Should there be messages/morals in children’s books?

Growing bookworks 2

The idea that children’s picture books should contain a strong moral or message seems to be very popular among authors of books for young people. This notion probably emanates from parents and caregivers who are of the view that books are a tool for instructing their young, especially in our modern world of so many more risks to the welfare our children than ever before.

This idea does, however, always bring to my mind the lyrics of the song, A British Nanny sung by David Tomlinson, from the original movie of Mary Poppins:

“A British nanny must be a general!
The future empire lies within her hands
And so the person that we need to mold the breed
Is a nanny who can give commands!
Mr Banks: Are you getting this Winifred?
Mrs Banks: Oh yes dear, every word
A British bank is run with precision
A British home requires nothing less!
Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools
Without them – disorder!
Catastrophe!
Anarchy – In short you have a ghastly mess!”

This is an amusing song and you can listen to it here:

The idea of a story or picture book containing a message is not a bad one. It is very much about how the message is presented in the story that will decide whether the book appeals to children or not. After all, children’s writers want to write books that children want to read again and again, not books that their parents think they should read.

My own children have taught me that children run a mile when they think that a book contains an overt moral or message. With this in mind, how then can a parent or caregiver select a book that both teaches and entertains?

Firstly, what the reader will takeaway from the story should be considered. It is not necessary to write out a moral at the end of a tale in the manner of Aesop’s Fables, the message can be subtle, for example, a polluted river that poisons a river or lake and results in all the fish and water creatures dying and the resolution of that predicament by cleaning up the river and preventing future contamination of the water. Children will understand the message without it being spelled out for them.

Some other tips for choosing books that will entertain as well as teach children are as follows:

  1. Make sure that the book is character driven with memorable characters that make the reader care about them. For example in Heidi by Johanna Spyri, the author makes the reader really care about Heidi, Clara and even Grandfather as he changes from a grumpy old man into a tender caregiver. I can remember crying when Heidi goes away from Grandfather to live with Clara in the city;
  2. The language and voice of the story should be suitable for a child and should be interesting and fun. The idea of family members all helping each other and their parents is strongly conveyed in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series of books through the expectations of the parents and the behavior of, and awareness of their family dynamics by, the children;
  3. Showing and not telling is another essential ingredient to a good children’s story. I think Roald Dahl is a master and demonstrating exactly where unkind and selfish behavior gets you in life, think of the fate of the two aunts in James and the Giant Peach or the Twits from the book of the same name.

What do you think about children’s books that contain messages? Should they be subtle or overt? Let me know in the comments.

About Robbie Cheadle

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Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. I also have three short stories in Death Among Us, a collection of short murder mystery stories by 10 different authors and edited by Stephen Bentley. These short stories are all published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


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Merry Christmas!: Welcoming Children’s Author Robbie Cheadle to the WtbR Team

Robbie Chaedle

Robbie Cheadle is a very creative mother, author and fondant artist, who thinks outside the box to find inventive solutions for life’s difficulties. I first met Robbie through Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party Halloween book event, where I did a reading of her short horror story, The Willow Tree, via audio recording for the event. During her takeover, Robbie posted images of her delectable creations to promote her Sir Chocolate book series for children, which she wrote with her son, Michael. She uses these image of her baked creations as cover art and to illustrate the book series. I thought this was incredibly innovative, and I immediately wanted to know more about this woman, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to add her to the WtbR team.

Robbie is my Christmas gift this year, as I’ve been searching for a children’s author to join the Writing to be Read team. So, starting in January, Robbie will be popping in the second Wednesday of each month with her new blog series on writing for children, Growing Bookworms. I can’t wait to see what she has to share with us, so let’s learn more about her.

Kaye: Your Sir Chocolate covers are photos of your own delectable desert creations, which is very creative. Which came first – the baking or the writing?

Robbie: I started with baking and fondant art quite a long time before we wrote the books, but pairing the two was an idea that only came later. I used to write poetry and descriptive passages as a tween and teenager. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery was my favourite book when I was a tween. Emily is a poetess in the book and her father is a writer. The book inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings.

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Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? How did the published works of Robbie Cheadle come to be?

Robbie: I never planned to become a published author when I first started writing the Sir Chocolate stories. My son, Michael, aged 6 years old at the time was having difficulties with learning to read and write. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem which made these activities difficult for him. He had the loveliest story ideas about a little man made of chocolate who lived in a land where you could eat anything, even the sand, trees and houses. In order to encourage him to write, I made up rhyming verse stories using his ideas. Together we wrote them down in handmade books.

I have always enjoyed fondant art and sometimes Michael would come and sit with me and make his own version of what I was making. We started making illustrations for the books by taking photographs of our creations. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the Sir Chocolate stories, so I tried them out with my Sunday school class of children. One of my friends at the Church suggested I send the stories and pictures to a friend of hers who is a publisher in the UK. Anne liked the stories and gave us a contract for the Sir Chocolate series of books.

Kaye: You talk about fondant art. I, for one had never heard of this. Could you explain briefly what fondant art is?

Robbie: Fondant is also called sugar dough and is an elastic type of icing, almost like modelling clay. This is the substance that cake bakers use to make figurines, flowers and other edible artworks for cakes. The items in the picture I emailed you are all made of fondant.

Silly Willy

Kaye: You’re the co-author, along with your son Michael of the Sir Chocolate book series for young readers. How did that partnership come about?

Robbie: Between the ages of 6 and about 9 years old, Michael and I continued to make up Sir Chocolate rhyming verse stories from time to time. We would be doing something like visiting an ice cream shop and an idea would come to us. We would then chat about the idea and develop it into a story. Michael has delightful ideas like the chocolate snow and the ice-cream rainbow fairies who feature in Sir Chocolate and the Ice-cream Rainbow Fairies’ story and cookbook which will come out in 2020.

Kaye: What’s the one thing you hope your son takes away from this venture?

Robbie: I always hoped that Michael would become a proficient reader and learn to enjoy books and reading. It is not easy for a child who struggles to learn to read to develop a love of reading. I am very happy to say that this has happened. Michael now reads on his own for about 30 minutes a day. We often read together with me reading my book of the day and him reading his current story. Lately, these are all Rick Riordan books.

Kaye: What ages are the Sir Chocolate series aimed at?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate books are aimed at young children, aged 3 to 9 years old. They are lovely for beginner readers as they are comprised of rhyming verse.

Kaye: Each book in the Sir Chocolate series features a story and a cookbook. That’s an interesting combination. Would you like to tell us a little more about why you chose to pair the two?

Robbie: Sir Chocolate is a little man made of sweets and sugar. All the characters in the books are made of edible products as well as all the houses, trees, flowers and even the rivers and the rocks. As all the illustrations are made of cake, biscuits and sweets, it seemed natural to provide the recipes to make some of the goodies in the book and make the books into a series of first cookbooks as well as a story.

Kaye: You also write supernatural and horror for adult audiences, and you had two stories published in the recently released horror anthology, Dark Visions. (See my review of Dark Visions here.) Another interesting combination: horror and children’s stories. Is there a story behind how you ended up writing in those two genres?

Robbie and DVRobbie: I entered a short story for children in one of Dan Alatorre’s writing competitions and it won an Honourable Mention. I really liked the critique on my story that I received from Dan so when another competition cropped up a few months later I decided to enter. The topic for that one was horror so I thought I would give it a go. That was when I wrote The Willow Tree. Dan again provided an excellent critique in respect of the story. I entered The Haunting of William into his most recent horror competition in June 2018. That was how I came to write darker stories. I discovered that I enjoyed writing this genre and now I am writing a supernatural/horror YA book. I have just exceeded 50,000 words.

Kaye: I can think of many differences in writing horror and in writing for children, but are there also ways in which they are alike?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate stories all have a villain ranging from the trolls in Book 1 to the candy stripped Roc in book 5. All stories generally have a heroic character and a bad character so there is a common thread between the two genres. The difference is that in the Sir Chocolate books the “baddie” is generally redeemed and becomes a contributing member of Chocolate Land. In my current book, the evil characters are not redeemed.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a horror story you’ve ever had?

Robbie: I have just written a horror story about cockroaches which infest a working microwave oven and gain unnatural powers as a result of the microwaves they are subjected to. I think that is about the most unusual story I have written to date but I have only been writing for just over two years and I only started writing horror this year.

Open a New DoorKaye: In addition to writing children’s stories and cookbooks, and adult horror, you write poetry. And you have a poetry collection out with Kim Blades, Open a New Door. What type of poetry can we expect to find in this collection? How did that collaboration come about?

Robbie: Kim Blades and I are both South African poets. Our collection is about life in South Africa and is divided into four sections entitled God bless Africa, God bless my family and friends, God bless me and God bless corporates and work. Each section is divided into poems about the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences in each of these areas of our lives.

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a poem for you?

Robbie: I like poems that are simply written and have a strong message. I try to write my poems along those lines. I don’t believe a lot of “highbrow” language is necessary in a poem for it to be an emotional and evocative piece of writing.

While the Bombs FellKaye: You have another collaboration with Elsie Haney Eaton, While the Bombs Fell. It’s about life during World War II, which is quite different from the Sir Chocolate stories. What age audience is this book aimed at? Would you like to talk a little about it?

Robbie: Elsie Hancy Eaton is my mother and While the Bombs Fell is a fictionalized account of her early years growing up during WWII in a rural town in England. It features the deprivation caused by bombing and rationing and the other hardships experienced, but it also provides a lot of insight into the small pleasures people enjoyed during the war in the way of a Christmas pudding, the ingredients for which were literally saved up for most of the year, swimming in favourite spots along the river Waverney and learning to knit. The reason this account is fictionalized and not an autobiography is my mother was aged 4 to 7 years during the war and so she can’t remember all the fine details. I supplemented her memories with a lot of my own research.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Robbie: Marketing the books. Indie authors and writers with small publishers find it more difficult to get their books into stores and in front of the eyes of children. Children generally don’t use social Medias and, therefore, we are marketing to the parents and not to the actual child. Impulse buys are fewer as a result. I try to visit schools and Sunday Schools, but my time for these events are limited due to my work requirements.

Kaye: What other activities do you find time for when you’re not baking or writing?

Robbie: I am a qualified chartered accountant with a full time job and two sons. Any recreational time I have that isn’t spent with my family is used for writing, baking and blogging. I have two blogs, one for my children’s books, light poetry, baking and fondant art called robbiespiration.wordpress.com and one for my adult writing and darker poems called robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com.

Thank you so much Robbie for chatting with me here today. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to have you on board. I look forward to your Growing Bookworms blog series. I have no doubt that you have some interesting things to share with us.

Welcoming Robbie to the Writing to be Read team is my Christmas present this year, and adding her blog series will be a great way to start out the New Year, too. You can learn more about Robbie and her writing and art one her blogs or click on the links below:

Sir Chocolate book series: https://www.facebook.com/SirChocolateBooks/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1542170868&sr=1-1

Bake & Write: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/author/robbie-cheadle/

Or look her up on social media:

Twitter: @bakeandwrite

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robbie.cheadle.7

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cheadlerobbie/

I hope all my readers will help me welcome this creative children’s author to the Writing to be Read team and be sure to catch the first segment of her Growing Bookworms series on January 9th.

Want to be sure you don’t miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments?  Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.