Literary Devices in Children's Literature

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will discuss literary devices in children's literature, such as character, theme, setting, and illustration, and how they can be used to gain and keep a child's interest.

Types of Literary Devices in Children's Literature

Even though children's books might seem simplistic, good children's literature actually uses a variety of literary devices to make children want to read it, have it read to them, keep their interest while reading, and teach them about the world around them. From preschool-age picture books to intermediate-aged elementary school books, many of these devices are used in all types of children's books and pertain to characters, themes, settings, and illustrations.


Since children often like animals, children's literature frequently uses anthropomorphism, or giving human characteristics and actions to animals, objects, or non-human things. This happens frequently in picture or early reader books like The Berenstain Bears or Little Bear, and in chapter books like Ralph S. Mouse and Stuart Little. Whether the book uses anthropomorphism or not, a common quality of characters in children's literature is that they are relatable. Since children are just beginning to discover the world around them and are sometimes in tough situations, good children's literature should have relatable characters--perhaps overweight, bullied, or orphaned children--that the reader can relate to if they are in a similar situation.


While relatable, and sometimes anthropomorphic, characters are essential to good children's literature, so are the themes, or the main points or ideas, of the book. Since many children are going through their own coming-of-age narrative, trying to figure out how they fit in the world and what is right and wrong, a large amount of children's books have a moral theme. This theme is often seen with a child doing something wrong, like lying, then realizing if they had told the truth, things would have turned out better.

Along with the moral theme, good children's literature typically allows for children to learn or discover this moral theme instead of being told about it in a straightforward manner. For example, a child might read a book where the main character does not clean their room so they can play with their friends faster, then cannot have friends over because they did not clean. They would get more out of this theme than if the character did not clean their room, and then their parents yelled at them.

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