Meny Stäng

We who were living are now dying: Violence and Death in poems and songs for children

By David Prieth

Margareth Tarrants illustration of Jack And Jill
Jack and Jill illustrated by Margareth Tarrants

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down,
And broke his crown;
And Jill came tumbling after.

Violence and dread have a long tradition in children’s literature. From classic fairy-tales written down by the Brothers Grimm to contemporary children’s books and songs, the death of children seems to be daily fare. However, children’s literature usually follows a narratologial principle that has already been discussed in Plato’s days: poetic justice. Virtue is rewarded, wheras vicousness is going to be punished. We ususally experience that children’s literature tends to picture the world in a better way than it actually is. Positively connoted protagonists are very unlikely to die and if they do so there has to be a profound reason for it. Your decisions, actions and most important your very existence is important, makes a difference and has meaning.

But is this always the case? What happens if poetic justice is not only violated, but people start to die and suffer randomly and the prospects of an adequate reward are erased? What about children in literature who suffer severe accid