Should kids’ books have lessons?

One of my favourite kids’ books is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Or, well, pick anything by Roald Dahl, really. The best thing about a Roald Dahl book, I always feel, is the moral of the story.

That is, the fact that it usually doesn’t have one. Child genius dumps stupid parents for sweet and much better educated singleton? Ok…  Red Riding Hood saves three little pigs from the Big Bad Wolf – and ends up with wolfskin gloves and bacon for breakfast? Mmmm.

You can’t pick up a kids’ book these days without being battered senseless by some kind of improving message. Share your toys. Home is best. All things come to those who persevere. You’re wonderful just as you are. Maybe even more wonderful if you paid more attention to your parents’ wise advice. Etc. Etc.

I’m thinking about this as I pen a sequel to Bad Dog, the story of a disobedient dog, a bogan bully, a lawyer who likes tutus, and a beautiful Swedish vivisectionist. Bad Dog takes a kid to places he or she probably shouldn’t go – and yet, who says she shouldn’t? Like a theme park ride, maybe there should be a sign saying ‘You must be THIS high to enter’ – but perhaps there’s a place for stories that make a ten year old ask a few pertinent questions, too.

Or maybe not. You couldn’t really donate a pet dog to a laboratory, could you Mummy? Well, erm…yes (just not Spot, obviously, darling.). There are bad things in the world, and Roald Dahl, old-style fairy stories and (in its own, amateur way) stories like Bad Dog introduce us to them gently. Or not so gently, as in the case of the original Cinderella, whose ugly sisters had their feet amputated (or burnt off – I can’t remember which. Whatever, it was nasty).

The sequel, Bad Dog and Il Principessa, concerns the same very bad dog and his adventures with the Queen of feral cats, a sort of feline mob boss who forms an unlikely bond with a local bikie gang leader. Bikie gangs, the mafia, and…kids? I dunno. But it’s the story I want to write. After all, you don’t think kids’ books are really for KIDS, do you? Ha!

I grew up on the knights of the Round Table – and Regency Romance. At eight, I knew that my dream lover would be pure of heart and unfailingly courteous to ladies of all degrees. I also knew that he should rip the thin silk from my…

Moving right along….what do you expect from kids’ books? What did you grow up reading, and how did it influence you to be who you are now?

 

6 Comments

  1. Kids books should not only not have lessons, they should not be read aloud to kids if the reader is going to interrupt the story to ask insipid questions like, “What would you do if your mom left you at the motel on the edge of town and never came back?” They should have great illustrations and be outstanding stories. Because they get all those lessons at church and day camp and from the neighbors yelling at them when they fall off their skateboards into the neighbor’s garden. So the stories they read should help them escape from all of above. That’s why all of us read.

  2. Got to agree😊 reading is for fun and mental stimulation..it should make you think about stuff but not tell you what to think about it. Funny thing.. I tried to read my son Harry potter and had to give up when he kept asking things like”who’s Harry again?” He’s far from dumb but just not a fiction guy.

  3. OK, you had me at your blog’s tagline, because I’m witty and philosophical *and* I dig farting and fart jokes and why the hell doesn’t my phone know the word fart?? So anyway, I think I’m digressing here. I love your writing style–it’s hilarious! 😂 And omg Harry Potter–just binge-read the whole series this spring 😁 I guess I’m the rare Asperger’s person who loves fiction as long as I can wrap my head around it.

    So anyway, yeah I love the idea that children’s books have morals to the stories 👍🏼. They make great teaching moments. Kids learn in a fun way. It augments the parents’ teachings. The way you developed your thoughts on the matter–damn, my friend, you are sharp! 😊👏🏼

    1. I really like the book she wrote after Harry Potter, that wasn’t for kids. It made me think about whether I make enough effort to help people in need or whether I just pass them by, like some of the characters in the book. About morals, I dunno. The only moral I really drummed into my kids was do as you would be done by – don’t hurt anything, or anyone. Otherwise, they were more or less left to make up their own minds. But they’ve grown up to be moral people – I think perhaps because kids learn from what you do, not what you say (and luckily, they don’t know a lot of what I’ve done). Anyway, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Laina!

  4. As long as a book has a good story line and rich language I’m happy. Moral or no moral, I don’t really mind. Love Roald Dahl, love Harry Potter, adore Enid Blyton. A good mix of styles and you can’t go wrong.

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