25 Most Common Themes in Children's Literature (2023)

Through reading, children learn about relationships, complex issues, and the challenges and joys they may face throughout childhood and beyond. There are many children's books with a wide variety of themes. Discover 25 of the most common themes in children's literature.

25 Most Common Themes in Children's Literature (1) examples themes in children's literature


Relationship-Focused Themes

Many children's books focus on themes related to relationships.

Family Relationships

Many children's books often center around the theme of family relationships. Some are heartwarming, inclusive stories of the many forms family can take, such as Who's in My Family?, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. Others help children deal with issues like separation and divorce.

Loyalty and Dedication

Loyalty is a recurrent theme in many children's books. This theme is illustrated very well in A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. This picture book tells the story of Amos, a zookeeper who goes above and beyond to bond with the zoo animals each day. When Amos is sick and misses his rounds, the animals miss him. Rather than complaining that Amos isn't there for them, they take it upon themselves to visit him, repaying his loyalty in kind.

Value and Power of Friendship

Many children's books focus on how priceless and powerful friendship really is. There are many great options out there, including Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. This book tells the story of a friendship that develops between a local kid whose best friend has just moved away and a new student whose family has just immigrated from another country. Friendship blossoms as the two children band together to protect themselves from the school bully.

Teamwork and Collaboration

Kids spend a lot of time working in teams, from group projects at school to sports teams on the playground and beyond, so teamwork is a common theme in children's books. When Pencil Meets Eraser, written by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos Jr. and illustrated by German Blanco, helps kids understand that everyone has different talents to contribute and that many talents are needed. Kids discover that the finished product is better when team members work cooperatively together.


Themes About Emotions and Attitudes

Kids can struggle with their emotions and attitudes, so children's books often focus on themes related to these topics.

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Accepting Differences

Learning how to accept differences is a common theme in children's literature. The Kid and the Chameleon, written by Sheri Mabry and illustrated by Joanie Stone, is a picture book based on this theme. The young heroine learns to respect that her Chameleon friend doesn't like the same activities that she enjoys. Through pictures and words, youngsters learn that getting along requires give and take. There are many children's books about cultural diversity.

Bravery and Courage

Bravery and courage are often the focus of children's books. The Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling illustrates the universal appeal of this theme, beyond even the audience of children. Adults and children alike are inspired by the bravery and courage of Harry and his friends throughout their many adventures.

Compassion for Others

Compassion is a recurrent theme in children's literature. In Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen, author DyAnne Disalvo Ryan seeks to encourage children to feel compassion for those who depend on the kindness of others for survival. The author has real-world experience as a soup kitchen volunteer, so the book is based on a unique perspective on volunteering in a soup kitchen, as well as depending on one for sustenance.

Honesty and Trust

Many children's books have themes focused on the importance of telling the truth. The rhyming picture book Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkley Breathed (of Bloom County cartoon fame) demonstrates just how much trouble a kid can face as a result of telling the truth. It's a fun and positive story that clearly illustrates that honesty is the best policy.



Learning to feel comfortable with who they really are is an important lesson for kids to learn. As a result, self-concept is a common theme in children's books. In Calvin Can't Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie, an adorable picture book written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Keith Bendis, a young bird who doesn't fit in with his siblings because he'd rather read than fly ends up saving the day when a crisis requires book knowledge.

Themes Related to Behavior

Children's literature provides a great tool for children to learn positive behavioral habits.

Coping With Anger

Early in life, kids need to learn how to cope with feelings of anger. The picture book When I Feel Angry, written by Cornelia Maude Spelman and illustrated by Nancy Cote is a great example of this theme in an age-appropriate book for preschoolers. It provides kid-friendly strategies for recognizing, understanding and effectively handling the emotion of anger.

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Generosity and Sharing

Many children's books focus on the importance of sharing and generosity. The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need by Stan and Jan Berenstain emphasizes just that. In this picture book, the beloved family of bears realizes that they have more possession than they need, so they donate the excess to others. They feel so good about sharing that they also decide to volunteer in their community.

Hard Work

Kids are never too young to learn the value of hard work. One of the most popular classic tales focused on this theme has been around since 1930, when Watty Piper first wrote The Little Engine That Could. It has been adapted and updated many times, but the timeless tale remains as relevant today as when it was first written.


Imagination and Exploring Possibilities

Children who learn to use their imaginations are well-prepared to unlock their creative potential. The picture book I Don't Want To, written by Joseph Maxfield and illustrated by Nate Anderson, focuses on how even everyday activities and less-than-exciting tasks can become wonderful when children infuse a bit of imagination into them.

Perseverance and Persistence

Too often, youngsters are ready to give up too soon. Fortunately, perseverance and persistence are common themes in children's literature. Salt in His Shoes is a picture book that tells the story of how all-time great basketball player Michael Jordan wanted to give up the sport because he was tired of waiting to grow tall enough. Written by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn Jordan (Michael's mother and sister) and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, this book uniquely demonstrates the power of persistence.


Many children's books focus on stories designed to help children learn how to control their impulses. That's the central theme of What Were You Thinking? by Bryan Smith. The book focuses on a third-grader whose lack of self-control leads to disruptive behavior in class and making other children cry. The story reveals age-appropriate strategies for thinking before acting that kids can apply in their own lives.

Life Transitions Themes

Children's books can make it easier for kids to understand and work through the life challenges they experience.


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Growing Up

Children of all ages face the joy and agony of coming of age on a daily basis. Many children's books focus on the theme of growing up. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is a classic example of a book with a coming of age theme. It has been a favorite for older elementary and tween girls since the 1970s.

Holidays and Traditions

For all of the many holidays that exist, there are many books for kids. Children can learn about holidays their families celebrate, as well as observances practiced by other groups. Christmas books are one example, but there are plenty of options for every holiday occasion. Explore a powerful selection of holiday multicultural books for children.

Loss and Grief

Unfortunately, children aren't immune to experiencing tragedy. Because youngsters need to learn to cope with loss, death and the resulting grief, these topics are common themes in children's books. There are many thoughtful children's books about death and dying, including When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers (of the long-running children's TV show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood).

School Life

Children spend a lot of time at school, so school life is one of the most popular themes in children's literature. For young kids, Miss Nelson is Missing!, a read-along picture book written by Harry G. Allard Jr. and illustrated by James Marshall, provides a fun lesson on how important it is to appreciate your teacher and others you should value. The young students don't quite realize how good they have it with their regular teacher until a less-friendly substitute takes her place for the day.


Peace on Earth

With so much upheaval in the world, many children don't know what peace feels like. That's what children's book author Vladimir Radunsky hopes to convey in What Does Peace Feel Like? This unique children's picture book relates peace to the five human senses, from the mouths of babes. The author asked real children to relay what peace feels like to them; that's what's highlighted in this unusual book.

Themes Related to Social Issues

It's so important for children to be aware of social issues that impact the world in which they are growing up.

Fairness and Equity

Fairness is a common theme in children's literature. The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone is a classic tale that conveys the message that it's only fair to share in the work if you expect to benefit from the results of that work. Animals who refuse to help the title character gather the ingredients to make bread find themselves going without after the hen makes the bread. If only they had contributed, it would have been fair for them to expect the hen to share.


Hope for The Future

With the 24-hour news cycle and prevalence of social media, it can be hard to protect kids from some societal turmoil. As a result, hope for the future has become a common theme in children's books. In 2020, actress Kristen Bell partnered with author Benjamin Hart and illustrator Daniel Wiseman to create The World Needs More Purple People. This picture book reminds children that they are special and valued for who they are, while also encouraging them to seek common ground with others.


Racism and Injustice

Children's books often tackle tough topics, including the themes of racism and injustice. Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano is a contemporary and insightful story about a police shooting of a black man, told from the perspectives of a white family and a black family. It includes materials for educators, parents or caregivers to use to help facilitate productive discussions with children on this difficult, yet timely and all-too-important topic.

Making a Difference

The fact that everyone can make a difference is a common theme in children's literature. This theme is illustrated very well in The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, a rhyming picture book written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson. The heroine is young and small, but she does her part to make things better for everyone who crosses her path. Her small actions of empathy and courage illustrate how everyone can make the world a better place, one act of kindness at a time.

Taking A Stand

Children need to learn to stand up for what is right. This is a central theme of many children's books, including the well-loved tale of Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. Horton is an elephant who, because of his enormous ears, is able to detect a community of Whos residing on a speck of dust. Since no one else can see or hear them, others make fun of him and bully him. Horton knows the Whos are there and that they matter, so he sticks by what he knows to be the right thing to do.


Reading Is Fundamental

Reading really is fundamental for kids, whether books focus on these common themes or others. It's important to read to young kids and to encourage them to continue reading on their own once they develop reading skills. For more ideas about the many types of books that are available for young people, review this list of children's book types.

Mary Gormandy White

Staff Writer

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What are the 6 most common literary themes? ›

Six common themes in literature are:
  • Good vs. evil.
  • Love.
  • Redemption.
  • Courage and perseverance.
  • Coming of age.
  • Revenge.
20 Aug 2021

What are some of the themes in the child story? ›

Life: The theme is the insight of life because the traveler goes through the life of a child. This happens through his magical journey experiencing all the wonders of life (cycle of life).

What are the 12 themes? ›

  • Power.
  • Family.
  • Identity.
  • Loneliness.
  • Friendship.
  • Free will vs. Fate.
  • Hope.
  • Love.
30 Jun 2021

What are the 5 universal themes? ›

Universal Themes in Literature
  • A human being's confrontation with nature.
  • A human being's lack of humanity.
  • A rebellious human being's confrontation with a hostile society.
  • An individual's struggle toward understanding, awareness, and/or spiritual enlightenment.
  • An individual's conflict between passion and responsibility.

What are 100 themes? ›

100 Themes Challenge simply gives artists a starting point... you go from there! How does it work? There are five variations, each with 100 themes. You can pick your favorite variation from the 5 pre-existing ones or mix and match themes from multiple variations.

What are 4 common themes in literature? ›

A book's central theme can be anything the author chooses to focus on. Certainly, courage, death, friendship, revenge, and love are five themes that abound. Let's take a closer look at these common themes, as well as some interesting examples from popular works of fiction.

What are 10 common genres in literature? ›

Literary Genres
  • Drama. Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
  • Fable. ...
  • Fairy Tale. ...
  • Fantasy. ...
  • Fiction. ...
  • Fiction in Verse. ...
  • Folklore. ...
  • Historical Fiction.

What are major themes? ›

A major theme is an idea that a writer repeats in his work, making it the most significant idea in a literary work. A minor theme, on the other hand, refers to an idea that appears in a work briefly and that may or may not give way to another minor theme.

What are the 7 enduring themes of child development? ›

This chapter outlines several fundamental themes that arise again and again in the study of child development: nature and nurture, the active child, continuity/discontinuity, how change occurs, the sociocultural context, individual differences, and how research can improve children's welfare.

What are three 3 themes that are common in coming of age stories? ›

Common Themes in Coming-of-Age Stories

A marked loss of childhood innocence, to some degree, in favor of maturity. Inner conflict and turmoil, resulting in personal growth and development. Developing from a self-centered thinking to a more worldly, other-focused thought.

Why are themes important in children's literature? ›

The theme helps give focus to the story, and therefore is a fundamental part of the work. Many themes in children's books are similar to those in adult books, especially those dealing with human emotions.

How many types of themes are there? ›

This is because there are two types of themes: major and minor themes.

What are themes in literature? ›

A theme is a central, unifying idea. It's the bigger issue that emerges as the characters pursue their goals. It has less to do with whether they'll win the race, or get the date, or find the treasure, and more to do with the deeper questions about identity, philosophy, or morality that arise during their attempts.

How many themes can a story have? ›

A story can have as many themes as the reader can identify based on recurring patterns and parallels within the story itself. In looking at ways to separate themes into a hierarchy, we might find it useful to follow the example of a single book. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, features some commonly-used themes.

What are the 10 unifying themes? ›

  • Individual Development and Cultural Identity.
  • Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures.
  • Time, Continuity, and Change.
  • Geography, Humans, and the Environment.
  • Development and Transformation of Social Structures.
  • Power, Authority, and Governance.
  • Civic Ideals and Practices.

What are the 8 themes of culture? ›

Habit, custom, tradition, language, celebration, food, religion, family organization, work, and play: all these make up our culture. Think of culture as “the way we do things around here.” In another country—or neighborhood--people do things differently. That's their culture.

What are 2 examples of themes? ›

Some common themes in literature are "love," "war," "revenge," "betrayal," "patriotism," "grace," "isolation," "motherhood," "forgiveness," "wartime loss," "treachery," "rich versus poor," "appearance versus reality," and "help from other-worldly powers."

What are 21st century themes? ›

21st Century Themes include Global Awareness; and Environmental, Financial, Civic, and Health Literacy.

What is a good theme example? ›

Examples of Theme Topics: Love, Justice/Injustice, Family, Struggle, the American Dream, Wealth, Inhumanity Examples of Themes: People risk their own identity to find love; Power corrupts humanity; Without empathy, there can be no justice.

What are examples of themes in English? ›

Common themes include:
  • power.
  • love.
  • money.
  • death.
  • appearance and reality.
  • revenge.
  • heroism.
  • technology in society.

How do you pick a theme for a story? ›

How to Discover Your Story's Theme
  1. Figure Out Your Why. Why are you telling this specific story in this specific way in the first place? ...
  2. Consider Your Story's Genre. Each literary genre has its own set of common themes. ...
  3. Create an Outline. It's never too late to outline. ...
  4. Use Motifs. ...
  5. Use Multiple Themes.

What are the 5 main elements of literature? ›

These five components are: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. These essential elements keep the story running smoothly and allow the action to develop in a logical way that the reader can follow.

What is an example of a common theme found in literature? ›

Survival. One of the most universal themes in literature is survival. This is often seen in stories where the main character faces some obstacle or challenge that they must overcome.

What are the different 21st century literary genres? ›

The 21st century literary genres modules are dealing with the focusing of contemporary module literature.
They are,
  • Hypertext.
  • Speculative Fictional.
  • Experimental Fictional.
  • Auto fictional.
  • Game making.
6 Oct 2020

What are the 7 types of genre? ›

The Basic Film Genres
  • Action.
  • Comedy.
  • Drama.
  • Fantasy.
  • Horror.
  • Mystery.
  • Romance.
  • Thriller.
29 Aug 2022

What are the 3 main themes of popular culture? ›

The study of popular culture is useful in many ways. To be more specific, this course has reached its three intended main ideas: what it means to be American, how to be more consumption-conscious, and how to apply these studies in our own lives.

What are the 10 principles for child development? ›

  • Involve Infants and Toddlers in things that concern them. ...
  • Invest in Quality Time. ...
  • Learn each Child's Unique ways of communicating and teach yours. ...
  • Invest Time and Energy to Build a Total Person: ...
  • Respect Infants and Toddlers as Worthy People: ...
  • Be Honest About your Feelings: ...
  • Model the Behavior You want to teach:

What are the 5 domains of childhood? ›

“There are five critical domains in a child's development,” said Dianna Fryer, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Child Development Program training and curriculum specialist. “Those domains are social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language.”

What are examples of mature themes? ›

What counts as adult themes?
  • strong or offensive language.
  • discriminatory themes/language.
  • nudity.
  • sex.
  • violence.
  • substance use or abuse.
  • suicide or other traumatic themes.
  • flashing lights or imagery.

What are common themes in Roald Dahl? ›

Here are 5 themes which turn up in pretty much all of his books for children.
  • Food and drink. In Dahl's world, food and drink are either delicious or disgusting. ...
  • Family. Sometimes family members are wonderful and supportive. ...
  • Transformation. ...
  • Monsters. ...
  • Power.
12 Sept 2018

What are the common themes of English and American literature? ›

Terms in this set (10)
  • The American Dream. ...
  • Loss of Innocence. ...
  • Coming of Age. ...
  • Relationship with Nature. ...
  • Relationship with Society. ...
  • Relationship with Science. ...
  • Alienation and Isolation. ...
  • Survival of the Fittest.

What are current trends in children's literature? ›

Other trends include fantasy, kindness (anti-bullying), recreating classics, and realistic fiction. To help ease small children into reading longer-form books, transitional books have shorter chapters, larger words, some pictures, and topics that connect with the age group they are written for.

What are the four types of children's literature? ›

Some of the most common genres of literature for kids include picture books, traditional literature, poetry and verse, biography, fiction and nonfiction.

What are the basics of children's literature? ›

Children's literature as a concept is defined as literature exclusively about children. Children's literature refers mainly to stories, poetry, rhymes, folk tales, drama, exclusively created for children such as infants, toddlers and the young people as target audience. teaching moral lessons.

What are 4 common literary themes? ›

Major Themes- Love, family, life, death, religion, coming of age, friendship, suffering, literature and writing.

What are the 6 major genres of children's literature? ›

Genres for Children's Literature
  • Biographies.
  • Biography.
  • Children's poetry.
  • Children's stories.
  • Fables.
  • Fairy tales.
  • Fantasy fiction.
  • Fiction.
6 May 2022

What are the seven themes to literature? ›

The plots
  • Overcoming the monster.
  • Rags to riches.
  • The quest.
  • Voyage and return.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.
  • Rebirth.

What are the 7 general types of children's literature? ›

Children's Literature
  • Classic children's literature.
  • Picture books.
  • Fairytales & folklore.
  • Fantasy fiction.
  • Historical fiction.
  • Realistic fiction.
  • Biography.
3 Nov 2022

What are the five general types of children's literature? ›

Some of the most common genres of literature for kids include picture books, traditional literature, poetry and verse, biography, fiction and nonfiction.

What are the 4 types of children's books? ›

Understanding Children's Book Classifications - article
  • Picture books. Picture books are targeted at children ages 2 to 8. ...
  • Chapter books. Chapter books are for children ages 7 to 9 and they are 4,000-15,000 words in length. ...
  • Easy Reader. ...
  • Juvenile books. ...
  • Middle grade. ...
  • Young Adult books.

What are the 7 main play categories? ›

The Major Types of Play

The types of play include physical, dramatic, sensory, nature, music and art, and age-appropriate play. Children need the various types of play in order to support and facilitate meaningful learning opportunities as they develop language, motor, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities.


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