Hero's Journey Stories Better Than Facts

What Hero’s Journey Stories Teach Children

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

What Joan Aikens Claimed about Children and Stories

Stories ought not to be just little bits of fantasy that are used to while away an idle hour; from the beginning of the human race stories have been used by priests, by bards, by medicine men as magic instruments of healing, of teaching, as a means of helping people come to terms with the fact that they continually have to face insoluble problems and unbearable realities.

Joan Aiken

Stories Are Powerful Teachers

Joan Aiken was a British writer who specialized in writing supernatural fiction and children's alternate history novels. Her statement about children and stories identifies a powerful truth about the role of stories in human life. Telling stories has been a defining characteristic of human life throughout the ages, throughout cultures, throughout the world. This is why a story form such as the hero's journey has been a fact of human life for many generations.

Why are stories so powerful? One essential reason is that a good story engages the whole brain. It's easier to learn and to remember anything when you're fully engaged in it. Stories engage the whole brain in ways that studying facts cannot.

The picture of the children shows that the girls and one boy are clearly interested in whatever is happening in front of them. Whether they are listening to a hero's journey story or not, you can see their rapt attention and the expressions on their faces as they are fully engaged in what they see and hear. (The other boys in the back don't seem to be as involved.)

Two Types of Stories

Joan Aiken's comment also identifies two types of stories.

One type is simplistic stories that can be fun to read or hear but they don't have much to teach anyone. Light entertainment can't teach anyone how to respond in times of crisis. These stories can't teach you how to be your own savior.

In contrast, hero's journey stories are about threatening circumstances and significant problems. The fundamental truth of any hero's journey story is that heroes are forced to become bolder, braver, and more determined to face danger and solve problems.

The most significant lesson in any hero's journey story is that you have far more capacity than you realize. By telling stories about ordinary people who became heroes, you learn that you too can become the hero of your own life and the lives others.

Children can learn the same lessons about themselves from stories about danger and injustice in the world. Rather than be immersed in unchallenging stories, they can be exposed to stories about some of the tough realities of life. These are the stories that can teach children about courage, resourcefulness, and determination. By hearing and reading good stories, they learn that they too can become heroes in their own lives.

Find out more about The Way to Write for Children

This is a comment about Joan Aiken's book by Tygertale.

In 1982 Joan Aiken was asked to write a practical guide on the art of writing children’s books. From the first line it is clear that she wasn’t entirely sold on this concept (‘There is no one way to write for children’), but concedes that there are many practical things that a new writer can do to create a successful children’s book – mow the lawn, put your feet in a bucket of hot water, take laudanum….
The world of children’s publishing has moved on a lot since this guide was published, but there is much sensible advice packed into the book’s 93 pages that still rings true. The Way to Write for Children is more than just another how to guide, it stands alongside Aiken’s many fictional books as a fine, funny and revealing piece of writing.

[Original Post September 28, 2014]

What are your thoughts and experiences about how hero's journey stories taught you about being resourceful and courageous? Leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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