integration of contextual aspects to the respect of the needs and views of others, Lawrence Kohlberg designed a hierarchy of moral development. According to Kohlberg, moral development progresses on three levels.

On level one, moral values are inherent in external activities rather than in persons or standards. This level is shared by three stages of development: the premoral stage zero; stage one, marked by an obedience punishment orientation; and stage two that is dominated by self-interest and a recognition that proper behaviour satisfies own and sometimes other peoples needs.

On level two of Kohlberg’s hierarchy, moral values are shown in a performance of good roles. The conventional order is adapted so as to please others. Corresponding stages are stage three, in which the focus is set on approval by acting in a way that others are pleased and a conforming to majority, and stage four that reflects the child’s growing awareness of law and order in terms of an application of moral actions for their own sake.

Finally, level three represents a base of moral judgement in which moral values form up in separate and independent principles. Thus, children in stage five recognize the rights of others parallel to their individual rights and view rules of society as binding, yet principally changeable. In stage six a conscience of principle orientation is achieved, meaning that universally agreed upon ethical standards take the place of rules.

With respect to literature, it is questionable to what extent a moral education is essential in children’s books and to what extent the literary material should preferably provide entertainment and aesthetical pleasure. However, as children are learning how to conform to the world that surrounds them in order to have a secure position in life, and this world is defined by moral and ethic values (no matter in which place of the world they are living), it can be advantageous and interesting for them to view fictitious characters experiencing the same process. If the ‘message’ is applicable to real life and the aesthetical and entertaining aspects are not left aside, children may even enjoy an underlying moral. Books can encourage young readers to observe the actions of story characters, consider motivation and consequences so as to relate the outcome to their own lives and consider an action in connection with other people and within the frame of moral and ethic standards.

2.3 Children’s Reading Needs and Reading Interests

No formula will solve the uncertainty, the perplexity of adults as to what children are looking for in the books they read.[47]

Starting out from Smith’s statement, a discussion of the reasons why children read and like certain books appears to be extremely difficult. True, the individuality of children’s reading pattern makes it impossible to assert with certainty that every child will like a specific book or no child will like another book. This was already pointed out in chapter 2.1.1 and the diverse subjects of research mentioned in chapter 2.1.4 give more information about the many aspects that play a role in children’s reading. Still, Smith was referring to the impossibility of a ‘formula’ to discover definite motives for children’s book choice. While in agreement with Smith this paper works from the position that a) no formula can define the matter of children’s reading needs and reading interest, and b) uncertainties can never be fully erased due to the individuality of children and their reading pattern, there is still a quantity of information made available by numerous researchers of different fields that cast some light on the matter of reading preferences and interests as well as the needs that may underlie the preference of a book.

In this context, it has been collected information in form of large-scale surveys of different countries or regions including geographical, sex specific, social and ability specific factors. Children of different ages have been questioned about their attitude toward reading compared to other leisure time activities, about their favourite books and favourite characters, about preference of genre and style as well as their social circumstances like number of brothers and sisters and profession of parents, and much more[48].

However, gathering accurate information is highly problematic. Children are not always aware of authors and titles. They may feel conditioned by the situation in which they are questioned and answer according to how they feel expected to answer. Furthermore, there is a possibility that they are not capable of formulating or articulating their motives for choosing a particular book. Thus, even carefully conducted investigations with samples and methodologies taking account of various factors, must be regarded with caution. Nevertheless, these surveys provide an indication of the general preferences in an age group, an area or country etc.

According to Marshall children’s reading interests are affected by the following factors:

- The existence of a range of published books
- The availability of children’s books in the home, the school, the library, the bookshop
- The selection made by adults (teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents) on behalf of children
- Time and opportunity to read
- Children’s own personal needs and abilities[49]

A detailed discussion of children’s book choices and preferences takes place when the outcomes of carefully elaborated surveys and the observations of and knowledge about children’s development as demonstrated in chapter 2.2 are combined. In this way, research dealing with children’s reading pattern and preferences can confirm or enhance knowledge gained through the preoccupation with sociological and psychological development and vice versa.

A fundamental issue that has to be considered when dealing with children’s reading pattern, is the distinction between reading interest or preference and reading need. Reading interests or preferences[50] are pronounced by children in interviews and on questionnaires. Reading needs are often subconscious motives for the preference of a certain book. For example: studies of children’s reading interest revealed a general preference of adventure books observable among children approximately between age eight and age twelve (this statement will be set out in the following chapter of children’s reading interests). In how far the questioned children’s statements represent their reading needs besides their reading interests/preferences is a matter of the studies of inherent needs that demand for special topics or contents in order to cope with certain circumstances.

In the following, the discussion will concentrate on an approximate intermediate age-group (without giving a rigid age gradation due to the individuality of children’s reading patterns), because the representative pieces of children’s fantasy that will be examined in the second part of the paper are likely to be read after the child has overcome initial reading and comprehension obstacles and has developed an understanding of space and time. To speak with Meek Spencer’s words: “The readers I have in mind are now past the early learning stage, able to choose for themselves, possibly making decisions about the kind of books they prefer”[51].

2.3.1 Reading Interests and Reading Preferences

The consulted studies of children’s reading interests give the impression of a similar pattern of reading preferences and interests stated by children in different (Western) countries during the last thirty years.

Along these lines, Sutherland mentions surveys maintained by periodicals like Reading Teacher, Reading Improvement and Reading Research Quarterly from the mid-Seventies until the mid-Eighties that reveal a general interest in animals, science and mystery/adventure among US-American seven- and eight-year-olds, often combined with humour and excitement. Within the age-group of nine- and ten-year-olds the preferences are said to remain and the range is expanded by a liking of sport stories. The surveys claim that among eleven- and twelve- year-olds the emphasis is on animals and science along with mystery, history, people and transportation. As Sutherland cites the Reading Improvement, reading preferences of British children show comparable choice of contents, even though more attention is given to fantasy and hobbies. She finally states that surveys among Canadian intermediate graders reflect a similar preference of book contents, a fact that is seen in the choice of mystery, adventure, sports, fantasy, science and humour as key elements by Canadian boys, and mystery, adventure, fantasy, humour, animals, and romance by Canadian girls.[52]

Based on the surveys of Frank Whitehead (The Whitehead Report, 1977), Jennie Ingham (The Bradford Book Flood, 1981), Florence Davies (Books in the School Curriculum, 1986), Jean Bird (Young Teenage Reading Habits, 1984) and more, Marshall mentions recognitions of children and teenage reading preferences that resemble the outcomes portrayed in Sutherland’s discussion of children’s reading interests. As the surveys show, books like Black Beauty, Treasure Island, The Secret Seven etc. are among intermediate children’s favourite books[53]. On the main part, this findings bear out the outcomes Sutherland described, for the books mentioned can be categorized into the genres of animal stories and adventure. Key elements for children’s literature among thirteen-, fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, as Marshall cites Davies, are animals, war, science, love, history and future, transport, school, sports and countryside. Excitement and adventure, immediate actions and characters on which children can project their own images are counted to the most important features in books for the intermediate age group.[54]

When in 1977 Bamberger, Binder and Vanecek carried out a survey among Austrian ten-year-olds, they stated a preference of realistic stories of which most contain elements of adventure and environment. Secondly mentioned genre was the fantastic story, followed by the fantastic story with realistic elements, the animal story and coming last the informational book. The first five choices leading the list of favourite books are Blyton’s Famous Five, J.F.Cooper’s Leatherstocking, Spyri’s Heidi, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Kästner’s Das doppelte Lottchen. As a result of comparisons and further studies Bamberger, Binder and Vanecek assert the occurrence of the following qualities in the books ranked: excitement, strong emotional demand, adventurous elements, humour, concreteness/vividness and a low degree of difficulty.[55]

In his 1986 analysis of German children’s reading habits (children questioned were between age nine and age eleven), Keller reports a striking preference of adventure literature (68.0%), followed by the genre animal stories (12.4%), fairy and similar tales (5.2%), informational books (2.6%), comics (1.3%) and other (10.5%). Books named as favourite books are mainly by Blyton, Lindgren and Hitchcock (a choice that again bears out the thesis of adventure, excitement and humour as most significant factors). Furthermore, characters are preferred to be human beings (by 68.0%), or animals (by 20.3%). Only 9.2% of the children joining the interview preferred a fantastic figure. Human characters are preferred to be of the same sex and the same age as the child consulted or older, and group action is of higher rank than adventures held by a single individual. Another factor revealed in Keller’s survey is the preference of a happy ending[56].

The most recent survey of the University of Nottingham, which is an up-dated sequel of the Whitehead Study referred to by Marshall, was conducted as a national questionnaire postal survey named The Children’s Reading Choices Project, with 7976 children of ten, twelve, and fourteen years in 1994 and supplied by follow-up interviews in July 1995. The research team stated striking shifts in children's leisure habits and interests due to changes in the quantity and content of television viewing, the introduction of microcomputers, and the marketing of music and fashion for children. Even so, with reference to preferred contents the study shows results similar to the outcomes of the aforementioned surveys. Titles given were certainly different to some extent, but the books mentioned reflect the already observed interest in excitement: “Adventure is by far the most popular genre followed by Romance/relationships and growing up, then Horror, and Science fiction/fantasy, then Comedy and then Animal Related Fiction. [While] girls choose more romances, horror/ghost, school and poetry books, boys select more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books. Adventure, crime and, to a lesser extent, animal related books are more evenly selected“[57].

Recent Studies about children’s reading interests of the University of South Florida (1998) revealed the following facts: fiction is generally preferred to informational books and poetry. Fantasy is very popular with primary children, whereas older children tend to like realism. Still, high fantasy is also enjoyed by older, ‘good’ readers. The researchers also state a wide-ranging content preference of suspense, humour, animals (up to about age 14), success, the supernatural (especially if combined with violence, suspense or humour) and social problems (especially among older children). Studies of preference of characters showed that boy stories are more popular among boys and girls (due to social conditioning and stereotyped gender role). Still, the authors refer to recent research that suggests a decline of interest differences between sexes, in that boys will accept and identify with exciting non-stereotyped female characters. Interest in animal characters appears to wane with increasing age. Most children taking part in the survey maintained a preference of contemporary, familiar setting, whereas books with historical or foreign settings are better liked when classified as adventure or mystery. Plot is stated to be popular when the conflict deals with nature or other people. Internal conflicts, just like books lacking concreteness or containing figurative language and extensive explanations, are less popular. Finally, the studies state the choice of books as more dependent on popularity of the author or the first book of a series, than on the awarding of a price. The promotion in mass media and the readability level of books are said to be contributing to choice.[58]

What I have broadly described as similarities between the outcomes of the diverse surveys investigating children’s reading preferences and interests, refers to the significance of adventure, excitement and the unusual in books, alongside – while not as pronounced – the aspect of humour and the treatment of animals among an intermediate age-group. More detailed, the surveys imply that children tend to like stories in which a group of persons experiences and executes the actions, that a vivid and not too difficult or ambiguous reading material is favoured, and that the story is furthermore adequate for applying it and drawing relations to real life. While the beginning reader is mostly attracted by action and variety, with increasing age children’s interest turns to more specific topics that are of concern in the corresponding life stage. Still, all studies mentioned have demonstrated that the factors of adventure and excitement play a major role in children’s reading preference at all ages.

2.3.2 Reading Needs and Psychological Background

According to Marshall there are at least three categories of reading needs:

- A child may ‘need’ a book in order to get information for a specific school essay or project or in order to find out about a hobby, ‘need’ here meaning actual physical access to the required book.
- The second area of need is more likely to be subconscious and refers to what happens to the mind of the reader when he is reading. This kind of need is usually recognized by the adult responsible for children’s reading and results in broad statements like, young children ‘need’ a happy ending to their stories because they are not sufficiently mature to cope with unhappy endings; or because each Western teenager tends to think that he or she is alone in the suffering or distress facing him, teenagers ‘need’ books which enable them to see, firstly that others have been there before them, and secondly, that the problem or distress was […] coped with.
- Broad statements can be made about a third category of need, that is the need which adults impose or require to be satisfied, as in children ‘need’ books which are well written so that they are introduced to good language and sentence structure, or children ‘need’ books which present them with an acceptable view of their country/moral issue/death/sex/politics/religion /adults, acceptable in terms of the school or the parents or the state […][59]

Since this paper deals with the reflection of what makes children read voluntarily, namely the aspects that achieve that special feeling and promote reading only for the purpose of itself, it will here be concentrated on the second category. Nonetheless, a clear distinction between the books serving the three categories is not required. For a book can be chosen for the purpose of preparing a project for school or it can be selected by parents or teachers for didactic aims, and still satisfy the specific need for orientation, entertainment etc. at the same time.

When discussing children’s reading habit with respect to needs that can be satisfied through reading, we should look at the relationship between these subconscious needs and the reader’s interest in certain contents, uttered in a want (described as what they would like to have; evidence of a desire) or a demand (what the reader actually asks for). While there is often a link between reading interest and reading need[60], given that children may pronounce their interests and preferences owing to a subconscious need that urges to be satisfied, the adult concerned should still be aware of the fact that children may ask for a book they do not need and need books to satisfy an unidentified need which they do not ask for. However, when a child reads a book, judges it as good and may even ask for another one of the kind, it can be assumed that some need in him/her was satisfied.

As stated above, the interests children show with respect to book contents often reflect an inner need. On this field a lot of psychoanalytical researchers worked in relating reading preferences/interests to the state of mind. Similarly sociological studies were conducted in order to find out about a relation to social development. Basically, therapeutic power (here meaning: satisfaction of an inner need) in literature is achieved by the possibility to link the situation represented with the own life, by the opportunity to take on another character in wish fulfilment, by running free of imaginations that are not fulfilled in reality and, generally, by acquiring knowledge. Accordingly, the reading impetus can be viewed as the wish for understanding the world and the self. But it is also a desire for pure entertainment, aesthetic pleasure and excitement for the purpose of itself.


[1] National Centre for Education Statistics (2001b). NAEP 2000 Reading Report Card. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Source: Reading Is Fundamental.

[2] Cf.

[3] Evaluation among youths between 14 and 29 years old. Cf.

[4] Cf. Ron Kaufman. The Impact of Television & Video Entertainment on Student Achievement in Reading and Writing.

[5] Zena Sutherland. Children and Books. 9th ed . (New York: Longman, 1996), 5.

[6] Hunt, Peter. An Introduction to Children’s Literature. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994), 4 ff.

[7] Cf. Hans-Heino Ewers. “Das doppelsinnige Kinderbuch. Erwachsene als Mitleser und als Leser von Kinderliteratur.“Kinderliteratur – Literatur auch für Erwachsene? Zum Verhältnis von Kinderliteratur und Erwachsenenliteratur. Ed. Dagmar Grenz (München: W. Fink Verlag, 1990), 15.

[8] Ewers. Grenz 23.

[9] Cf. Margaret R. Marshall. An Introduction to the World of Children’s Books. 2nd Edition. (Aldershot: Gower, 1988), 60.

[10] Günther und Irmgard Schweikle, eds. Metzler Literatur Lexikon: Begriffe und Definitionen. ( Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1990), 236.

[11] Karl Ernst Maier. Jugendliteratur. Formen, Inhalte, pädagogische Bedeutung. (Bad Heilbrunn/Obb.: Verlag J. Klinkhardt, 1987), 12.

[12] Sutherland 9th ed. 6

[13] Marshall 71.

[14] Hunt, Introduction 27.

[15] Sutherland, 9th ed. 44

[16] Maier, Jugendliteratur 201.

[17] Hunt, Introduction 29.

[18] Sutherland, 9th ed. 51

[19] Winfred Kaminski. Einführung in die Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Literarische Phantasie und gesellschaftliche Wirklichkeit. (Weinheim; München: Juventa, 1994), 20.

[20] Cf. Hunt, Introduction 39; Marshall 76.

[21] Kaminski 36.

[22] Rebecca J. Lukens. A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature. ( New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995), 11.

[23] Felicitas Betz, cited in: Gerhard Haas. “Märchen und Sage”. Kinder- und Jugendliteratur – Ein Handbuch. Ed. Gerhard Haas (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun., 1984), 296.

[24] André Jolles, cited in Haas 299.

[25] cf . Sutherland, 9th ed. 250.

[26] Cf. Reinbert Tabbert. „Die komisch-phantastische Erzählung“. Haas 285.

[27] Hunt, Introduction 17.

[28] Maier, Jugendliteratur 242; 266.

[29] Cf. Zena Sutherland. Children and Books. 7th ed. (Glenview: Scott, Foresman & Company, 1986), 626.

[30] Cf. Fritz Keller. Das Leseverhalten von Kindern in der Freizeit. Eine empirische Untersuchung in den 4. Klassen einer Großstadt. (Frankfurt/Main: Lang, 1986), 17.

[31] Cf. BAT Medienanalyse 2001.

[32] More information on this subject is to be found in: Richard Bamberger, Lucia Binder, Erich Vanecek. Zehnjährige als Buchleser. Untersuchungen zum Leseverhalten, zur Leseleistung und zu den Leseinteressen. (Wien: Jugend und Volk, 1977). Karl Th. Holle. Lesemotivationen und Lesehandlungen bei Schülern. Theoretische Grundlegung und empirische Befunde. (Frankfurt/Main: Lang, 1989).

[33] Cf. Maier, Jugendliteratur 272.

[34] Cf. Alexander Beinlich: „’Lesealter’? – Die literarische Entwicklung der Kinder und Jugendlichen“. Kind und Jugendlicher als Leser – Beiträge zur Jungleserforschung. Ed. Karl Ernst Maier. (Bad Heilbrunn/Obb.: Klinkhardt, 1980), 17.

[35] Beinlich 17.

[36] Cf. Maier, Jugendliteratur 278.

[37] Cf. Bamberger/Binder/Vanecek 5.

[38] Cf. Peter Hunt. Criticism, Theory, and Children’s Literature. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell: 1991), 21.

[39] A clear representation of the different approches of the reader response theory is given by: John Lye. Reader Response: Various Positions. Brock University.

[40] Richard Bamberger. Jugendbuch und Jugendbuchtheorie heute. Ergebnisse der Tagung des Internationalen Institutes für Jugendliteratur und Leseforschung. (Wien: Internationales Institut für Leseforschung, 1975), 13.

[41] Against the fears of Lilian Smith, who observes a common scientific perception of children among people of the ‘age of science’. Cf. Lilian Smith. The Unreluctant Years – A Critical Approach to Children’s Literature. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1991), 3.

[42] The following surveys of child development theories are based on Sutherland’s summaries of Maslow’s, Erikson’s, Piaget’s, Kohlberg’s models in: Sutherland. 7th ed. 21pp.

[43] Sutherland, 7th ed. 23.

[44] Sutherland, 7th ed. 28.

[45] Sutherland, 7th ed. 32.

[46] Sutherland, 7th ed. 34.

[47] Smith 2.

[48] Cf. chapter 2.1.4 and Bamberger/Binder/Vanecek chapters 3, 6, 8; Keller chapter 1, 3, 4; Holle 89pp.

[49] Marshall 213.

[50] Reading interest and reading preference are refering to the same matter, namely the discovery of what makes children choose or like one book and reject another, but are distinguished by the methodology of the survey. While reading preferences are ascertained by facing children with a forced choice situation (like choice among a number of proposed reading topics or the rank ordering of preferences), reading interests are more personal, reflecting features that are filtered out in a broader methodological framework. Cf. Sutherland, 7th ed. 38.

[51] Margaret Meek Spencer. “Afterword: Transitional Transformations”. Where Texts and Children Meet. Eds. Eve Bearne and Victor Watson. (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 202.

[52] Cf. Sutherland, 7th ed. 38.

[53] Cf. Marshall 213.

[54] Cf. Marshall 214.

[55] Cf. Bamberger/Binder/Vanecek 64pp.

[56] Cf. Keller 211pp.

[57] The Children’s Reading Choices Project. University of Nottingham. /english/whscrcp.html

[58] Cf. Studies on Children’s Reading Interests Related to Book Elements 1998. USF University of Florida.

[59] Marshall 223pp.

[60] In the following the term ‚reading need’ will be discussed as the second category of Marshalls reading needs.

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The role of fantasy literature in the juvenile reading habit
University of Hannover  (English Seminar)
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Kaya Hellgardt (Author), 2003, The role of fantasy literature in the juvenile reading habit, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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