Serious, Nonsense, the Best of Both.

Defining children’s literature may seem like a simple task when the thoughts of picture books, phonics builders, fairytales, and the like at a primitive comprehensive reading level. Children’s literature seems to really boil down into two main categories. Children’s stories have always been used to help teach, educate, train and even entertain children with fundamental principles that will help move them forward in their culture. As stories have evolved through the ages, we see the extremes of structured principles, nonsense and an approach that shows a balance of both extremes.
Aesop’s fables, while rather simple short stories, were entertaining illustrations for teaching principles. Consider these allegorical writings with their simple lessons. We see these simple teachings in fables like; The Crow and the Pitcher, and learning the principle of innovation; The Fox and the Grapes, which gives insight to dealing with disappointments; and the classic lesson of “Slow but steady wins the race” in The Hare and the Tortoise (Aesop, 2007). The fables are short entertaining and give children a unique life lesson. These stories also show fundamental characteristics in the characters in each story. Consider the fast hare, or slow tortoise. The stories also were more geared around the outcome or lesson for the audience. The more serious, and lessons of cause and effect in many cases revealed disappointment for the characters developed.          
A completely different approach with children’s literature would be The Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Edward Lear. While some may question Lear’s value in pushing fundamental principles in culture, he may have actually touched on one of the most important values children need to consider. He has earned the title, “an unrivaled master of nonsense verse” (Stahl, 2007). Lear revels the value of fun, silliness and wonder that often is discouraged in childhood. He helps remind kids to be kids and not grow up too fast. His stories of nonsense that talk about a women with a long “wonderful nose”, or the man with all kinds of birds nesting in his beard, and the owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea In a beautiful pea-green boat,” create more of a dreamlike story where anything is possible (Lear, 2007).  Silly rhymes and concepts paint a creative picture in the minds of his audience as he fills their thoughts with silly creative images.
Shel Silverstein takes the principles of both lesson, and nonsense then unifies them in a very unique piece called; Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. This ingenious fusion of the entertaining foolishness that children love, and the very simple moral or lesson, is a great merging of the two approaches. I enjoy most the climax of the story where the character finally says, “ ‘OK, I’ll take the garbage out!’ But the of course it was too late… The garbage reached across the state,” (Silverstein, 2007). The phrase paints a very vivid image and is so witty in the rhyme scheme that it just makes one smile. The story builds so nice and the lesson is clear as day, don’t procrastinate.
Children’s literature is most difficult to break down into categories with its many avenues, themes, styles, reading levels and so on. The evolving art of writing children’s literature has does have two drastically different approaches used to reflect the values of its culture. We see in early works like Aesop’s Fables that while the entertaining factor was present that the lesson was serious giving opportunity for many different avenues of application. As time moves forward culture saw the value in fun foolish gibberish in many of the creative silly tales of Edward Lear. Both have value and both are still valid approaches seen in children’s literature today. But we also see how well these two approaches work when they are fused together like in the stories written by Shel Silverstein. Keeping things light, silly and entertain, and yet giving children a simple lesson makes shows the influence of two great approaches.

Works Cited:

Aesop. "Aesop's Fables." Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 335-36. Print.
Lear, Edward. "Edward Lear (1812-88)." Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 312-13. Print.
Silverstein, Shel. "Shel Silverstein (1932-99)." Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 316. Print.
Stahl, J. D., Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: an Anthology of Texts and Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.