Literary Arts

Participants will be able to engage with creative literary texts that express the value of words for sensory and emotional engagement.

Literary Arts in the Classroom

What You Will Find In Literary Arts

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Why Literary Arts?


Provide a natural way for children to learn and explore by expanding their imagination and increasing their exposure to new ideas and information.


Encourage dispositions for teamwork and collaboration.


Bring attention to the whole person, including physical, emotional, social, and intellectual aspects.


Reinforce listening skills.


Develop creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.


Enhance the ability to express through words and imagination.


Boost confidence and build twenty-first century skills.


Strengthen language and vocabulary development.


Promote improved communication abilities, including listening, speaking, observing, and empathizing.


Click here to download the literary arts poster and resources for using it as a word wall.


"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life." - Walt Disney


A Visionary Librarian: The Heart of the School

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Dawn Ann Bullough at Wasatch Elementary School in Salt Lake City School District unites children, teachers, and families through the arts as she transforms the library into the heart of the school to inspire, teach, and unify the community.


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The format of a book describes its physical package or presentation, and relates to how the book is produced and how the book presents information. Books come in a wide variety of different formats. The format of the book impacts the book's content, layout, and design. Not all books published in similar formats have the same size, shape, or presentation. What follows is a brief list of some common book formats.


PICTURE BOOKS: Portraying text and illustrations in equal measure to convey the story, picture books usually contain approximately 32 pages. An example of a picture book is Miss Nelson is Back by James Marshall.


ILLUSTRATED BOOKSThe Wright 3, an illustrated book, is written by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist. These books contain text that stands alone, and have a few illustrations.


NOVEL OR CHAPTER BOOKS: These books incorporate enough lengthy text to be divided into chapters, like Lois Lowry's book The Giver.


GRAPHIC NOVELS: These books are novels whose stories are told through fully-integrated panels that contain both text and illustrations, similar to comic books. Shannon Hale's Rapunzel's Revenge, illustrated by Nathan Hale, is an example of a graphic novel.


SERIES BOOKS: Some books relate to one another, and include sets of two or more books joined by one or more unifying elements. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling are examples of series books.


Applying Similarities in Form, Style, or Subject Matter


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Genres are categorized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter or by the book's intended audience. Often flexible or loosely defined, literary genres are constantly in flux, have shifting boundaries, and can contain subgroups. Individual books may encompass elements of multiple genres. Books of any format can be included in any genre, and vice versa.


The following section describes the two overarching genres, fiction and nonfiction, including their related subgroups. The subgroups within fiction and nonfiction genres often overlap, and are not always clearly defined. The reader can use his or her best judgement to assign books into appropriate categories. Over time and by reading different books, readers gain a more clearly defined sense of the meaning of literary format and genre.




Fiction is the product of imagination. Fictional literature, especially novels and short stories, is usually written in prose, designed to entertain, and describes imaginary places, events, relationships, and characters. Some fiction-based genres and accompanying examples are described in this section. 


ADVENTURE FICTION: Peak by Roland Smith offers a defining example of adventure fiction: a suspenseful story about a puzzling or complex event that is not resolved until the end of the story. Stories may have events that could possibly occur; others may focus on more fantastic occurrences. 


CONTEMPORARY REALISTIC FICTION: These are stories that never happened but contain events that could possibly occur, like Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia.


FANTASY FICTION: Defined by plots that violate the natural or physical laws of the known world, fantasy fiction can also include stories with highly fanciful or supernatural elements that are impossible in real life. A well-known fantasy author, Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three is an illustrative example of fantasy fiction.


HISTORICAL FICTION: Elizabeth George Spear's The Bronze Bow is a story in a real-world setting, with a plot set in the historical past that contains events or settings that are true. Historical fiction stories often mix history with events imagined by the author. The subgenres of historical fiction are further divided by the time period in which the book is set. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman is another example of historical fiction.


HORROR: Designed to induce terror, revulsion, disgust, and dread in the reader, horror books are often unsettling and portray the worst fears or nightmares of the reader. Fear-inducing stories like The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody, R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series, or Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn are included in this genre. 


HUMOROUS FICTION: A light and humorous story that usually ends happily, like Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar.


MYSTERY FICTION: Stories about a mysterious event or unsolved crime which is not explained or resolved until the end of the story. Often these are presented in a series, like The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil.


SCIENCE FICTION: Stories that portray imagined or currently impossible scientific or societal realities. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins represents a science fiction series.


TRADITIONAL FANTASY FICTION: Passed down orally prior to being written down, traditional fantasy includes stories, songs, and rhymes with unknown authorship. The story of Cinderella, illustrated by K.V. Craft, is an example of traditional fantasy.




Nonfiction is prose writing that is based on facts, real people, and true events. Written to impart truth and inform the reader, nonfiction genres can include historical accounts, essays, journalism, reference books, speeches, or biographies.


BIOGRAPHY: Describing either the whole life (complete biography) or part of the life (partial biography) of a real individual, biographies can offer important insights and context for decision making and enduring hardship. In collective biographies, a group of real people is discussed, or individuals may write about themselves in an autobiography, which is often constructed in a chronological fashion. Memoir is another form of autobiography that offers an intimate examination of memories, experiences, and feelings and often focuses on a more specific timeline.


INFORMATIONAL BOOKS: The primary purpose of these books is to inform the reader by providing an in-depth explanation of factual material. Informational books include encyclopedias, dictionaries, and reference books. Most often, librarians designate informational books into specific categories by using call numbers like the Dewey Decimal Classification System. An example of an informational book is Phenomena: Secrets of the Senses by Donna Jackson.



Some genres crossover into other literary categories because sometimes the format of the book conveys a strong focus on the form of the narrative, or a book may cover a topic that applies to other genre categories. A sampling of four cross-genre categories are described below. 


MULTICULTURAL BOOKS: A form of cross-cultural literature, multicultural books celebrate diversity and include works authored by and/or describing peoples of various cultures or a minority point of view. People of color, first or native nations individuals, and/or minority groups will be represented. Multicultural books may fall into any genre listed above: an example of a historical fiction multicultural book is A Single Shard, written by Linda Sue Park.


SHORT STORIES: These literary works are fully-developed stories in prose that are more brief and concrete than longer works. Though always constructed with a beginning, middle, and end, short stories contain the literary elements of character, setting, conflict, plot and theme, though are less complicated and elaborate than novels. A fantasy example of a short story compilation is A. A. Milne's The Complete Works of Winnie the Pooh.


INTERNATIONAL BOOKS: Published outside of the United States, international books may be written in a foreign language or in English. International books can fall into any genre, including modern fantasy, like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling, published in Russian.


POETRY: Written in verse, poetry is born from a need to escape the logical, and conveys powerful impressions or ideas to the mind and soul of the reader. Emphasized by form, poems may or may not rhyme, but most poetry uses rhythm and meter to convey its content. Poetry differs from prose in its tight and condensed writing style. Sometimes poets use alliteration as well as euphony, or the way words flow together, to create a musical feeling. Poetry highlights the musical qualities of language and relies strongly on imagery, metaphor or simile, and word association: the interaction of these layered elements creates meaning for the reader or listener. 


Poetry illuminates elements of humanity and offers visceral glimpses into the vast spectrum of human experience: raw emotions, deep learning, interactions with nature, and the critical essence of connection between people. Poems can include three types of verse: narrative, lyrical, and dramatic. Narrative and dramatic poetry tell stories; lyrical poetry often accentuates linguistic nuance to evoke feelings, record experiences, or articulate memories. Poetry may fall into multiple genres. Examples of poems and poets from multiple genres include: Maya Angelou "Alone"; "A Light In the Attic" by Shel Silverstein; Emily Dickenson; Edgar Allen Poe; Robert Louis Stevenson; Robert Frost; Sylvia Plath; Emily Bronte; Mary Oliver; Wadsworth Longfellow; Tennyson.


boy with books


"You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." - Dr. Seuss


Elements and Tools


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Character, plot, style, and point of view are some of the elements and tools used to create literature. Others include tone, theme, and setting. Each contributes a unique layer to the depth and meaning of the story.




Character types define the story and include the people or things in a text. Character types include protagonist, or the leading hero character, and antagonist, typically the villain or adversary of the protagonist. The dynamics between the protagonist and antagonist create the tension and conflict in the story. Some stories include multiple protagonists and antagonists. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series contains good examples of various character types. Following is a list of various ways literary characters can be portrayed in stories; often, these types can overlap.


  • Human/Nonhuman: Most literature is centered around human characters, like Anne Shirley and her adoptive family in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Buckbeak in Harry Potter, Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the anthropomorphic rabbit family in Richard Adam's classic Watership Down are examples of nonhuman characters. Nonhuman characters contribute meaning to stories via exhibiting a person-like quality of self-awareness. 


  • Static: Like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, a static character does not experience inner change: Mr. Finch's moral convictions and firm stance on social issues prove immovable over the course of the story.


  • Foil: Exhibiting opposing or conflicting traits to another character is a trademark quality of foil characters, like Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.



  • Real/Imaginary: Real characters fall into two categories. Some are real, actual people or animals described in nonfiction biographies or memoirs. Others are fictional characters that exist only in legends, myths, or literary works of fiction. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, these characters are considered real within the confines of the story, either in the reader's mind or as presented by the author, often resembling actual people and existing in a realm of feasibility. Imaginary characters are creatures of the imagination of the author or the characters in the story. Both imaginary and real characters can be human or nonhuman. 


  • Flat, or two-dimensional: Describing a character's level of complexity, flat characters, like Crabbe and Goyle in Harry Potter, are undeveloped, simple, and uncomplicated characters that sometimes conform to stereotypes.



  • Dynamic: Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is a good example of a dynamic character who undergoes a significant inner shift in personality, attitude, and behavior. 


  • Round, or three-dimensional: Reflecting a well-developed personality and significant depth, these include interesting and evolving characters that change with time, sometimes in ways that surprise the reader.


  • Stereotype: A narrowly defined character that relies heavily on cultural types to define personality, speech, and other characteristics. James MacGillivray's Paul Bunyan reflects a stereotyped character that typifies the tradition of frontier tall tales. 





The carefully crafted sequence of events in a text creates the plot of a story and usually includes a beginning, middle, and end. Plot sequence can be arranged in different ways to create different results and evoke various feelings in the reader or listener. Plots are often based in conflict, and facilitate character growth and development.


Explanations of various plot constructions follow:


  • Chronological plots (also called dramatic or progressive plots) begin with setting and conflict, continue the rising action to a climax (or turning point), and resolve plot threads in the denouement.


  • Topical plot text content focuses on one general theme, like the consistent emphasis on political tension in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.


  • Nonlinear plotlines jump from one setting or time period to another, creating disparate story threads that are woven together at the conclusion of the story. The Choose Your Own Adventure series falls into this category.


  • Episodic plots use chronological structure, and work by connecting multiple, loosely related incidents to create a single narrative tied together by a common theme and/or characters. although each element does not necessarily form a chronological timeline. Anne of Green Gables uses episodic plot structure.


  • Cumulative plots build on a pattern. The story begins with one person, event, or thing. When new places, characters or events are introduced, previous actions, characters, and dialogue are repeated. The Napping House by Audrey Wood and Don Wood and There's a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long are examples of cumulative plots.


Plots are crafted through multiple types of conflict, including:


  • Person-Person: Founded on conflicts between people in the story, like Harry Potter and Severus Snape in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.


  • Person-Nature: Illustrates conflicts between nature and characters in the story, like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.


  • Person-Self: Dealing with controversy inside a character's mind, this conflict type involves inner struggles with self-doubt, personal character, or a moral dilemma. Edmund in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe exemplifies person-self conflict.


  • Person-Society: This type of external conflict is shown in Carole Boston Weatherford's tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer in Voice of Freedom, and is illuminated by Fannie's strong beliefs in civil rights which are contrary to the voices permeating mainstream society.





These elements reflect the purposes of the story and the author's attitudes toward subjects or ideas within the work. Stories can carry multiple styles and tones in one work. The style of a story encapsulates the more technical aspects of writing, or how the author chooses to communicate an idea via the author's choice of structure, literary techniques, and character developments. Tone refers to the author's attitude, and is primarily demonstrated through word choice: informal, pedantic, cheerful, or comic are some words among many that can describe the tone of a book. Style and tone work together to establish feeling, meaning, mood, and imagery within a story. The following explanation of some literary devices that develop style and tone invites a deeper understanding of the literary arts.


Symbols: A literary device that holds multiple layers of meaning aside from its overt literal interpretation, symbols can often be interpreted in more than one way and offer various levels of meaning. Set during the Great Migration, Jacqueline Woodson's This Is the Rope uses a rope passed down for generations as a symbol of progress, freedom, and family ties. The unique, handmade quilt in The Keeping Quilt ties together four generations of author Patrica Polacco's Russian Jewish immigrant family, and acts as a literal memory bank and symbol of love and faith.

Narrative: When writing longer literary works, authors use core aspects of narrative writing including plot, setting, characters, and theme to construct and communicate a story from a certain point of view. Narrative writing pieces can include short stories, plays, histories, essays, fairy tales, novels, or screenplays. Roald Dahl's The Witches, The Market Square Dog by James Herriot, and Vera B. Williams's A Chair for My Mother are narrative literary works.

Figurative Language: Commonly used in poetry, figurative language includes metaphor, simile, alliteration, idioms, onomatopoeia, personification, and hyperbole. When words are not meant to convey a literal, concrete meaning, figurative language tools create word pictures and emotional profundity, engaging the reader in deeply compelling ways. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is an example of a book that uses figurative language to tell a story of overcoming famine and poverty. Find more children's books with figurative language here.



Descriptive: A written form of a visual experience, descriptive writing emphasizes the details of an experience. Focusing on describing events, characters, or places with specific and vivid language, descriptive writing often calls on the sensorial inclinations or intimate nature of the reader to enliven the story. Much of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy is rich with descriptive language.

Archetype: Also known as a universal symbol, an archetype is an idea, symbol, pattern, or character type that transcends cultural difference and identifies a universal aspect of the human experience (such as darkness as a vehicle for fear, the inherent wisdom of elderly people, or how a smile acts as a universal form of greeting). Archetype usage varies and includes character, setting, situation, and symbolic categories. Examples of character archetypes include the hero, the innocent, the scapegoat, the villain, the journey, the mother figure, the sidekick, and the outlaw; setting archetypes can incorporate gardens, forests, islands, mountains, towers, or forms of water like the river or ocean; situational archetypes include battles of good or evil, the quest, a heroic task, the magic weapon, or death and rebirth; symbolic archetypes include light versus dark, natural elements like fire, ice, or earth, as well as colors, numbers, or shapes. Examples of books that use archetypes include fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, adventure stories like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, and Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.


Rhyme: Typically found in poetry or verse, rhyme is a literary device that uses the repetition of the same or similar sounds at the ends of words. Rhyme schemes illustrate the pattern of the repeated sounds and where the repeated sounds fall within the stressed syllables of rhymed words. Multiple types of rhyme exist, including perfect and imperfect rhyme. Dr. Seuss' children's books (Yertle the Turtle, The Sneetches, and The Cat In the Hat) all use rhyme as a literary device.





A literary theme depicts the unifying truth, underlying message, or main idea in a sentence, story or poem. Themes are often universal, sometimes address ethical questions, and transcend boundaries of time, distance, and circumstance. Themes take many different forms, can be interpreted differently from one reader to another, and exert varying levels of influence depending on the unique situation and environment of the reader.


  • Explicit: A fully and clearly stated, unambiguous idea, moral or ethical principle, or message. Stories in Aesop's Fables often contain an explicit theme.


  • Implicit: Communicated primarily through character and plot development, implicit themes are not directly stated in a text. Love and friendship from Charlotte and Fern are implicit themes that save Wilbur's life in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.


  • Single: Literary works that have one primary theme. Kobi Yamada's What Do You Do With an Idea explores the theme of confidence.


  • Multiple: Literary works that communicate more than one theme; most stories encapsulate multiple themes. Autonomy, the importance of emotion, opposition, death, and loneliness are themes Lois Lowry incorporated into The Giver.


  • Primary: A primary theme creates the overarching message of a story. The primary theme of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster is the unparalleled excitement of learning something new.


  • Secondary: Often found in books with multiple themes, a secondary theme can be interwoven with a primary theme, communicate a less prominent message, and/or offer a juxtaposed idea to the primary theme. Secondary themes create emotional significance, feelings of connectedness to the reader, and develop greater character depth in stories. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows explores many significant secondary themes, including the transformative power of love interwoven with the seeming finality of death, betrayal juxtaposed with forgiveness and loyalty, enduring friendships, and the changing dynamics of family relationships.  





The writer Eudora Welty said, "Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable as art, if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else. Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?" A fundamental component of fiction, a book's setting describes the place, time, culture, geographical locations, and the general environment surrounding the story's text. Setting is a crucial literary element that can change or evolve over the course of a story. The setting of a story shapes main events, initiates the mood of the story, and motivates the characters to act in certain ways.


  • IMAGINARY: Setting can be an imaginary place, like Hogwarts castle in the Harry Potter series, or the imaginary world of Neverland in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Imaginary settings are also shaped by when a story takes place, like the futuristic environment in The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.


  • REAL: A fictional story can occur within a real place like New York City, used in Melissa Sweet's Balloons Over Broadway or B is for Brooklyn by Selina Alko. Real settings can also be more general, like the farm and state fair in E. B. White's Charlotte's Web. Some stories incorporate both real and imaginary settings: Peter Pan is set in the real city of London as well as the imaginary island of Neverland, where time stops.


  • INTEGRAL: The time and place of an integral setting is fully described and critical to the progress of the story: when removed from its setting, the story isn't the same. These settings offer momentum to the plot, are referenced throughout the story, and are used to reveal literary themes. Integral settings are often found in historical fiction, like the prairie homestead in Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. The 19th century, middle-class, family-centered setting of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is inherent to every event in the story.


  • BACKDROP: Originating from the painted cloth hung across the back of the stage during a play, a backdrop setting tends toward generality and vagueness, and is commonly used in character-driven stories where events and relationships are primary. Described by the allusory phrase, "Once upon a time in a land far, far away..." backdrop settings provide a sweeping and nonspecific feeling to a story. Most fairy tales have backdrop settings.





Point of view illustrates the perspective of the story, and can take multiple forms. Authors can use active or passive voice with any of these narration choices.


  • FIRST-PERSON: A first-person narrator uses the "I" voice and is usually a character, often the protagonist, in the story. Sam Gribley is the first-person narrator of Jean George's novel My Side of the Mountain. First-person narration can provide a more intimate view into the details or emotions of the story. 


  • LIMITED OMNISCIENT: Another type of third-person narration, limited omniscient narration describes events only through the eyes of a single character, incorporating a limited perspective of thoughts, feelings, and knowledge of various situations and the other characters. An example of third-person limited narration is found in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: the reader experiences what Harry sees and knows through his thoughts and feelings, but without first-person narration from Harry.


  • MULTIPLE NARRATORS: Multiple narrators create flexibility and depth to a story by sharing multiple perspectives of shared experiences, or weaving disparate story threads together into a culminating resolve. E. L. Konigsburg uses multiple narrators in The View From Saturday by unfolding the perspectives of four sixth-grade students.


  • SECOND-PERSON: Second-person narration is used less often in fiction, but is an effective way to pull the reader or listener into the plot. Told from the voice of the reader, second-person narration puts the reader directly into the events of the story and propels the story forward, especially when written in present tense. Written by Edward Packard, The Cave of Time, the first of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, is a gamebook genre story written entirely in second-person voice. 


  • OBJECTIVE NARRATION: Using third-person voice, objective narration employs a self-effacing narrator that witnesses the story in an unbiased fashion. Characters' thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and ideas are absent. Frances Hodgson Burnett uses objective narration in her book The Secret Garden.


  • THIRD-PERSON/OMNISCIENT: Typically told in third-person, omniscient narration incorporates multiple points of view. The narrator is all-knowing: though not a character in the story, the omniscient narrator knows everything about the story, and can express the thoughts and experiences of any character in the story by diving into private thoughts and plumbing secret or hidden events. As shown in Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children, an omniscient narrator enables the writer to offer the broadest scope of storytelling to the reader.


  • DUAL NARRATORS: Using dual narrators allows the author to tell a story from the perspective of two different people. Dual narrators can sometimes live in different times and places (settings). Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck uses words to tell the story of Ben, who loses his hearing, and pictures to tell the story of Rose; both children are searching for something they have lost.


Literary Arts Lesson Plans

Find lesson plans sorted by art form and grade level on the BYU ARTS Partnership website.


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Research on Literary Arts Education

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Literary Arts Resources

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