If you walk into a bookstore/library and grab any children’s book off the shelf, you will likely be able to pick up on some sort of moral or lesson pretty quickly. As we get older and read bigger complicated books, the lessons get harder to find and more layered – as well as being quite subjective.
So does every story need a moral lesson? Particularly ones for children?
Not every story needs a moral or lesson, and there are some brilliant stories that don’t have them (such as non fiction, wordless books, etc) but ultimately… it’s a good idea to have a basic lesson or point in a story for children. It adds depth and will make a story more memorable.
But the biggest key is to make it subtle.
Children are often much cleverer than we give then credit for and can pick up on clues and elements of a story without it having to be super obvious. And if it is over the top obvious… they will see right through it, and might find the story a little flat.
So even if you’re writing a swashbuckling adventure story… maybe the lesson they learn is to be more adventurous, or encourage them to use their imaginations. Every story has the ability to teach us something. So it’s useful to figure out exactly what you want your reader to take away from the story.
So read on to see some ways you can integrate lessons into your stories.
Three Ways to Integrate a Lesson Into Your Story:
Hide it in humour
All kids and adults love humour. Comedy is gold when it comes to making a story likeable, but is also brilliant in the way that it can hide meaning and intent.
By throwing some humour into your story, whether through funny actions or incidents, or in the characters being funny themselves, it will cover up any obvious moral telling.
This is achieved really well in the pig the pug the series. A funny series about a cheeky pug who gets up to all sorts of antics, and ultimately ends up teaching us a lesson. ‘Pig the Star’ is my favourite of the series and gave me a good full belly laugh – whilst also teaching the point about not taking up the spotlight all the time.
Hide it in character development
Having great characters is a sure way to make your book a standout (as you should know all about after reading my post here). If our character learns a lesson through their actions, our children will learn it too… without having it obviously pointed out.
Surprise the reader.
Make the moral or lesson a surprise result at the end of the story. I love when a book surprises me. Like if a book seems to be going to teach us a lesson about being tidy… but actually it results in being mostly about kindness.
When drafting a story you could think about the lesson you’re trying to get across, then dismiss it completely, and come up with a completely new moral. Say empathy instead of going to bed time. Then try and come up with creative ways to work this into the story. If it surprises you, it will surprise your reader.
Three things NOT to do:
Make it super obvious.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem like our kids are geniuses, but they are often smarter than we give them justice for (sometimes). They have uncanny abilities to be able to read people and characters, or even us, and that makes it important for your characters to find the lesson. So your kid or student can too.
So don’t end the story on… “and thats why Mary Sue learnt never to leave the dishwasher full ever again.”
Ugh. How boring.
Not making it obvious enough
I know, I know, I just said don’t make it obvious. But it has to be a little obvious. Sorry.
If the story is so convoluted that the lesson is completely missing… I mean they are children. They do need a few little hints. Subtle ones.
Just tack it on to the end of the story
If you have to spell it out to your reader… you haven’t done a good enough job of showing it in your story through plot and character development. You can’t just throw a sentence on the end and say “ta-da! see it was about friendship.”
Writing for children is a funny business. Make things obvious, don’t make them obvious… It’s all about getting that balance that will appeal to a wide range of audiences with different intellectual and emotional levels. So good luck. Good thing you love it!
In the end, have fun with it, and make sure your story is about something your passionate about. Your passion will come across on the page with morals and lessons will unfold needlessly.