Monday, May 13, 2013

And the Moral of the Story Is . . .

 Children's books with a heavy-handed moral? Preachy? Teachy? Very disparaged. A few books can get away with an overt moral - Sendak's Pierre is an example. "The moral of  Pierre is: CARE." Klassen's recent Caldecott winner, This is Not My Hat, is a more subtle example - the morals are mostly in the illustrations.
Obviously, what counts is how the moral is presented. Recently, I had a good chuckle . . .

I reread a vividly remembered childhood book, Tucked-In Tales, by Patten Beard (my edition published in 1941). One of the tales,"The Little Town of Upside Down," begins: "There was once upon a time a good little girl who woke up one morning and got up out of the wrong side of the bed. It was a dull rainy day instead of a bright sunny one, and she wanted to play out of doors in the garden. That was how things began." She pouts, screams, sulks, and kicks her way through all the morning getting-ready-for-the-day routines.
Then a kidnapper elf appears who pushes her into a train headed for the "Upside Down Place" where the trees "had their roots sticking up in the air, the houses stood on their roofs and the people looked cross and walked backward." The elf declares she belongs there "not where things are right side up" and the girl cries over and over, "I want to go home."
 "You will have to decide to be good and not naughty if you want to go home again," declares the elf.
By promising to be agreeable, she finally gets her wish.

The moral? "And if I were you, little boy or little girl, I wouldn't get up out of the wrong side of the bed, or do other things that that little girl did, because I am sure you wouldn't want to go to stay in the Little Town of Upside Down any more than she did."

Oh, how times have changed! Do you remember any childhood books with a heavy-handed moral?


  1. Gale, that is hilarious! (But I have to admit, I may try climbing out the other side of my bed tomorrow.)

    I vividly remember the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series. A moral in every story.

  2. I remember Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka also and I guess you certainly have to include The Little Engine That Could in the list of morality tales.

  3. Yes, The Little Engine That Could certainly does have a moral. But in that case, it is such a fun one and it really works with the story. At least I think so. (Evidence: The book is still being sold and loved so many years later. My oldest certainly adored it!)

    Starting out to write a book with a moral does not seem like a very good idea. But in the rare instances where it works, like The Little Engine That Could and Pierre, it can be a great story. (And, of course, I am curious did the author start with the story first or the moral first? Sometimes a rollicking good story can end up with a moral.) So I agree with you, Gale, it is all in how the moral is presented.

  4. Brianna,
    I'm sure this 1940's author started out with the moral because each of the three stories in the book has one, and they're all as explicit as the story I quoted from!

  5. As the wonderful Philip Pullman put it, "...I'm not in the message business; I'm in the “Once upon a time” business."

  6. Yes, I think we can all be glad that times have changed in the children's book world!