How Moralistic Should a Children's Book Be?

Okay, before I even start, I know everyone's view will be different on this topic. This is just my view and, to some degree, I'm trying to look at it from the point of view of a child.

What Comes First, the Story, or the Moral?

I've read a lot of children's books over the past two to three years (mostly middle grade, but some younger), as research for writing my own, both modern and classics. They vary greatly on this issue. In some cases, it feels as if the moral came first and the story later. Is that the right way to write a story? I don't believe that's how it should be, perhaps with the exception of a story for very young kids. But even then, you need a good story, or it's just going to seem like shouting. If the moral takes over, it's more a lesson than a story, which brings me on to ...

What is the Purpose of Reading?

For me (and I'm talking fiction here, obviously), the primary reason for reading should be enjoyment, to get lost in another world. The teaching aspect is secondary. Children need to learn that reading is pleasurable. Then, they will learn the other lessons without even thinking about it. If messages are constantly being rammed down their throats, they might not become engaged with reading, get bored, or feel it's a chore.

Having Everyone Be a Goody-Two-Shoes is not Realistic

I also believe we should teach children about morals in a realistic way and, by that, I don't mean you can't use fantasy characters. I mean, let's not have good and bad as absolutes, let's have shades of good and bad. That's what life is like. Near perfect characters frequently appear in books, they are rare in real life. Characters can do bad things and still be good, just like us.

Subtlety vs Shouting

Honestly, I find it annoying when morals are blasted at me from every page with very little subtlety. And yes, I know I'm older than the target market, but it's like being constantly told that you're doing things wrong, that you're being naughty. Is that what I want a child to feel when reading one of my books? Definitely not.

When I start writing a children's story, I always start with the story and, you know what, the morals make themselves known as I go along, just as they would in real life situations. I don't force them in there and I try not to labour them when I find them. A single sentence is usually enough.

So, the Sum of My View is ...

The story should be as moralistic as the tale you're telling allows, but the morals shouldn't have big arrows pointing to them.

March 2019
Cover Image of The Goblin and the Stolen Ring, Book One in Tales from the Forest of the Hooting Owl
Sprout, the main character in Tales from the Forest of the Hooting Owl, is, by nature, mischievous, but at the end of each book, after the adventures have finished, he reflects on what has happened. He often picks up on things he's done wrong, or could do better. That doesn't mean he won't be mischievous again. He is a goblin, after all.

Cover Image of Kids & Folklore
The stories in Kids & Folklore are all intended to be fun, but some of them do have stronger moral undertones. This always comes from the story.