Investigating Modern Children Stories English Literature Essay

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My investigation was designed to investigate children's modern day stories, and whether there were any identifiable linguistic patterns within them. I chose to investigate this topic, as I was interested in the unconventional style of the genre and discourse structure of the text. It also complemented several aspects of child language acquisition which I really enjoyed. Because of the unusual genre and combination of modern and classic fairy tales into one story, it seemed logical to investigate the discourse structure as it appeared to be completely different from a typical child's story. For this reason I used the full text.

Within my investigation I expected to find that there might be more informality within the language choices compared to traditional children's stories, as the data represents a more modern genre of story telling. I also expected that lexis would be more simplified, with simple syntax within the sentence structure to make the text easier to read and understand for a young audience. Because children might also read the narratives with their parents, there could be evidence that the pragmatic intention of the author would be to create a story to be enjoyed by a multi layered audience, including parents and in particular younger children.

Additionally, due to the mode of the text, I expected to find typical features included within many fairy tales; such as themes of good and evil and underlying morals to teach the audience an important lesson.


I was chose to carry out this investigation because child language acquisition interested me and after reading through these I texts thought they would be interesting to analyse and investigate the modernised genre.

As I found several short stories contained in one book, all with a similar structure, all fast paced quick stories. 'The Stinky Cheese Man' contained a wide selection of modernised children's stories with an unusual take…. And discourse, pragmatics Chose three of the stories with most interesting features, began by closely analysing the elements of story, discourse structure, grammar, to analyse which were the most prominent features and to distinguish which were the most identifiable.

The stories were short and so this allowed me to analyse the whole plot rather than odd sections of the data, and therefore this enabled me to include the key elements contained within the modern genre of children's stories.

Discourse structure

The majority of fairy tales follow a classic discourse structure. Initially, equilibrium would be established between the main characters, an element of disruption might then be introduced, followed by a crisis and climax, after which the problems will be resolved and stability eventually returns. The data I have collected however is a dramatic contrast, following a unique and more complex structure whereby the original fairy tales of 'Cinderella', The Princess and the Pea' and 'The Frog Prince' are compacted into short, fast paced stories introducing a humorous twist. The two fairy tales Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are combined into one story, creating the neologism 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin' producing a comedic effect, and so helping to reinforce the pragmatic intention to entertain the audience.

While all three stories differ from the typical structure of fairy tales, they still appear to follow the equilibrium, disruption and new equilibrium sequence, beginning with 'Once upon a time' and closing with 'The end.' 'The Other Frog Prince' is particularly unusual, as the ending of the tale is distorted compared to the original plot. The naive Princess is deceived by the frog, whom after she kisses does not turn back into a Prince as he does in the original tale, which leads on to the resolution and new equilibrium. However, there is no happy ending to this story; as the Princess simply 'wiped the frog slime off her lips', which although evokes a grotesque but humorous image, could enforce a more sinister side to the tale, in which there is the underlying secondary pragmatic intention. The audience are provided with the moral that not everybody we encounter can be trustworthy and truthful, which could be more relatable to a modern day audience as now there is more awareness of the danger and threats to the safety of young children than there was previously.

The discourse structure of 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin' begins the tale in an old patriarchal manner, with the classic 'Once upon a time' opening. Quickly, the language slips into a far more informal and modern style, for instance the adjective 'fabulous' is used to describe the ball at the Prince's castle, most frequently been used from the 1960's onwards, demonstrating the change in language over time. Using the semantic field of modern lexis allows the writer to bring the story away from the generalised audience introduced through 'once upon a time' and into the modern day, applying the text to this specific audience it is aimed at.

The crisis point within the tale occurs when Cinderella 'sat down and began to cry' after she doesn't have time to get ready for the ball. As the disequilibrium is introduced, the character of Rumpelstiltskin appears to 'help' Cinderella, as a contrast to the original tale where the 'fairy godmother' is introduced. At this point in the story Rumpelstiltskin's statement 'I can help you spin straw into gold' creates a hiatus in the plot, causing the story to become disjointed and bizarre. The absurdity of the character adds to the humour, which links in with the pragmatic intention to entertain the audience. Finally, normality returns after the step sisters return from the ball, though once again there is no happy ending or resolution to the story 'they still made her clean the house. And meaner still they changed her name to Cinderellarumpelstiltskin'. This may tie in with the secondary pragmatic intention of the tale, giving the message that not everybody will lead a happy life, in addition to teaching children to be more aware around unfamiliar people, as Cinderella says 'I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.'

'The Princess and the Bowling Ball' is a modern take on the children's classic fairy tale 'The Princess and the Pea'; with the pragmatic intention to entertain the audience. Similarly to the original tale, 'the Princess and the Pea' has the opening sequence 'once upon a time', and includes the patriarchal figures of the King and Queen, along with the Prince and Princesses. The tale mirrors the original plot quite closely, until the cliché statement 'then one day Prince met girl of his dreams' brings on climax of the story, where there is an element of deception as the Prince puts a bowling ball under the pile of mattresses rather than a pea. When the Princess responds and says 'I felt like I was sleeping on a lump as big as a bowling ball', equilibrium is brought to the tale. The Prince has finally found a Princess, and pleases the King and Queen. The use of irony links to the pragmatic intention to entertain the audience, the plot is more humorous and interesting as they know of the underlying mischievousness that the other characters don't. There might be an additional pragmatic intention to teach the children to listen to their parents. Unlike 'The Other Frog Prince' and 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin' there is in fact a happy ending to the story rather than an unresolved problem, although there is still factors of trickery and dishonesty as the family lived 'not completely honestly ever after'.

The audience may expect the classic discourse structure of fairy tales, as all stories begin with 'once upon a time' nevertheless the readers would need to have an understanding and prior knowledge of previous stories to fully comprehend why the tales are humorous, otherwise they might find them ambiguous. However, a younger audience may not know the tale of Rumpelstiltskin for example, and therefore would not understand 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin' and this genre of writing. However, the audience is multi layered; so parents reading with the children would recognize the allusion and might have to explain the plot.

This unique structure and unusual genre of writing and storytelling might indicate that a modern audience may no longer want a cliché 'happily ever after' ending anymore. Society is much more liberal minded than it was around 1700 -1800 when fairy tales first started to pass through generations, and children are now much more perceptive and aware of what is going on the world, so it is possible that this is reflected in the language and complexity of discourse structure.


Initially, in 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin', Rumpelstiltskin appears to be a reassuring, placid character, using politeness markers such as 'please don't cry'. However a power struggle becomes evident between Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella, as she doesn't want his help, shown through the hedging 'doesn't really matter'. Rumpelstiltskin becomes angrier throughout the story; the interjection of 'oh, just guess a name' conveys his frustration at her. Rumpelstiltskin is portrayed through a semantic field of outlandishness and absurdity, 'clever…strange…screaming' which is contrasted with semantic field of vulnerability and lack of power for Cinderella, 'made her clean' and 'began to cry'.

Again, within the 'Princess and the Bowling Ball' the masculine figures have superiority and power over females. This shown through the syntax and order of 'dad and mom (the king and Queen)', these are both powerful figures within the story, yet between them there is an order of preference within gender of their names, implying that the King is more important than the Queen. The Princess is described as being 'a nice girl', carrying connotations of being sweet and innocent, running with the gender stereotype appearing throughout this genre of writing. The term of endearment 'how did you sleep dear?' towards the Princess could be seen as condescending, and the pragmatics suggest that she is weak and needs looking after.

Furthermore, the parallelism in 'The other frog prince' containing the adjectives 'sad' and 'pathetic', further portray the male character as being weak, rather than the female. At this point the roles are reversed so that Princess has power over the frog, however as story develops its evident that she is tricked and the male figure is more powerful. Temples theory that girls in their passive role trend to be care takers can be applied here, as the Princess submits to the frogs wishes and takes pity on him 'she felt sorry for the frog'.

Although there are many examples of gender stereotyping within these children's stories, there are also some contrasts. Some of the female figures do show independence, which is evident within the twist on the original fairy tales. For instance, Cinderella closes the door on the 'strange' Rumpelstiltskin rather than letting him in, which opposes female stereotype of weakness and uncertainty. This could indicate that gradually children's literature is evolving to make female characters stronger and more independent, and here there might be a pragmatic intention to get the audience to re-examine their gender beliefs, showing how society has changed with a more unrestrictive view of gender roles.


Within the three fairy tales, the grammar is used to complement the modern style and genre of the fairy tale, whilst still carrying similar grammatical features from original stories. The use of the pre-modifier 'beautiful' is used to describe the Princesses and female characters within all three fairy tales, and a similar selection of adjectives appear to be used not just in my own data, but are a standard feature of most fairy tales, both modern day and old. For example 'wicked' 'sad' and 'ugly' are common descriptions and themes that are present in most fairy tales, and this is combined into the modern retelling of the stories. There appears to be the representation of the traditional ideology of good and evil, which could relate to the pragmatics of the story, to provide the audience with morals and important lessons, which are still very much relevant today, if not more so.

The grammar helps to reinforce the informal and conversational register of the texts, for example the use of parenthesis '(the King and Queen)' gives additional information and acts as an afterthought from the authorial voice. Similarly, dashes are used to project the informal style of language and discourse relationship, for example 'wicked and ugly- they also'. The use of the hyphen also demonstrates the informalisation of society and the impact that technology has had on language. This might be due to the fact that since the original fairy tales were written, there has been a technology boom and this influence has shown itself within these children's stories. Moreover, within the grammar there are numerous examples of sentences beginning with the connectives 'and' and 'but', for instance 'And everyone lived happily'. This may suggest that the language and grammatical structure of fairy tales has become less formal as they have passed through many generations over a long period of time.

The use of exclamatory sentences, for example, the repetition of 'RUMPELSTILTSKIN! RUMPELSTILTSKIN! RUMPELSTILTSKIN!' enables the characters to become more animated, possibly creating more expression when reading the story aloud, therefore making it more exciting and engaging. The use of capitalisation also makes Rumpelstiltskin's character seem more threatening, as he is one of the villains in 'Cinderellarumpelstiltskin'.

Similarly, declarative sentences appear frequently across the data, in particular 'The Princess and the Bowling Ball' where the declaratives are used within a parallel structure to bring the main plot of the story to an abrupt ending, 'The King and Queen were satisfied. The Prince and Princess were married.' This may link in with the primary pragmatic intention to entertain the audience with a short, fast paced story. As there may not be enough time within a busy modern day schedule to read a whole fairy tale, particularly for a parent reading to a child, a shorter story might be more beneficial and time saving. Additionally, the use of passive tense to say the Prince and Princess were married', gives the impression that this is something that happened to them or were forced into, to 'satisfy' the King and Queen, who throughout the story appear to be quite controlling, 'no Princess would be good enough for their boy'. This almost portrays them as villains, as the 'Prince had a very hard time'. This may link with the pragmatic intention of teaching the audience a moral, possibly that some people are never content or satisfied with what they already have.

Within 'The Princess and the Bowling Ball' the use of alliteration creates a rhythmic pattern to the text 'as big as a bowling ball', which creates more emphasis on the words and gives a more vivid visual image, making the story more stimulating for the audience, and again is more exciting if the story is being read by a parent. The use of modal verbs appear to be common throughout all three pieces of data, for example 'might', 'should' and 'would'. This may be a technique employed to reinforce the informal and chatty manner of the authorial voice, which may be more relatable to the audience as it sounds more upbeat and affable. In addition, a young audience might find the text to complex to read whilst unaided; this may be the reason for the large, humorous images included within the discourse structure in order to make the tales more visually stimulating.


Through my investigation I have developed a greater understanding of the key features included within the genre of modernised children's stories. After close analysis I Identified a number of recurring features, for instance I found that a relatively simple syntax was used within the structure of the sentences, making it easier for a young audience to read alone. For those who may have found these texts too complex to read unaided; the large humorous images might be included within the discourse structure to make the stories more visually stimulating and entertaining.

In addition, there was a clear sequence in the discourse structure of the tales, and as predicted I found that all of the stories had an underlying message, and recognized how influential to young children these tales could actually be; in terms of their behaviour, attitudes and views towards others and how they are socially conditioned, as stories with these features are read by the majority of children on a frequent basis.

However, as the tales came from the same book, they had a very similar genre and discourse structure, and although this was beneficial for gathering a large amount of qualitative data for analysis, it may also have been helpful to analyse another genre of children's story in order to make clearer comparisons and find more accurate identifiable linguistic patterns across a wider range of data.