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Child Appropriateness? March 23, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Children Books, Critiquing.

I just saw “Coraline” this weekend and really enjoyed it; even though it definitely had it’s creepy moments. It did get me thinking, though both about Cautionary Tales and “child-approriateness.” I found some moments definitely creepy for me, particularly when Other Mother turned into some sort of half insect-like spider monster being, but she still looked like the mother. Anyway it was scary, and would probably frighten a child; but the point of the tale was to remind children to appreciate what they have and to see the truth in people, not the facades. The consequences of Coraline’s falling for the “perfect world” of Other Mother is imprisonment and she learns what happened to the other children who accepted the lies of the perfect world. I think back to the fairy tales of the past, and how many of them carried the warning of “obey your parents” or “obey the church” or you’ll run afoul of witches, demons, monsters and other worldly dangers.

If you read Chinese mythology, as well, many of their tales told to children involve wandering ghosts and vengeful spirits designed to keep children safe by presenting dark consequences for disobedience. So I suppose my question is… do we have a place for cautionary tales for children, how “scary” is appropriate and how much is too much? Should scary stories wait until children are old enough to be told “this is make believe?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or even your thoughts on the age-appropriateness of Coraline?



1. John - March 24, 2009

If you wait until the story isn’t scary and shoking, don’t you remove most of the value of the cautionary tale? Many of those sorts of tales lose their impact if you view them with a more mature analytical view.

You move from “Aaaugh! I don’t want to be eaten by witches in gingerbread houses!” to “Heh. No such thing as witches. I can eat all the candy I want anyway.”


2. Julie - March 24, 2009

I read a quote from Neil Gaiman who said that most adults found the book terrifying while most children found the book to be merely a great adventure. As adults we’re assigning our own meaning that children might not see.

I tell a lot of ghost stories and cautionary tales to children. I always tell them that one of the reasons we tell scary stories is to be good- or else. These stories outline what is good and acceptable behavior, and offers serious consquences to those who disobey. Scary? Yes. Too scary or inappropriate? It depends upon how you handle the situation. You turn it into a teaching moment, and have the child understand the purpose of the story, then they can probably handle the message you’re trying to give them and still be able to enjoy the story.

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