Critical Thinking Through Kids Literature


As we all know, books play a vital role in children’s social and academic development. Perhaps no part of education is more important than helping children to develop a love for reading. Reading stimulates the mind, sparks the imagination, and heightens awareness. It helps children think about social issues and it even teaches empathy.

Children are a bundle of ideas and thoughts and each one of them “think” differently from an adult. Their thinking is also different from other children in their same age group.

As children absorb new information, they revise their initial understanding by asking questions. From a very young age, children have the capability to learn foundational critical thinking skills and concepts, which will eventually develop into their full potential during adolescence. 

What Exactly is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking means that we consider all possibilities, not just one. It means knowing how to think, not what to think. It also means that we have an open mind and consider alternative ways of finding a solution. The core of critical thinking is ASKING QUESTIONS and KEEPING AN OPEN MIND TO THE ANSWER.

Take this, for a simple example.  The task is for the child to evaluate whether or not something was a good idea or a bad idea and then draw a conclusion.

The children let the Cat in the Hat enter their home while NO parents were home. 

Evaluate: Children, was that a good idea or a bad idea? Why or why not?

Draw a conclusion: Children, now thinking about the whole story, is it a real story or is it make believe? Why do you think so?

In this task, the child had to think about all of the possibilities of what could happen from letting the Cat in, or what would happen if they didn’t let him in for that matter. After analyzing each possibility an informed decision can be made. Drawing a conclusion is something people don’t often recognize they have done. People get conclusions confused with evidence but even having the ability to recognize that you are not aware of each instance where you draw a conclusion, is in fact a critical thinking skill. Dr. Seuss books are great for learning and help children learn problem solving and decision making skills.

Children’s Literature Promotes Healing & Understanding

In discussing methods to help in the development of critical thinking skills, there are two that require the use of books. Bibliotherapy and critical literacy help children develop the skills needed to get through difficult situations and consider all viewpoints.  Children will improve their self-awareness, respect each other’s differences, and become empowered to rise above their own particular difficulties or challenges.

Bibliotherapy is a strategy that uses books to help heal.  Books are great at promoting understanding, facilitating conversations, and encouraging discussion.  Take for example the issue of bullying.  Using books as a catalyst for discussing how to cope with a bullying teaches problem solving but also helps children build the capacity to confront and solve a problem on their own, when the time comes.

Critical literacy really just means building the “thinking” skills needed to be respectful of differences and open to all vantage points. It’s about being self-aware.

Books That Promote Critical Thinking

Books that help stretch the imagination and encourage children to guess, describe, and wonder will help enhance their critical thinking skills. There are countless books that can help without children even realizing it.  Mystery thrillers or “who done it” books are excellent examples—such as The Hardy Boys Series or Nancy Drew Series. Children try to solve clues or figure out the crime before the teen sleuths, which not only helps you develop a sense of adventure, it also works on the ability to critically think.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis is a great example.  The books feature simple line drawings that will ignite a child’s imagination.  Within the book, the question is asked “Why are you sitting on that box?”.  The reply is “It’s not a box…” but shows readers that indeed, it is a mountain, a racecar, and a robot.  This goes on with a series of paired questions and answers and is an excellent way to sharpen those critical learning skills without even realizing it. 

Another example is Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.  This funny book gets readers to view two unseen characters disagreeing on what kind of animal is in front of them.  It pushes children to see by using optical challenges where the reader decides if they are looking at the head of a duck or the head of a rabbit.  The illustrator uses curved lines to help with visual hints, strategically, so the reader can see whether it is the duck moving—or if it is the rabbit!

Michael Crichton’s bestselling novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World are of course an entertaining roller-coaster ride, but also gives a perspective on how humans interact with a biological world and how things can be altered.  It shows that science can do beautiful things, but can also make mistakes of catastrophic proportions. The books require readers to dig deeper and ponder complex questions.

How Does a Picture Book Promote Critical Thinking?

Pictures are a language in their own right and tell us about the setting, who the characters are, the main problem in the story, and what the solution is at the end. Pictures books are amazing tools to help promote critical thinking and provide a non-threatening, focused, purposeful mode of reading that will activate thinking on a visual level and build reading comprehension.  hey excite children about the reading process and can be effective in teaching about the plot of the story.  he pictures may even provide different vantage points to explore and often tell a contradictory story to the text. 

Pictures promote creativity and remind us that through art, we can learn about the world and communicate. Through images, readers can identify stereotypes and understand different emotions. 

See How Far Books Can Take You

Children’s books that contain multicultural characters and settings can literally transport the reader on a worldwide experience and help disperse negative generalizations. The reader will become empowered to learn different cultural heritage and begin to understand universal emotions, thoughts, and feelings.  All of this helps sharpen critical thinking skills.

Another great way to use literature is by comparing fairy tales across different cultures.  Children have fun looking for similarities and differences in fairy tales and folklore, which encourages them to focus on details.  One example is Cinderella, as there are many versions of that tale. Children can use the text and illustrations to compare, paying attention to differences in the weather, time period, culture, etc.

Another example is The Gingerbread Man where each culture has a different twist and type of food. The Fleeing Pancake is a similar recurring folktale that was popular in Europe. Children will think about the type of food used (instead of gingerbread it may be a donut, or pancake), who makes the food that runs away, who tries to catch it, and what cultural details are unique to that version of the story.


Asking questions and being responsive to the answers are the most important parts of successful critical thinking. Books can help catapult all children in life and opens doors to all kind of new worlds for them. Reading is like looking through the window, admiring the view of the world, feeling the magic unfold with each turn of the page.  Children create miracles when they read and it all starts with a book.

Thank you so much for joining me today for this blog! 

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Please post any comments you have about this blog topic or any comment in general! 

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3 thoughts on “Critical Thinking Through Kids Literature

  1. Love this post Shiela! The many different aspects to learning through stories, all SO important to develop from an early age. 🙂

  2. I just ready this post and love it!! Thanks for including the links also and I agree with everything in this blog. There is nothing more important than early learning specifically those concepts that take us forever as an adult to understand, yet can be picked up much easier when the brain is still developing. I took a course on critical thinking in college and wish that it would have been a more concentrated topic as I was growing up. I love your drawing Shiela you are able to capture exactly what is intended, and thanks for giving us some great stuff to read. 🙂

  3. Thank you Alexandria, glad you enjoyed it. I really appreciate your comment. 🙂

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