Part II of IV: Part II of classic adventure tales for kids, we will dive into adventure tales and how to read them in today’s world.
Part II: Classic Adventure Tales for Kids
Classic adventure tales have a magnetic pull on young readers, captivating their imaginations and transporting them to worlds filled with excitement and daring exploits.
Classic adventure tales offer a sense of escapism and the thrill of embarking on thrilling journeys alongside courageous protagonists. Adventure novels like “Treasure Island,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “The Swiss Family Robinson” have garnered enduring popularity, capturing the hearts of readers for generations.
In part I, we discussed fairy tales and magic, but the excitement and allure of classic adventure tales lies in their ability to transport young readers to extraordinary settings and immerse them in action-packed narratives. I love these types of books for inquisitive children, children who are always getting into things and love to play outside.
Through classic adventure tales, children can experience the adrenaline rush of sailing on a pirate ship, embarking on treasure hunts, exploring uncharted territories, and encountering wild beasts. Classis adventure tales ignite a sense of wonder, curiosity, and the desire to explore the unknown.
These classic adventure tales also instill valuable qualities in young readers, such as courage, resilience, and resourcefulness. As children witness the protagonists navigating treacherous situations, facing formidable challenges, and demonstrating unwavering determination, they learn important life lessons.
However, many of these classic adventure tales are difficult to teach in public school because they deal with topics too complicated for schools. The value in teaching classic adventure tales is in providing young people with insight in a world different from their own.
I am a person of color. 99% of my students are minorities. Can they enjoy these stories? They do. With the proper context and discussions around changes in culture, children can still enjoy classic adventure tales. Let’s dive in.
I “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson:
This classic tale follows young Jim Hawkins as he sets sail on a perilous adventure in search of buried treasure. With its iconic characters like Long John Silver and a gripping narrative filled with swashbuckling action, “Treasure Island” is a thrilling adventure that has influenced countless pirate stories.
I enjoyed reading this as a kid, but I think there are some points to consider when reading the novel with young kids.
Representation of Indigenous Peoples:
One area of concern revolves around the representation of Indigenous peoples in the novel. Some critics argue that the portrayal of the character Long John Silver, who has a partially amputated leg and is often associated with piracy, reinforces negative stereotypes about disability.
Additionally, the portrayal of the character Israel Hands, who is described as an African pirate, has been criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes.
“Treasure Island” was written during a time when colonialism was prevalent, and some readers argue that it reflects the imperialistic mindset of the era.
The story’s focus on seeking treasure and exploiting faraway lands without regard for the indigenous people who may be affected raises concerns about cultural insensitivity.
Lack of Diversity in Characters:
Another criticism centers around the lack of diversity in the characters. The majority of the characters in “Treasure Island” are white males, with limited representation of women and people from different cultural backgrounds.
This lack of diversity may limit the reader’s ability to relate to characters who differ from the dominant cultural norms.
While many of these classic adventure tales are celebrated for their thrilling adventure and well-drawn characters, it is essential to engage in discussions about the problematic elements they may contain.
By examining these issues, readers can foster a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural context and appreciate the novel’s strengths while also acknowledging its potential limitations.
II “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain:
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain is a classic American novel. The story centers around young Huckleberry Finn. Huck fakes his own death in order to escape his abusive father.
Along the way he meets a black man named Jim, trying to escape slavery. Together they meet King and Duke, two con artists, and they travel along the Mississippi River.
Huck is barely literate. He is poor and running from a very abusive father. Huck is compassionate, but also a character of his time. His language is coarse and often difficult for a modern reader. He is the type of character we imagine would’ve been real during these times.
Here are some common concerns raised about the book:
Racial Depictions and Language:
One of the primary criticisms directed towards “Huckleberry Finn” revolves around its portrayal of African Americans and the use of racial slurs throughout the text.
Classic adventure tales often reflect the racial attitudes prevalent during the time they were written, and some readers find the language and characterizations racially insensitive and offensive.
Stereotypes and Caricatures:
Critics argue that the novel perpetuates racial stereotypes through its depiction of African American characters. Characters such as Jim, despite being portrayed sympathetically in many instances, can be seen as embodying certain stereotypes that were prevalent in the era. This raises concerns about the potential reinforcement of harmful racial generalizations.
I would argue that children also need to learn the reality of the past in a way they can understand. Fictional stories are often a great way to introduce children to difficult topics.
The narrative is presented through the viewpoint of Huck Finn, a young white boy from a racially biased society. While this perspective provides an insight into the flawed thinking of the time, it has been criticized for not adequately challenging or subverting the prevailing racist attitudes of the era.
Use of Satire and Irony:
Mark Twain employed satire and irony in his writing, including in “Huckleberry Finn.” However, some argue that the satirical elements may not be immediately apparent or may be misinterpreted, leading to a potential misreading of the novel’s intentions regarding racism.
It is important to approach “Huckleberry Finn” with a critical lens, taking into account the historical context in which it was written.
The novel has also been recognized for its critique of societal norms and its exploration of themes such as freedom and morality.
While acknowledging the problematic aspects, readers can engage in discussions about race, stereotypes, and the evolving understanding of these issues over time.
I loved this book as a child. As a poor, young girl, from an abusive home, the realistic portrayal felt relatable. And, poor people speak like Huck, so the novel resonated with me. I grew up around racism and the book gave me perspective. I think kids have a lot to say, if we listen and this could be an entry into an important conversation.
III “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss:
This story chronicles the survival and resourcefulness of the Robinson family, shipwrecked on a deserted island. They face various challenges, from building shelter to encountering wild animals, showcasing the spirit of adventure, resilience, and family bonds.
“The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss is a classic adventure novel that has gained popularity over the years. The family is wholesome and they genuinely work together to overcome the obstacles of living alone on a deserted island.
Since it was written more than 100 years ago, there are things to consider when reading the book:
Colonial Attitudes and Cultural Insensitivity:
“The Swiss Family Robinson” has faced criticism for its colonial attitudes and portrayal of indigenous peoples. The novel depicts the Robinson family as settlers who establish their own self-sufficient community on a deserted island. Some readers argue that the story reflects a colonialist mindset, as the family takes ownership of the land without considering the rights or perspectives of the indigenous inhabitants. Additionally, the portrayal of indigenous characters may perpetuate stereotypes or present a limited and simplistic view of different cultures.
Gender Roles and Stereotypes:
The novel has been criticized for its portrayal of gender roles, as it presents traditional gender stereotypes. The father figure is portrayed as the strong, resourceful leader, while the mother and daughters are often shown in more domestic roles. This traditional division of labor may be seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes and limiting the representation of women and their capabilities.
Animal Cruelty and Environmental Impact:
“The Swiss Family Robinson” includes numerous scenes in which the family hunts and kills animals for survival. Some readers have raised concerns about the portrayal of animal cruelty and the lack of consideration for conservation or ecological sustainability. These aspects may prompt discussions about responsible treatment of animals and the impact of human activities on the environment.
Classic adventure tales captivate readers with their adventure and survival themes. Engaging in discussions about their potential shortcomings allows for a more comprehensive understanding of its content and impact.
By examining these concerns, readers can develop a nuanced perspective and foster dialogue about colonialism, gender roles, animal welfare, and environmental responsibility.
IV “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling:
Mowgli, a young boy raised by wolves, embarks on a series of thrilling adventures in the Indian jungle.
From encounters with fearsome predators to his interactions with animal friends like Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther, “The Jungle Book” offers a captivating blend of adventure and animal folklore.
Here are a few potential problems that have been identified:
Colonial and Racial Stereotypes:
One of the main criticisms directed at “The Jungle Book” is its portrayal of colonial and racial stereotypes. The book was written during a time of British colonialism, and some argue that it reflects the imperialistic mindset of the era.
Certain characters, particularly the human characters, may embody racial stereotypes or perpetuate a hierarchical view of cultures.
Orientalism and Exoticism:
Kipling’s portrayal of India and its people has been accused of promoting orientalist and exoticized perspectives.
The depictions of the jungle and its inhabitants, while captivating, can reinforce Western ideas of the “otherness” and mystique of non-Western cultures, potentially reinforcing stereotypes and limited understandings.
Another criticism pertains to the gender dynamics in “The Jungle Book.” Female characters have limited presence and agency, often playing minor roles or being absent altogether. This lack of female representation can perpetuate gender imbalances and limit the diversity of perspectives within the book.
Some readers have expressed concerns about the environmental perspective in “The Jungle Book.” While the stories celebrate the beauty and wonders of the jungle, the focus on human domination and control over nature may overlook the importance of ecological balance and respect for the natural world.
It is important to approach “The Jungle Book” with a critical mindset and consider these concerns in the context of the time it was written.
The “Jungle Book” is celebrated for its vivid storytelling and imaginative world-building. It’s got memorable characters and an engaging narrative.
Reading classic adventure tales with a modern lens means we can consider the issues along with the story, so readers can appreciate the book’s strengths while also acknowledging its potential limitations.
V “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome:
This beloved series follows the sailing and camping adventures of the Walker and Blackett children during their summer holidays. Set in the English Lake District, the books showcase the children’s independence, camaraderie, and imaginative quests, making them perfect for young adventure enthusiasts.
Some points to consider while reading with a modern lens:
Some readers have pointed out that the series adheres to traditional gender roles and stereotypes. The male characters are often portrayed as adventurous and involved in outdoor activities, while the female characters may be depicted in more domestic or supporting roles. This representation can limit the diversity of characterizations and potentially reinforce gender stereotypes.
Lack of Cultural Diversity:
The series primarily focuses on a group of English children and their adventures, often with limited representation of cultural diversity. This lack of diverse perspectives and characters from different backgrounds can be seen as a limitation in terms of promoting inclusivity and reflecting a broader range of experiences.
The “Swallows and Amazons” series was written during a different era, and some aspects may not align with contemporary societal values or expectations. Readers may find that certain elements, such as language usage or depictions of characters, do not reflect current standards of inclusivity, representation, or sensitivity.
Just like other classic adventure tales on this list, the story is engaging and exciting to read. I enjoyed it very much as a child but I think now that I am older I can understand how very different the world was back then.
I think, like a lot of these books, reading the story with an adult will help children navigate the social issues presented in the text. In discussing questions and concerns about them, kids will be able to contextualize and enjoy the book for the story.
VI “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London:
This gripping adventure follows the journey of Buck, a domesticated dog who is stolen from his home and thrown into the brutal world of the Yukon Gold Rush.
As Buck adapts to his new life as a sled dog, he faces harsh conditions, encounters dangerous predators, and taps into his primal instincts to survive. “The Call of the Wild” is a thrilling and poignant tale of survival, loyalty, and the indomitable spirit of the wilderness.
Jack London’s masterful storytelling and vivid descriptions immerse readers in the rugged landscapes of the North, and Buck’s transformation from a pampered pet to a wild and resilient creature resonates with readers of all ages.
Racial and Cultural Stereotypes:
Some readers have expressed concerns about racial and cultural stereotypes present in “Call of the Wild.” The portrayal of Indigenous peoples in the novel has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes and presenting limited or inaccurate representations.
Violence and Cruelty:
“Call of the Wild” contains scenes of violence, particularly in its depiction of dog fights and harsh treatment of animals. While the violence serves to depict the harsh realities of survival in the wilderness, some readers may find these scenes distressing or overly graphic.
Speciesism and Anthropocentrism:
The book reflects a view that places human interests and values above those of animals, which can be seen as a form of speciesism and anthropocentrism. Some readers argue that this perspective reinforces a hierarchical relationship between humans and animals, disregarding the intrinsic value and welfare of non-human beings.
Lack of Female Characters:
“Call of the Wild” is primarily focused on male characters, with limited representation of female characters. This lack of female perspectives and involvement may be seen as limiting the diversity of the story and perpetuating gender imbalances.
Many of these classic adventure tales for kids have great depictions of the exploration of nature, survival, and primal instincts within animals and humans. That being said, “Call of the Wild,” messed me up as a kid. It was so hard for me to read, especially when I read the descriptions of wounded or injured animals.
When I think of classic adventure tales for kids, this book always comes to my mind first. I think it’s because I had a great teacher who walked me through the story.
I think by examining the concerns of young readers, kids can develop an in-depth perspective and foster dialogue about representation, ethical treatment of animals, and broader social and cultural issues.
This list of classic adventure tales for kids was little more difficult to put together because so many of these classical books are critiqued for colonialism, sexism, or for being racist. I think those points are valid when we view them with modern lens. The big question for me is, do classic adventure tales for kids have value in 2023? I think so.
As a lover of language and information, I think it’s possible to take these stories and use them as a gateway to understanding deeper and more complex issues within today’s society. In addition, young readers will learn to distinguish between the values and beliefs presented in the stories and those that align with contemporary perspectives. For me, this is where classic adventure tales for kids have the most value.
By engaging in classic adventure tales for kids, young readers embark on literary adventures, expanding their horizons, and developing their sense of self. Adventure tales inspire curiosity, instill values of bravery and resilience, and encourage critical thinking as children navigate the narratives and consider their broader implications.