“A funny thing happened on the way to staycation…” or “Happily Ever After as a breeding ground for faith”

So, just as I gave up on blogging about books during summer break, my husband mentioned something tonight so post-worthy, that I just had to share.

Mr. K. has been reading Searching for Dragons to my children at bedtime for the last week or so. Tonight, he noticed a pattern in our youngest, just six years old: at peak points of suspense, when the story gets really “scary” for her, she starts to panic. Usually, he reassures her that there will be a happy ending. “Don’t worry!” he tells her. “Cimorene will be alright – there’s another book in the series!”

He pointed this out to me, because he’d noticed me doing the same thing with a different book a couple months back (I think it was Ruchama Feuerman’s Bina Lobell’s Super Secret Diary.) “It’s about emunah (“faith,” in Hebrew), really,” my husband said. “How much does she trust us that there really is a happy ending out there? Can it alleviate her fear right now?”

And then, he made an even more interesting observation: “As Jews, we’re told that there is a happy ending to everything, even if it’s waaaay down the line. Everything will work out for the best, even if it doesn’t feel good at the moment. Moshiach (the Messiah) will come, and there will be peace.

“What if we’re training her to use her emunah to help her wait patiently for the inevitable happy ending?”

*

There’s a lot of talk in writing circles – particularly among writers for children – about whether a story needs a happy ending. Usually, I lean towards the camp that endorses a resolution, but not necessarily a stereotypical “happily ever after” conclusion. A picture-perfect happy ending can put me off, actually. For instance, when Cinderella marries her prince, we’re told everything is fine and dandy afterwards. And that’s just misleading, because marriage is hard, and just the beginning of a life together. Another example: now that Jack has the Giant’s gold, are we supposed to think his life will be perfect? Because wealthy people have plenty of problems, too.

But after what my husband said tonight, I’m wondering if there is value in the classic happy ending, at least in literature for the youngest readers, because it helps them see conflict as just a station on the way to the desirable destination. It allows children to build spiritual muscles that will help them through challenging times, and to wait for a world of peace and goodness and wholeness with patience and perseverance.

Readers, what do you think? Do happy endings in stories help kids trust that things will get better? Or do they set them up for unreasonable expectations? Please share your opinion in the comments.

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6 thoughts on ““A funny thing happened on the way to staycation…” or “Happily Ever After as a breeding ground for faith”

  1. I never read these type of books to my children well, because my children understood Hebrew better and I can’t read literary Hebrew.
    All that aside I have seen questions about how appropriate certain books are for certain age groups.
    I’ve read of parents reading 5 year olds Harry Potter, for example. ??? I don’t get that a kid that age even begins to understand what the story is about, but maybe there are very young children that do understand.
    Happy ending? I think up to 12 yrs, the stories really ought to have a resolution and it should be pleasant. Before that age I don’t know if children really are going to get the philosophical/ mussar message in an less than “good or optimal” ending.
    I hope I’m not sounding like I underrate children.
    I was precocious, read at like high school level in 4th grade and had a hard time finding books to read that weren’t too babyish. I read a lot of stuff that was inappropriate, and that I didn’t understand like The Godfather and Diary of a Mad Housewife to name two I wish I hadn’t read at age 12.
    Last thing: I bothers me that you continue to read a book to a child that is frightened by the story. Your call obviously. I’m not there. I don’t know your child and I am not familiar with the book involved.

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    • I don’t think my husband’s point is actually about a message. It’s more about practicing a way of thinking/coping that can be built on in the future, just the same way you practice running shorter distances, building up to eventually being able to run a marathon.

      And I’m wondering what other parents think about the “frightening” issue. In this case, it’s not “This is scary and going to give me nightmares,” or images that will haunt the kids later in other ways. That would have made us stop (we’ve done it before). It’s scary in the sense of suspenseful. My daughter worried about what would happen next. And when we tell her, “Don’t worry, the happy ending will come,” she trusts us and gets more excited, rather than fearful. But I do really want to hear what other people think.

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  2. I love your choice of books. If the kids are up to the level go for it. my kids have read fantasy, goth, and light romance since they were young. They do read jewish books too. My fourteen years old is reading the garden of emunah(On her own) But she also loves “the Diary of a wimpy kid …” series too.

    I personally think Happy endings are important for the feel good factor. While it is true that it really does not correlate to the life the child reading it, may actually live, it often helps them get through things. I was such a child. I wanted happy endings, needed them, and as i got older refused to read anything other then happy endings. I don’t like finishing a good book with a depressing ending. ie: they all die despite all the hard work, effort, and sweat they put in blah blah. Yuck who wants to end the day like that. After all life throws in its own hard knocks i don’t want to deal with that in a book too.

    My kids on the other hand don’t seem to mind depressing endings. it is a matter of choice and perspective. I grew up in a depressing environment, illness, devorce ect…. they are growing up (bli eyan harah) in a happy go lucky intact family, so a little sad ending doesn’t leave too much of a lasting mark on them.

    The books i have written only have happy endings. Oh, there are conflicts with in the walls of the covers, but by the end its all for the good. The heroes all get the deed done and so on and so forth. I want my reader to escape reality for as long as they can the same way i wanted to even as a kid. One of my daughters is a poet and her poems reflect teenage angst and disharmony, no la la land there folks!

    My vote is happy endings, but if my progeny voted, well i think i would be out voted 🙂

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