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LibGuide: Fear and Morality

Cautionary tales were some of the first stories designed specifially for children. Under the umbrella of cautionary tales falls the morality tale, which imparts to readers the values and priorities of the societies in which they live. These values can be imparted through reward, but, in the context of the books from the era covered by the Historic Children's Literature collection, they are imparted more often through fear. The resources below include sources to find morality tales of the past, databases with which to begin searching, and some sources for information about Victorian children's literature and morality (and about Little Red Riding Hood in particular).

Search terms

  • Victorian
  • 19th Century OR nineteenth century
  • morality tales
  • cautionary tales
  • tales OR stories
  • Victorian morality
  • Chapbooks
  • morality AND children
  • historical literature
  • teaching morality OR teaching values

Useful Databases and Journals


  • Project MUSE: Project MUSE is an online database of peer reviewed academic journals and electronic books that provides access to digital humanities and social seicne content from over 250 university presses and scholarly societies. Includes scholarly articles and journal issues related to children's literature.
  • Academic Search Complete (EBSCO): Academic Search Complete offers an enormous collection of full-text journals, providing users access to critical information from many sources unique to this database. Includes literary and education-centric journals and literature review peirodicals.
  • Literature Resource Center (Gale)Literature Resource Center offers up-to-date biographical information, overviews, full-text literary criticism, and reviews on more than 130,000 writers in all disciplines, from all time periods and from around the world. Its materials support interdisciplinary approaches, information literacy, and the development of critical thinking skills.
  • MLA International Bibliography (ProQuest): MLA International Bibliography offers, among other resources, a subject index for books and articles published on modern languages, literatures, folklore, and linguistics.


  • The Lion and the Unicorn: The Lion and the Unicorn, an international theme- and genre-centered journal, is committed to a serious, ongoing discussion of literature for children. The journal's coverage includes the state of the publishing industry, regional authors, comparative studies of significant books and genres, new developments in theory, the art of illustration, the mass media, and popular culture
  • Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature: Papers publishes scholarly writing on all aspects of children’s fiction – canonical, modern and contemporary. Articles might include theoretical perspectives, comparative analysis, discussions of texts of historical interest, and bibliographical essays which also provide a scholarly overview of the works listed. 
  • Journal of Children's Literature: The Journal of Children’s Literature features refereed articles that are focused on research, theory, content analysis, instruction, and critical issues in children’s literature. Particularly welcomed are classroom studies and articles that bring diverse perspectives to the foreground.
  • Children's Literature: Encouraging serious scholarship and research, Children's Literature publishes theoretically-based articles that address key issues in the field. Each volume includes articles, essays, and abstracts of dissertations of note. 

Digitized Children's Literature

Other resources

Fear and Morality

Ackerman, A. T. (1984). Victorian Ideology and British Children’s Literature, 1850-1914 (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. https://search.proquest.com/docview/303301363?accountid=14784

  • In this dissertation Ackerman endeavors to prove that children’s literature in Victorian England reflected and promoted adult ideals. It includes historical background and six chapters relating children’s literature to specific themes, including morality.

Darton, F. J. H. (1966). Children’s Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life. Cambridge: University Press.

  • This book is a survey of English Children’s literature spanning in time from the Middle Ages to the 1880s (“and To-day”), with each chapter representing a time period and a theme for that time period, with an attendant chapter bibliography. Chapters of note include chapter 10 (“The Moral Tale: (i)Didactic”) and chapter 11 (“The Moral Tale: (ii) Persuasive; chiefly in verse”). For the most part, these chapters talk about the authors of children’s books.

Grenby, M. O. “Moral and instructive children’s literature.” The British Library. https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/moral-and-instructive-childrens-literature

  • Professor Grenby looks at the ways in which children’s literature of the 18th and 19th centuries sought to improve its young readers, combining social and moral instruction with entertainment.

Moss, A. (1988) "Mothers, Monsters, and Morals in Victorian Fairy Tales." The Lion and the Unicorn, 12:2, 47-60. Project MUSE,doi:10.1353/uni.0.0070. Accessed May 3, 2017.

  • In this article, Moss explains that morality tales were common children’s literature, and that from the 1830s on, they were often also fairy tales. The authors of this stories used them to reinforce values such as thrift, industry, and piety, but, Moss argues, also imbued them with messages that subvert Victorian values.

Pedersen, S. (1986) “Hannah More Meets Simple Simon: Tracts, Chapbooks, and Popular Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century England.” Journal of British Studies 25:1, 84–113.

  • This journal article discusses Hannah More’s 1795 work “Cheap Repository of Moral and Religious Tracts,” and how that popularized putting moral stories into a context easily consumable by children or the illiterate classes.

Saha, R. (2011) “Children in the Mind: Paginated Childhoods and Pedagogics of Play.” Economic and Political Weekly 46, no. 48: 53–60.

  • This paper examines the 18th and 19th century British and French development of literature as a child-specific genre, which was based in “pedagogy of play” (as described by Locke and Rousseau) and how that concept determined what was permissible and what was prohibited for children.

Shavit, Z. (1983). “The Notion of Childhood and the Child as Implied Reader (Test Case: ‘Little Red Riding Hood’).” Journal of Research and Development in Education 16:3, 60-67.

  • In this article, Shavit discusses how the societal concept of what childhood is determines what the assumptions about children as readers are, and the texts aimed at children that result. It talks about when the notion of “childhood” first occurred (16th C), the attitude towards fairy tales in the 17th C, and, with regard to Little Red Riding Hood in particular, (1)Perrault’s fairy tales, (2)differences between Perrault and Grimm, specifically the differing endings, (3)modern adaptations, and ultimately argues that the differences between versions are intentional and indicative of social change.

Smith, K. (2011). “Producing governable subjects: Images of childhood old and new.” Childhood 19:1, 24-37. doi 10.1177/0907568211401434. Accessed May 2nd, 2017.

  • In this article, Smith examines the opposing concepts of the Dionysian (inherently evil) child and the Apollonian (inherently innocent) child in the context not only of child-rearing, but of broader social engineering.

Thibault, M. “Children’s Literature Promotes Understanding.” Learn NC.http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/635. Accessed May 1, 2017.

  • This article explains the strategies of bibliotherapy (using books to facilitate dealing with life circumstances) and critical literacy (the ability to consider points of view) as tools to help children learn about themselves and the world around them. It also provides some resources for further study of both strategies.

Little Red Riding Hood

Beckett, S. L. (2002) Recycling Red Riding Hood. New York: Routledge.              

  • In this book, Beckett examines the massive range of alterations to and interpretations of the Little Red Riding Hood story that have taken place over the past three hundred years. Beckett takes an intertextual approach, with each chapter representing a theme illustrated by various versions of the story.

Daniels, M. (2002) “The Tale of Charles Perrault and Puss in Boots.” Electronic British Library Journal, 0, np. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bl.uk/eblj/2002articles/pdf/article5.pdf. Accessed May 3, 2017.

  • This article is specifically focused on Puss and Boots, but provides a comprehensive history of Charles Perrault and the way his stories were co-opted and adapted into the popular consciousness.

Nodelman, P. (1978) “Little Red Riding Hood Rides Again — and Again and Again and Again.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Proceedings: 70-77.https://doi.org/10.1353/chq.1978.0002. Accessed May 4, 2017.

  • This article describes the roots of the Red Riding Hood story we know today as coming from Perrault’s Chaperon Rouge and from the Grimm Brothers’ Rotkäppchen. With regard to Perrault, the article addresses the story’s role as a morality tale, the original tragic ending and deduces that the premise is that “innocence is stupid.”

Orenstein, C. (2002) Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. New York: Basic Books.

  • This book is a history of the various different ways in which the Red Riding Hood story has been changed and interpreted over time. Each chapter tackles a different iteration of the story. Notably, it talks about how fairy tales influence young persons’ views of the world.

Tehrani, J. J. (2013) “The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood.” R. Alexander Bentley (ed.). PLoS ONE 8.11: e78871. PMC. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078871. Accessed May 3, 2017.

  • This article addresses Little Red Riding Hood’s narrative lineage through the lense of Phylogeny (the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms)--specifically, it differentiates Little Red from another, similar, folktale (“The Wolf and the Kids”) using cladistic, Bayesian and phylogenetic network-based methods.

Zipes, J. (1983). The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural ContextSouth Hadley: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.

  • In this book, Zipes first writes a history of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, including resources, and then includes 31 different versions of the story, with dates ranging between 1697 and 1979. Notable among these is the Perrault (the first included--and earliest-- version).