Monday, August 10, 2009

Resistance and Children's Books

As with other forms of cultural expression, children's books can provide a source of education for children implicating legal and moral principles. Various scholars have explored such themes and how contemporary publications, such as the Harry Potter line of books, can be a source for teaching children about autonomy and decision-making.

As I was reading some stories this morning to my daughter, I noticed some important principles that can be transmitted at a very young age from these narratives. For example in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the short Disney version), the evil Queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her (and then cut out her heart and place it in a box to be brought back to the Queen). The huntsman takes Snow White out to the forest, only to release her and tells her to escape. He then kills a deer and places its heart into the box, allowing the Queen to think he carried through with her orders. In a rather simple and abbreviated manner, children are taught that not every command by an authority figure is to be followed and accepted - particularly when the basis of the execution is that Snow White is the fairest in the land. There is a concept inculcated here that not every command or punishment is just and fair, and where such injustice takes place, it may be appropriate to defy implementing a superior command and perhaps use artifice to further protect a potential victim by allowing the superior to believe that the order was carried through.

There are undoubtedly other narratives of resistance and challenges to (criminal) authority embedded within such stories. Whether it is Dorothy defying the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan confronting Captain Hook in Peter Pan, many of these narratives speak to kids about challenging bullying and harmful exercises of authority that are possibly worth emphasizing at an early age.


Shauna Van Praagh, "Adolescence, Autonomy and Harry Potter: The Child as Decision-Maker" (2005) 1 International Journal of Law in Context 335.

Shauna Van Praagh, "Harry Potter and the real story of A.C.: A Wizard's Burden, a Manitoba Girl's Faith." The Globe and Mail. 16 July 2009.

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