On The Importance of Telling Stories to Children

Before I put my children to bed at night, I tell them a story.  Sometimes, I read from a book.  But most of the time, I invent something Once Upon A Timeish in my head.  Which, if you’ve been reading for any time at all, you know is a very, very dangerous place to be.

This is the story I told my 11-year-old son and my 9-year-old daughter this evening.  An evening during which they just might have said, “Fine!” and “Whatever!” to me one too many times.


Once upon a time, an elderly – no, ancient – King and Queen decided that they must, finally, hand the reins of their kingdom over to their children.  So they gathered the Prince and the Princess to tell them.

“We’ve gathered you here to tell you that we must, finally, hand the reins of our kingdom over to you,” they said.

“Hooray!” said the Prince.

“Hey!” said the Princess.  “You interrupted me!  I was going to say hooray!”

And then the Princess pushed the Prince.

And then the Prince pushed the Princess.

And then the Queen yelled, “Knock it off!”

And then the King yelled, “Knock it off!”

And the Princess said, “FINE!”

And the Prince said, “WHATEVER!”


And the King and Queen despaired.


They sent the children, who weren’t really children anymore, away from them, and they wondered what to do.

“What to do?” said the Queen.

“What to do?” said the King.

And they decided to send the children on a Quest of Cooperation, the outcome of which would determine, once and for all, whether the children-who-weren’t-really-children had the chops to run a kingdom.

“Children,” the Queen began when she summoned them back to her.  “Children, children, children…” and her words wandered off, and she looked glazed, not unlike a ham at Christmas dinner.

“Ahem,” said the King, taking over, because everyone knows that a Christmas ham doesn’t communicate very well, and, well, someone had to say something. “What your mother is trying to say is that we’ve decided to send you on a quest.”  Except that the King always spoke in a big and BOOMING voice, so it came out more like, “A qUEst.  Of cooperAYtion.  The OUtcome of whIHch.  Will detERmine WUHnce and for AHll.  Whether you have the chAHps to run MY KINGdom.”

Your kingdom?” said the Queen, coming back from Christmas hamdom.

“Ahem,” said the King again.  “My bad.  I meant to say… Whether you have the chAHps to run our KINGdom.”  Which wasn’t really that much better, what with the booming emphasis on “king” and the rather small emphasis on “our,” but the Queen wasn’t in a dithering mood.  So she didn’t.  Dither, that is.

And then the Prince said, “FINE!”

And then the Princess said, “WHATEVER!”

And the Queen rolled her eyes (which was as shamefully indulgent as it was necessary) before she outlined their journey.  “You must go over the Giant Bridge, go through the Sparkly Forest, and climb the Tallest Mountain…”

“Hey!” said the Prince.  “Didn’t I see that on Dora the Explorer one time?”

“No,” said the Queen.  “This is a medieval story.  We don’t even know who Dora the Explorer is.”

“Yeah,” said the Princess, mockingly.

“Fine!” said the Prince.

And the Queen finished, “… and bring me back the Lonely Flower that grows atop the mountain.  Only when you have completed this task – together – will we know you’re ready to rule OUR kingdom.”

“Whatever,” sighed the Prince.

“Fine,” agreed the Princess.

And they set off on their journey.

When they came to the Giant Bridge, the Giant who lived under the Bridge said, “Who DARES to disturb my slumber?”

The Prince, pointing valiantly at the Princess, said, “She does.”

And the Princess said, “Fine.”

And the Prince said, “Whatever.”

And the Giant ate them both up.

The End


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m not allowed to write children’s books.

The End

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9 responses to “On The Importance of Telling Stories to Children”

  1. Children love gruesome tales. I have some translations of the original Grimm Fairy Tales that students consistently love, which are plenty gruesome: Cinderella’s stepsisters, in the original, don’t just get their comeuppance. They get their eyes pecked out by birds and rolled down a hill in a barrel full of spikes. In Sleeping Beauty, the prince has to climb through the briars that have grown over the castle past the rotting corpses of the other suitors who’ve made the attempt. Even in modern times, Roald Dahl’s success I believe was due to the fact that he understood children’s relish of gory details–and that he know that childhood ain’t all sweetness and light.

    My point: it sounds like you might make a great children’s book author.

    • Sure enough! In the very best tradition of gruesome storytelling, right? Except I might need to make it a little gorier to really honor the Grimm brothers. I mean, the feet-mutilating part of Cinderella and the walking on swords part of the Little Mermaid are high standards… gee, I wonder why Disney chose to tell those stories differently?

  2. This is reminiscent of Pierre by Maurice Sendak. He keeps saying “I don’t care” and then a lion eats him. (The difference is that he does survive and learns not to say “I don’t care.”)

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