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.