Final project: Picture book and child development theories

Fairy tales sand classics are layered with meanings and symbolism not just make believe and magic tales. Picture books are too but this is not as readily recognised. The stories can in the same way be used to analyse child development from a scientific and philosophical point of view.

The swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developped a model of cognitive theory of development. It has been modified since but it is still widely used today. Basically child development is divided in three stages. In the first one between 0 and 2 years, children are egocentric and can only recognise what they are discovering through all their senses. In terms of literature, board books and novelty books are best tailored to enhance their experience. The second stage between 2 and 7 years of age is what Piaget referred to as the pre operational stage whereby a child only begins to develop logic and a basic understanding of the physical world. Abstract concepts are not understood very well yet but basic concepts such as colours,shapes,sizes, texture…are within reach so much so that it is the best time for picture book to further develop their worldwide knowledge. During the third stage between 7 and 11, children have developed rudimentary logic and can problem solve. They understand abstract thoughts such as time and space. There is where fiction in the form of chapter books and in Europe and USA illustrated storybooks are totally appropriate. I would argue that sophisticated picture books would be ideal to but often they are frowned upon by parents and teachers as going backward. This would be another debate.The final stage is for 11+ onwards where Young adult fiction is great.

Lawrence Kohlberg an American psychologist, also developed a theory on moral development and identified 3 levels with two stages each. the first level from 0 to 7 years is the preconventioal level. Children cannot measure the consequences of their actions the first stage is the assimilation to bad behaviour and punishment and the second is positive reinforcement. The second level occurs between 7 and 11 where the child develops a better idea of the world around him and the values of living in a community. In the first stage, the child wants to conform as he does not want to disappoint. In the second, he conforms not to be disruptive. Int the final level, the post conventional level (11-15 years) a child understands the idea of exchange and morality and in the second stage he can debate and accept the views of others.

ERik Erikson, a German born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst identified five stages of psychosocial development. The first one(0-18 months) where the child has unconditional trust for a carer. Books themes are reassurance and unconditional love. The since sate (18months-3years) is when the child starts becoming more independent and explore the world, overcoming self doubt and fear. The children’s market provides a plethora of imaginative stories for this age group. the thirds stage is when a child aged 3 to 6 years develops an understanding of conflict and learn to deal with their emotions. the fourth stage (7-11 years) sees the child learning to cope with failure for the first time as he understands the concept. The final stage is identity and its crisis when the child becomes an adolescent.


Understanding theories can help an author/illustrator shape their stories to meet the need of their audience. Often, it will be spontaneous especially if as in my case you are a parent or have been teaching children.

Reflecting on my work for the final project, this is the way my book could be analysed according to the 3 models highlighted above:

My target audience is 3-6 years.

Piaget: Max and Misty will be accepted as talking animals. A child will believe they sing and cook together. And will be eager to follow their adventure.

ERikson: We are in the second stage. Max and Misty exercise their autonomy and explore the world. We are also in the 3rd stage where they both establish their responsibility and are willing to resolve their conflict.

Kohlberg: were are in the 1st stage level 2 where Max and Misty can reflect on their actions and say sorry to one another.


Picture books’ resolutions ALWASY empowers the protagonist (in my case the two protagonists) which in turn empowers the child himself. I have only scratched the surface of child development and will read more about the implications in children literature in the future. I would also need to analyse how more recent theories take into account the fact that children are bombarded with visual imagery from a younger age and how their development is affected. It must be. In my experience, I find children seem more advanced than ever before. They have the vocabulary and the visual knowledge. But what do they really understand and how do they process the plethora of information. Do we allow children to remain children for as long as we should?


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