What Children’s Books Really Teach Us
I invite you to realize the significance of children’s literature as a source of law. Children’s literature is a rights-bearing discourse that facilitates legal socialization via moral lessons that enable children to understand social expectations as well as their own specific rights and responsibilities.
Children’s Books as Law
Children’s books, more than any other piece of literature, have the capacity to shape an individual’s development. Several factors contribute to the force of children’s literature: the emotional and experiential ritual of storytelling, the child’s developing ability to distinguish between different kinds of reality and to recognize cause and effect relationships, and the narrative form in which the stories message is communicated. The stories that our parents read to us during our formative years leave a lifetime impression. My personal mantra, “I think I can”, was derived from the story “The Little Blue Engine Who Could.” The Little Blue Engine is a symbol of perseverance, and it is instantly recognizable as such to people who have also read the story. Fairly tales, fables, and children’s stories are uniquely influential for their ability to create shared meanings and values for people. As adults, we continue to identify situations and people according to the norms we learned from children’s books. 
The moral lessons that kids learn from children’s books are integral to their legal socialization – the books rationalize and normalize relationships of power, obedience to authority, and set forth the foundations for children to understand and think about their rights and responsibilities. Children’s books are written in a format that is conducive to their moral development. Most stories end with a lesson to be learned, which is usually clearly and simply stated. Moreover, by relying on “brutal intimidation” to scare children into complying with parental demands, children’s books are able to avoid telling the reader why the demands are objectively reasonable or necessary. These sorts of “because I said so” books, teach children to obey laws even when they do not understand why.  Other sorts of children’s books employ a more subtle coercive technique, enabling the child to learn the lesson alongside the main character.
The Story About Ping, Instructing Children to Take Responsibility For Their Actions via The Brutal Intimidation Method
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack is a story about a beautiful yellow duck that learns that he cannot avoid the consequences of his conduct. Ping lives with his family, on a boat that sails down the Yangtze River. Each morning the boat master would let Ping and his family off the boat to search for food. Each evening, as the sun went down, the boat master would call the ducks back to the boat. The ducks were supposed to hurry back to the boat, and Ping was always careful not to be the last duck back, because the last duck to cross over the bridge always got a spank on the back. But one day, Ping didn’t hear the master call the ducks back. Ping realized that he would be the last duck to board the boat, and he didn’t want to get a spanking, so he decided to stay and hide by shore of the river. He waited all morning for his family to return, but it never came. Ping became extremely scared and lonely, so he decided to swim down the river and look for his family. While he was swimming down the river, a Chinese family captures Ping and plans to cook him for dinner. Ping believes that he is about to be eaten and begins to regret his decision not to board the boat. Ping is miraculously set free and finds his family. The sun was going down and the ducks were already heading back to the boat, and Ping knew that he would be the last duck to board the boat. This time, Ping marched up the bridge and accepted the punishment. The story ends with Ping happy to be home with his family.
Most children can identify with Ping – after all, who has not broken the rules and then tried to get away with it? The Story About Ping warns children that if they try to avoid their punishment, then they actually suffer more. Avoiding punishment is worse because it is scarier and/or more dangerous than simply accepting responsibility for your actions. This story scares children into conformity and obedience by presenting the reader with two alternatives, and making the wrong choice (avoidance) so intimidating that the only real choice the reader has is obedience. Here, the reader can theoretically decide between taking responsibility for his actions and suffer temporary, but swift, punishment, or the reader can try to avoid punishment and face greater danger (even death) and also potentially lose his family. At the end of the story, Ping is once again presented with the choice of either receiving a spanking or avoiding the spank by hiding. By this point, the reader has been sufficiently scared away from the disobedient option that they will “choose” the path of obedience. Even the reader, who questions the reasoning behind the spanking, would probably choose to board the boat with Ping.
Fairy Tales Vilify the Rule Breaker; Sending the Powerful Message that Kids Who Misbehave Will Be Sorry, and that Only the Kids Who Behave Will Live Happily Ever After.
Fairy Tales have 4 distinctive features: (1) only virtuous individuals will be rewarded, (2) the culpable actor will be punished, (3) the good guy always triumphs over the bad guy, and (4) the virtuous actor lives happily ever after. In the story of Hansel and Gretel, the children did not break any promises or break any rules. Rather, Hansel and Gretel were the victims of their mother’s deceitful plan to take them to the woods and let them die. The children were also victims of the wicked witch’s plan to fatten them up with sweets and then eat them. In the end, Hansel and Gretel are rewarded for their resourcefulness and discover the wicked witch’s treasure. The children kill the wicked witch by pushing her in the oven. The newly rich children find their way home to their loving father, and discover that their evil mother is dead too.  Hansel and Gretel live happily ever after. In fairy tales, the villain always gets what they deserve. In the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red promises her mother that she will not veer off the path to Grandmother’s house and venture into the woods. Little Red breaks her promise, and ends up being eaten by the wolf as a result of her disobedience.
Fairly Tales and the legal system pitch the same falsehoods to the public. From fairy tales we learn that the bad guy always gets caught, and that only the villain is punished. The justice system advocates their ability to protect, to enforce laws, and to defend the interests of US citizens – and yet, crime continues, the bad guy sometimes gets away, and sometimes innocent people are punished. The legal system also borrows the symbol of the villain to stigmatize the criminal defendant: the defendant, like the fairy tale villain, is evil and must be removed from society so that we can live happily ever after. The issue is that fairy tales and the legal system speak in absolutes: you are good or you are bad; it’s black or it’s white; but the reality is that the world is full of shades of grey. Sometimes, culpability is hard to measure and a person can be both a villain and the victim. So, why do fairy tales and the legal system speak in terms of absolutes? Because speaking in absolutes enables them to encourage conformity and obedience. By leading people to believe that they only have two choices, and making one choice appealing and the other choice undesirable, fairy tales and the law effectively narrow your options to suit their goals.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Well, that’s for you to decide.
 Desmond Manderson. “From Hunger to Love Myths of the Source, Interpretation, and Constitution of Law in Children’s Literature.” at 92.
 Sarah Hamilton, “Over the Rainbow and Down the Rabbit Hole: Law and Order in Children’s Literature,” 81 N.D. L. Rev. 75 (2005).
 Sarah Hamilton, “Over the Rainbow and Down the Rabbit Hole: Law and Order in Children’s Literature.” at 79.
 Bros. Grim version of Hansel & Gretal, see n.11