As a parent or educator, you might notice that children's books' themes seem to be more prominent than they are in books for adults. Some authors purposely try to get messages across when they write books for children, and others make their work somewhat didactic in an attempt to illustrate examples of good character or good values. Often, authors simply write to entertain, and certain themes become common and show up again and again in a wide variety of works.
Children's Books' Themes
Most children's books that are longer than a few pages contain multiple themes, and you don't have to look hard to find some of the most common.
Friendship is arguably the most common of all children's books' themes. The relationships portrayed aren't always between humans (for example, Because of Winn-Dixie and Shiloh both show friendships between children and dogs), but most of the stories illustrate the importance of love, care, support, advocacy, and compromise in friendship. Since finding and keeping good friends is a topic that's constantly on almost all children's minds, these books are helpful in sharing additional information and friendship experiences.
Race is not a common theme in most children's books, but it does come up in some older works of literature and a few modern stories. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic example of a book with race themes that is still very relevant to today's culture and climate. Other books don't include race as a straightforward theme but may mention it offhandedly in the story or use it as a device to support the main plot.
Adults who live independently may not have to consider their families on a daily basis, but kids always have to deal with family dynamics and the troubles that can arise because of interactions with parents, siblings, and other relatives. Consequently, family-themed stories are very popular. Some books for very young children deliberately address the topic of families and discuss the diversity and components that make up a family, but most books for middle-grade or young-adult readers simply recognize the joys and difficulties that are involved with being part of a family, including the struggle for privacy and the balance to strike between family life and school life.
Self-esteem and self-confidence are important themes in many children's books because it's easy for most children to identify with the struggle of developing a likeable identity. Some books that deal with self-esteem are meant to be inspirational and intend to empower children to make their own choices, be their true selves, and exhibit confidence in who they are and what they like. Lots of self-help books for kids fall into this category, and the theme is illustrated more subtly in most coming-of-age novels.
Bible stories for kids may be some of the best-known examples of morality tales, but almost every children's book includes themes of morality and values in some way. Classic fantasy and science-fiction stories for young readers are almost always dichotomies between good and evil, with the protagonists being on the good side and the reader being urged to sympathize with and support the protagonist. In friendship stories, the villain often turns out to be misunderstood or to have things in common with the main character that may not be obvious at first, which can further illustrate the moral themes of empathy and compassion. In some more explicitly moral tales, readers will also find themes of helping the less fortunate and using the power of prayer.
Finding Themed Books
If you're on the lookout for a particular theme or want to share books with your child that tackle a certain subject matter, you can often search books by theme. Most online library catalogs have an open space that allows patrons to search for materials by subject, which will then filter search results into more detailed themes. You can also approach a librarian or bookstore employee and explain what you're seeking, and he or she may be able to recommend a few good titles that will fit the bill.