Topic 16A – Children’s literature in English. Techniques of didactic application to access the listening, initiating and strengthening reading habits and sensitize in the poetic function of language.

Topic 16A – Children’s literature in English. Techniques of didactic application to access the listening, initiating and strengthening reading habits and sensitize in the poetic function of language.

1.- Children’s literature in the English language.

1.1. Literacy language.

1.2. Children’s literature in the English language.

1.3. Analysis of literary language through relevant works.

2.- Didactic application techniques for listening comprehension; introducing and encouraging reading habits and appreciating the poetic function of language.


Children’s literature has certain particular features which, apart from the author’s inspiration, are what make it more attractive and interesting for children, namely: it is a free and happy activity, contains imaginative elements, reflects inner grievances suffered by the child, uses argumentative techniques and language suited to children, has a most intuitive presentation, appeals to feelings, affectivity, transmits moral values, conveys serenity and balance on the part of the author, has expository clarity and is interesting.

In children’s literature, children’s folklore can also be included, which is a form of literature that has been passed on by word of mouth. Carmen BravoVillasante states that an aesthetic education using folklore enhances sensitivity. Children who are not taught by means of songs, stories or poetry are children with poorness of spirit. Children’s literature is an inexhaustible fountain of resources for programming all sorts of language activities.




The language used in literature differs from the language we ordinarily speak. By and large, literature and speech use the same language with identical sounds and grammatical procedures, and however, there is a clear separation between them, a difference in level. In writing there is always an urge to improve which makes the writer avoid words, sentences or turns of phrases that are used unscrupulously in informal speech.

The difference begins from the moment that literature acquires enough development and prestige to impose a select taste for its language. In certain areas, the literary inflow raises the tone of average speech; in others, while literary language barely changes, common speech quickly changes, as it occurred with vulgar Latin.

Literary language broadens and enrichesvocabulary and refines subtleties of meaning with its incessant creative process. It chooses between certain forms of expression and others, thus contributing to the lastingness of a language; and it serves to halt tendencies that hasten the development of a language.


– Clarity is achieved by presenting an idea in such a way that it cannot be interpreted erroneously; it denotes exactly what the author means to say. The opposite of clarity is ambiguity or amphibology, a sentence, expression, etc., capable of double meaning. When amphibology is used intentionally, it is called an equivocation.

– The quality of propriety occurs when the words that are used are those that are suitable for what is being expressed. Words are not interchangeable, for there are no true synonyms.

Language has expressive vigour when it expresses with representative force what the writer or speaker means. If the expressive power is so great that what is stated appears in our imagination, with features of sensitive reality, it is said that language contains plasticity.

Decorum eliminates all that is deemed uncouth, impolite or indecent.

Concreteness requires complying with the language rules in force. The violation of syntactic rules is called a solecism.

Harmony is achieved by, when choosing words, attending to their sound quality and arranging sentences in such a way that the musical elements of the language are enhanced. The opposite of euphony or pleasant sound is cacophony.

Abundance lies in the richness and variety of the vocabulary.

– Language is pure when words and constructions are used in accordance with the particular nature of that language, without the use of unnecessary foreign elements.

Barbarisms or superfluous foreignisms must be repudiated.

The reaction against foreign influences may lead to the extremes of purism and correction, which insist upon absolute purity in language, based on the servile imitation of the classics and on strict correctness, which often sacrifices naturalness and liveliness.


Children’s literature is a branch of the science of books which has been so useful and charming as any other type of literature.

Children’s literature includes many books that adults enjoy reading even when they do not read them to or with children. The most famous children’s book is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and it is read more by adults than children. The sameoccurs with “Peter Rabbit”, one of the books best-known for its humanity.

In the past years, the study of children’s literature has regained popularity.


It is one of the most important divisions of children’s literature. It contains a similar proportion of wishes and fears, which creates a balance that keeps the attention of readers and listeners. It can tell lots of meaningful stories in many different ways.

Elliot says that fairy tales are best as bedtime stories for young children, but they are also valuable for older children.

Bottelheim specifies that they are good for children between the ages of nine and ten, which is when children are maturing in processes that they are afraid of.


They are the strongest bond between fairy tales and modern children’s literature.

Animals are creatures that speak and act like human beings. They are present in most old and modern children’s stories and are the most important source of power in the best children’s literature, a source which other types of literature had abandoned before the 19th century.

Animals in fairy tales are enchanted and live in a world of human beings, and human beings play a minor role. Any animal can be used as the enchanted beast in a fairy tale: a bird in “The Juniper Tree”, a fox in “The Golden Bird”, a prince frog, a cat, a snake in “Countess d’Aulnoy”. These animals do not wish to be animals and while they are under a spell, they are the kindest, most patient and civilized of beings.

Modern children’s literature contains animal fables and fairy tales. “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Little Red Hen” are examples of stories that young children read.

English children’s literature shows signs of persistence in writing and reading. In England, childhood was considered the only stage in life in which it was good to believe in a world of magic and imagination and talking animals. Children were seen as beings that were capable of enjoying instinctive sympathy for animals and of establishing an alliance with them against adult human beings.


There are many famous English writers of children’s stories, but the two most famous ones were Lewis Carroll and Beatrix Potter.

Lewis Carroll, an English writer, was born in 1832 and died in 1898. He is the best-known author of story books, which are read by children and adults.

His main works are “Alice’s Books” (the most famous one), “There’s Glory for you” and “It was the best butter”.

Beatrix Potter wrote stories as popular as “Peter Rabbit”, which everybody has heard of and which became a film. Others are “Taylor of Gloucester” and “The little mice star: down to spin”. In the latter, the mice were not humanized, although they did weave men’s coats. Another popular story is “Jemina Puddle”.

Oscar Wilde was an Irish author who wrote all his works in English and became one of the best renowned writers in English literature. He is famous for his plays and his popular theory of beauty. His best collection of stories are “The Shellfish Giant” and “The Canterville Ghost”, which is one of the short stories included in his book “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”.

Kenneth Grahame understood children’s tastes very well and invited them to the enchanted circus he created. His books “The Golden Age” and “Dream Days” were immensely popular among children. The ideal world of this writer seems more percectible and desirable than the world of Peter Pan.

Rudyard Kipling is known as the writer from India, although he never was an ardent apologist of the presence of the English there. His main works are “The Jungle Book” (1894-95) and “Stories” (1902). “The Jungle Book” and “Kim” are blithe books about the world of ideas. His most important book is “The Jungle Book”: it is the most accomplished expression of Kipling’s quality of work.

B. Frank Baum, a German-North American novelist, was born in Vienna in 1896 and died in 1960. He wanted American children’s literature to be free of unpleasant incidents. He wrote many children’s books: “A New Wonderland”, “The Book of the Hambergs”, “His Book”, etc.


The fantastic aspect lies within transcendence and imminence, in other word, between the truth of facts, the correspondence between discourse and reality, and internal evidence, which makes a story appeals in its own right to the receptive reader.

The term “fantastic” means more than reality; it means strangeness or admiration and it has replaced the terms “formidable” and “sensational” in common speech. The “fantastic” aspect is not inferred by understanding, but perceived with sensibility in the same way as what is funny or tragic and is more similar to the cerebral notion of the supernatural, with affective notions of brightness and sacredness, and also appreciates what is rejected by science, moral, religion or good taste.

In fantastic literature, any adventure story aims to plunge the reader into uncertainty; the most dramatic episode is generally saved for the end, thus giving the enigma its own charm.

Fantastic works are usually stories: a ballad, novel, tale or short story. The short story is the literary form that is best adapted to fantastic literature, chiefly due to its origins; it deals with extremely interesting “extraordinary stories” and their episodes predispose the reader to sense that fatality that is inherent in every fantastic adventure. These adventures do not occur at random and come to nothing, for the entire intrigue is conceived on the basis of the denouement; the victim-hero of a fantastic adventure generally finds himself alone under some kind of spell of which he is very well aware.

The classic fantastic story derives not from stories but from popular legends. The difference between a story and a legend is owed to the Grimm brothers; in their opinion, a story is more poetic and a legend is more historical. A story tells adventures that take place in an indefinite past, in an unspecified place; a legend relates notable events that took place on a given date, in a given place, to a given person. A difference in function determines these differences in structure: a story aims to amuse, a legend aims to express and transmit beliefs. The title of a story is often the hero’s name; the presence of this character alone guarantees the unity of an account consisting of several episodes: the hero sets off on an adventure with an open mind and a light heart, facing all sorts of dangers without fear.

Louis Vax states that “a fantastic story” generally deals with men who are faced with the inexplicable.

The story always begins with a stable situation and certain features remain intact throughout the development of the action. Every story, therefore, contains two types of episodes:

– Those that describe a stage of balance or imbalance.

– Those that describe the passage from one to another.

The former are contrary to the latter. Sometimes the reader identifies with the character; then, in turn, he withdraws from reality.

A misadventure of some kind is the main type of plot. These misadventures can be of different sorts; by and large, towards the end, evil is transformed into good. The hero continually feels the contradiction between both worlds: the world of reality and the world of fantasy; and he is overwhelmed by the extraordinary things that surround him.

As a general rule, a new person is introduced and the action enters a new phase. Vladimir Propp sees it as an operation of relative rationalization of a myth and the struggle against it, and its deep unity and great appeal lie beyond its generalized use as children’s stories.

Important writers, in the English language, of fantastic literature of travels and adventure:

In the Tudor era:

Sir Philip Sydney. He was born in 1554 and died in 1586. He wrote “The Arcadia”, a long fantastic story about aristocrats castaways on an island; it contains the grandest principles, the most chivalrous manners and the most beautiful ladies.

Nashe, with his “The Unfortunate Traveller”, tells a horrifying story full of dialogues, amazing descriptions and the strangest adventures.

In the Elizabethan era:

Daniel Defoe. He is one of the most important authors of this era in English literature. His most famous book (“Robinson Crusoe”) is known all around the world and has been translated into many languages. Many studies have been done on it: man’s isolation, self-sufficiency, utopia,…

Tobias Smollet was born in 1721 and died in 1771. His main adventure and fantastic stories are “Roderick Random” and “Humphrey Clinker”.

Laurence Steine is a contemporary of the aforementioned author. He was born in 1713 and died in 1768; his most important adventure story is “Sentimental Journey”.

All the works of this era are not about fantastic stories but about adventures, save for the work of Jonathan Swift (with “Gulliver’s Travels”). This book hides satire in such a deft manner that children still read it as a fairy tale. The book starts off laughing about mankind; when Gulliver finds himself in Lilliput, he is a giant compared to inhabitants there. In the second part of the book, he goes to a land inhabited by giants and the author criticizes all men thinkers. He then goes to Laputa, which is a flying island, and Swift examines and criticizes human institutions. At the end there are horses with rational minds. This book still today is a masterpiece, a children’s fairy tale and a serious book for adults, and it has never lost its attractive nor allusive value.


The work of Walter de la Mare is one of the best works of short fantastic stories. “Out of the Deep” is perhaps his most original and exciting short story. Here is a passage from it:

“All that I have to say, he muttered, is just this: I have Mrs. Thripps. I haven’t absolutely out of the wire. I wish to be alone. But I’m not asking, do you see? In time I may able to know what I want. But what is important now is that no more than that accused Pig were your primrose “real”, my dear. You see, things must be real”.

The title of the novel means a number of things: the depths of the house in which the servants live, the depths of memory, from which remembrances ascend, and the depths of the misfortunes of the wretch who is seeking help.

The literary language of the above text is bright and eloquent, neither dull nor slow.

The protagonist is Jimmie, who is characterized by his desire to surprise and his liking for black humour. This passage contains his regards for a girl. He is a timorous boy who shows Soame’s cautious sadism and plays bad jokes on the lackeys.

When he is talking to the girl, he realizes that he was forbidden to talk to the lackeys (“…you might pull real bells: to pull dubiously genuine pigtails seemed now a feele jest”). The word “pigtail” here may infer “pig”, which corresponds to the beast that appears on the stairs. The gesture of pulling a rope is similar to that of pulling from a pig.

The word “primrose” (spring) naturally suggests the line from a famous verse by Wordsworth: “A primrose by a river’s brimm”. The thought of spring may have suggested Lord Beaconsfield, whom Jimmie refers to: “All of which is only to say, dear madam, as Beaconsfield remarked to Old Vic, that I’m thanking you now”.

In the text he refers to what the girl says, but then he gives it less importance and highlights what it is really important. The style is loose and clear, with lots of imagination. The vocabulary is simple, although some words have several meanings, like “primrose”. The verb “to ask” means to call on someone; the author uses it to mean “Do you understand?”. The same occurs with “in time” which means sooner or later.

We will now look at some texts by the writer Beatrix Potter:

“Peter was dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoes amongst the potatoes”.

This text is from the book “Peter Rabbit”.

“As there was no money, Ginger and Pickles were obliged to eat their own goods. Pickles ate biscuits and Ginger ate a dried haddock. They ate them by candlelight after the shop was closed”.

This other text is from “Ginger Pickles”.

“Moppet and Pittens have found up into very good ratcatchers. They go out cat-catching in the village, and they find plenty of employment. They charge so much a dozen and earn their living very comfortably”.

This last text belongs to “The Poly-Poly Pudding”.

The style is clear and bright. Repetition is avoided, which es why in the first text, in the last line, “amongst” is used instead of “among”, which was used in the previous line. The language is simple, easy to read, so the words need not be explained. The author avoids allipsis, by writing “He had forgotten” instead of “He’d forgotten”, so that children can clearly understand the text. Another characteristic of this writer, which is more clearly seen in the first two texts, is her use of many verbs in the past tense. She does not use description very much.


All of us need stories for our minds in the same way that we all need food for our bodies; we watch television, go to the theatre and the cinema, read books and exchange stories with our friends.

Stories are especially important in the lives of our children; they help them to understand the world and to share it with others. Their craving for stories is constant. Every time children enter a classroom, they have a yearning for stories.


Stories that rely heavily on words are a constant and great source of experiences for the students.

Stories are motivating, rich in language experiences.

Stories should be the main part of the work of Primary teachers, when teaching a first and a second language.


Motivation. Children have a constant need for stories; that is why they are always willing to listen or read at the right moment.

Meaning. Children want to find something in a story (meaning) and they listen for that purpose. If they find what they are looking for, it will be thanks to their ability to understand the foreign language. If they do not find that meaning, they are motivated to improve their listening comprehension ability and then find meaning.

Listening and fluency when reading. In a conversation with native speakers, the most important ability is understanding a substantial flow of the foreign language which contains new words for the receiver. This ability is only achieved by constant and ample practice. The child must develop a positive attitude to comprehending everything and accomplish the ability to search for meaning, predict and “guess” (they are experts at this in their native language).

Knowledge of the language. Stories help children to become aware of the general knowledge and sounds of the foreign language. Stories also introduce students to several language models and sentence structures which they have not yet used in oral or written production. This makes up their language stockpile. When the time comes, those language models will flow within the productive language without any problems, because the language is not new to them. An obvious example of this is the use of the simple past.

An incentive for speaking and writing. Experiencing a story can give rise to the production of written or spoken answers. It is natural to express our likes and dislikes, exchange ideas and associations about the stories we have just heard. In this manner, stories should be a part of a set related activities.

Communication. Reading, writing and aswering questions about stories through writing, speaking, acting and making art develop certain feelings for listening, sharing and collaborating. Learning a language is useless if we are not able to communicate, in other words, to use language skills. A story serves to share the construction of a crucial sense of attention for others.

General curriculum. Most stories can be used to develop attention, analysis and expression, and to relate them to other subjects in the curriculum, such as geography, history, social and cultural aspects, mathematics and science.


Helping children to predict the contents of a story by telling them beforehand in their native language, by showing them pictures, or by introducing key vocabulary from that story.

While they are being told a story, show them pictures, draw on the board, act and mime, use words that are similar in meaning in both the first and second languages.

Tell the story more than once. Interrupt the story often and repeat the idea in a differente manner to make sure that the children do not get lost.

Study the story beforehand and simplify some of the vocabulary, if necessary: words, expressions, verb tenses, word order and complex sentences.


First of all, the stories, in other words, the literary language at this level with children, must essentially be a source of joy and must meet their interests. If the teacher uses stories or literary texts merely to teach, the children may reject this and lose their good, natural disposition for stories, which is an enormous potential.

Reading habits can be developed and the poetic function of language can be taught by telling and reading the children stories that are suitable for them. This implies a set of advantages:

Advantages of reading stories to the children:

1. If the teacher’s language foreign language competence is low.

2. Showing the children pictures that go with the stories.

3. Letting the children read what the teachers have read to them previously.

4. Allowing the children to realize that books are a source of pleasure and interest.

Advantages of telling stories to the children:

1. It can help the children to understand by repeating the story, pointing out important features, miming, acting, drawing pictures on the board.

2. By having the children in front of him, the teacher can make any special adaptations at any time.

3. Allowing the children to discover through their experience the magic sense of listening to a story being told by someone.


When choosing them, we must ask ourselves the following:

1. Is the first impression about a book valid for us and for our pupils?

2. Does the book meet the pupil’s interests and hold their attention?

3. Do we accept the values expressed in the book?

4. Can the children understand the story enough to gain something valuable outside of it?

5. Is the story easy to understand irrespective of their knowledge of its vocabulary?

6. The story should be the source of activities, such as drama, story writing, letter writing from one protagonist to another, or activities relating to a theme.


There are many types of story books. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.

1. Readers.

Advantages: the language has been simplified to make the reading easier. Easily obtainable.

Disadavantages: they are not authentic books, original works by their author. They do not introduce the language used by present-day native English-speaking children.

2. Books published by native English-speaking children.

Advantages: the stories may be more interesting. The language is authentic.

Disadvantages: the children might find it difficult to understand most of the language on their own.

3. Books in the pupil’s native language.

Advantages: within everybody’s reach.

Disadvantages: it is up to the teacher to translate them.

4. Traditional and personal stories in the native language.

Advantages: the children are probably familiar with them and enjoy recognizing them when they are read to them in English.

Disadvantages: the teacher may feel that his English is not good enough to translate them.

5. Stories invented by the teacher and the pupils.

Advantages: the pupils identify with one of them.

Disadvantages: incorrect English.


1. Activities prior to the story.

Prepare the students to focus the theme of the book and the language that they will need to understand it.

2. Activities during the story.

Above all, the children must enjoy the story. Ask them what they think is going to happen and how they feel about what has happened. They can join the teacher in repeating, miming or drama exercises, among others. They can be told to put sentences or pictures in the correct order.

3. Activities after the story.

Traditional comprehension exercises; careful not to spoil the experience that the story has caused in the child.

4. Other more creative activities.

Drawing a picture and writing a key sentence.

Making a mural or writing a book with other children with illustrations and key sentences.

Acting out the story.

Writing a letter from one protagonist to another.

Changing the end.

Changing the characters.


ELLIS AND BREWSTER: The Story telling handbook for Primary Teachers. Penguin.

GARVIE: Story as a vehicle. Multilingual matters.

PERRY: Into books: 101 literature activities for the classroom. Oxford University Press. Madrid.

MORGAN and RINVOLUCRI: Once upon a time. Cambridge University Press.

ROSEN: Shapers and Polishers. Teachers as Storytellers. Mary Glasgow.

WRIGHT: Why stories. Oxford University Press. Madrid.