What These 4 Classic Children's Books Teach Us About Storytelling

Image credit: Wikimedia

We all have a favourite story from our childhood. The best leave a lasting impression on you and it’s the power of their storytelling that does this.

The best designers and marketers are also storytellers and the most successful businesses create a narrative for their brand that their customers find impossible to turn away from. 

There is much that you can learn from our favourite childhood stories. Below I’ve highlighted 4 lessons that you can take from some of my most treasured children’s books, and detailed you how can apply the teachings of their storytelling to your business. 

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1. The Hobbit – manage your inner conflict 

Our hero, Bilbo, is conflicted from the outset, with his Baggins desire to remain in the shire battering against his Took need for adventure. And, though, he does leave the shire physically, mentally there is forever a magnetic pull to return.

This, however, is not Bilbo’s greatest source of conflict. Having discovered and worn the ring Bilbo is forever conflicted by its dark power, which infects his body like poison, but also energises and consumes him with possibility.

Bilbo’s conflict holds through into The Lord Of The Rings and what it teaches us about storytelling is that conflict is ever present.

This is something to remember when you’re marketing your business: the dark power is greater sales for your business and the conflict is between pushing your brand on your customers and letting them discover its magic.

Manage your conflict and don’t give in to the dark power; design a marketing campaign that persuades your customers to choose your brand for its unique qualities, rather than creating empty sales talk that turns them off and gives your rivals a competitive advantage. And who better to take inspiration from than the brilliant Dollar Shave Club? Watch and learn…


2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – simplicity brings growth 

Eric Carle’s multi-award-winning children’s text was published at the close of the 1960s, a decade which sought to impress messages of peace and love upon humanity. What The Very Hungry Caterpillar teaches us about storytelling is less romantic.

Our titular protagonist is driven by a simpler goal: he’s hungry and needs to eat in order to grow into a beautiful butterfly.

This is a lesson that you can apply to your company, particularly when you are building the website through which your sales that grow your business are funnelled.

Many a great idea has fallen victim to over complication. You can make sure that yours isn’t the next one by using an online store builder, like Shopify, to grow your business. If you are selling services instead, a CMS like Squarespace is a great way to get up and running fast. This allows you to develop your site to match the growth of your business, enabling you to tell the story of your brand as you do so.

However, unlike our ravenous caterpillar, this means your metamorphosis is ever present and at each stage of the development of your business you are a beautiful butterfly.

  Credit:    Flickr

Credit: Flickr


3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – don’t fear weighty topics

The clue is in the title: the seventh and final novel in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series sees young Potter dealing with the weightiest topics that life throws at you, with death and how you face it being the central lesson taught by the hugely popular book.

Harry deals with death in a multitude of fashions:

  • Bill and Fleur’s wedding is attacked by Death Eaters.
  • Learning about the death of Dumbledore's younger sister.
  • The death of Dumbledore hangs heavy over him.
  • Becomes the owner of the Deathly Hallows.
  • Accepts that he must die in order for Voldemort to be defeated and seeks counsel from his dead friends and family in order to come to terms with this.
  • Battles Voldemort, who is defeated through his death.

What you can learn from this is that you shouldn’t be afraid of tackling weighty topics during your brands marketing campaigns. In fact, if you address them properly then it can be a boon for your business. 

One of the finest recent examples of this is The New York Times’ VR (Virtual Reality) refugee campaign. This ticks two boxes: firstly, it covers how children have been driven from their homes; secondly, it employs VR technology.

The result of this was an award-winning campaign, an increased profile for the publication, and the chance for The New York Times to demonstrate themselves to be at the cutting edge of technology.

They succeeded by tackling weighty topics. While it might be a step too far for you to bring a VR marketing campaign to your business, AR (Augmented Reality) is something that you can add to your website.

Augment is a brilliant app that allows you to visualise your own 3D models, at scale and in both the real environment and real time. Adding this to your website will help you to improve the online experience for your customers and to bring 3D storytelling to your business.

  Credit:    Augment

Credit: Augment


4. The Tale of Peter Rabbit – be daring

I couldn’t end without Beatrix Potter’s beloved tale of a rabbit and his blue jacket. There are plenty of lessons found in the book’s 56 pages:

  • Don’t forget to eat your vegetables.
  • Be resilient.
  • Chamomile tea soothes the soul.
  • Mother knows best.

While all of these are important, they aren’t the teaching that provides greatest value to your business and, indeed, only one is immediately relevant to your business (mother knows best, of course).

Instead, the key teaching to take from The Tale of Peter Rabbit is that you should be daring. Peter sneaks into the garden of Mr McGregor to eat his vegetables, this despite his mother warning: “your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

This is not the same as being complicated or unrestrained – remember, Peter lost his jacket and was also made to endure a supper of chamomile tea, rather than the milk and berries his sisters received. Rather, in the words of marketing guru, Tim Washer:

“I’m not worried about making mistakes, this is what kills so many creative ideas. Every video that worked out well for me, any ones that got press, or coverage, or awards, I thought I was gonna get fired for every one of those videos.”  

So, learn from Peter and learn from Tim that even when it feels you should be afraid of an idea, don’t be. When telling the story of your business don’t take the safe option, because doing this stops you from taking advantage of what could be your best ideas, ones that could be successful enough to score a you Superbowl advert.    

There you have it, 4 compelling children’s books, 4 lessons that they teach you about storytelling, and a raft of advice on how you can apply this to make your business even more successful. So, go away now and continue to write the story of your brand.

The End.


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Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares her insights on marketing, ecommerce, web design, and how the power of a good narrative can help your brand develop.

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