Fear in Children's Literature Benefits Early Development

Research shows a third of parents (33%) would avoid reading a book to their children if it included a scary character, despite expert evidence suggesting fear is healthy for youngsters.


Book People surveyed 1,003 UK parents about their attitudes towards scary children's book characters and whether they believe that villains of the page have valuable lessons to teach their own kids.

When asked about the characters they found the most scary when they were a child, a fifth (20%) of mums and dads said that The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz gave them the shivers, closely followed by the infamous Child Catcher from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (17%).

Although a third of parents try to avoid exposing their own children to scary characters during story time, an overwhelming 84% agreed that 'bad' characters are an important part of children's books.

More specifically, over three-quarters (78%) of parents said they felt that the baddies in fiction help children differentiate between good and evil, while around half (53%) felt that they help kids learn to cope with difficult situations and conquer fears (48%).

Their views are backed by leading psychologist Emma Kenny, who said: "There are lots of positives that can be drawn from the role of fear in children's literature, including engaging a moral conscience, so learning to take sides with the forces of good, for example.

"Fear is something that we encounter in lots of situations, so understanding what it is and enabling a child to have a fear 'compass' is an equipping experience for a child."

Commenting on the research, Claudia Mody, children's buying director at Book People, said: "With the season of fear well upon us, it's the time of year when we're most likely to recall those characters that scared us as children, and perhaps still scare us as adults!

"Whether it's the Child Catcher or Lord Voldemort, for younger readers these characters are incredibly important in developing understanding of right and wrong. Although we're reluctant to admit it, our favourite books just wouldn't be the same without these sinister protagonists!"

To find out more about Book People's study and to read psychologist Emma Kenny's full interview, click here.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Atomik Research. Total sample size was 1,003 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th-20th June 2016. The survey was carried out online.

  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Collection - 3 Books - Collection - 9781509843145 - Frank Cottrell Boyce
    CHTY 9 years +
    9 years +
    • £5.99
    • RRP £20.97
    • Save £14.98Save 71%
    • Just £2.00 per book
    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one of the most recognisable vehicles from children's books (and films) and this collection brings together Frank Cottrell Boyce's brilliant three sequels to the original story by Ian Fleming.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again finds the Tooting family finding a vast abandoned engine and fitting it to their campervan. It turns out this engine used to belong to an extraordinary flying car and it wants to be back on the road - and in the air - again as soon as possible. As Chitty tracks down her long-lost bodywork, the family get set for an incredible adventure...

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time finds Chitty stuck in reverse - and that means the Tooting family are going on a quest through time. And they're coming face to face with a terrifying T-rex; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon has the Tootings stuck in 1966 and Little Harry and Chitty have both been kidnapped. There's only one thing they can do - they need to find the Potts - the family that originally built Chitty!
  • WOZ2 9 years +
    9 years +
    • £3.99
    • RRP £6.99
    • Save £3.00Save 42%
    The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum is more than 100 years old but still has the power to transport its reader to another world.

    Dorothy and her dog Toto are hit by a tornado which deposits them in the strange and magical Land of Oz. To return home to Kansas, Dorothy must follow the Yellow Brick Road and find the elusive Wizard of Oz but her journey is full of obstacles - not least the Wicked Witch of the West...

    The Wizard of Oz is an unmissable read for children aged 9+ and a must-read book for fans of classic The Wizard of Oz film starring Judy Garland and the hit Disney prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful, starring James Franco, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz.