The Gruffalo is real. The entire neighborhood goes to sleep when you close your eyes. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are married. These are “facts” by which my children abide. In the early stages of life, truth and fiction are blurry. The idea that the stuff in their picture books isn’t real, but the news on television (supposedly) is feels confusing and arbitrary.
Yet they have an instinct for altering facts in their favor. “He hit me first.” “She put the dirty diaper down the air vent.” “I did not eat the French fry under the table.” Lying comes easy. I’ve tried yelling “liar, liar, pants on fire” but they’re about a decade too young for public humiliation. So, I do what I always do – turn to books to give the parental speech. Parables exist to tell stories that teach life lessons and these seven books preach honesty better than most.
“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”
by B.G. Hennessy
This is the classic cautionary tale for why you shouldn’t lie. Do it enough and nobody’s going to believe you. This, however, is a re-telling of Aesop’s fable made even better with vivid illustrations. It’s the difference between “Beauty and the Beast” circa 1991 and “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson dancing in 3D. Same message, more force.
“The Wolf Who Cried Boy”
by Bob Hartman
If you’re going to tell about the boy who cried wolf, you’ve got to give the wolf a turn too. This book reverses the tale with a seemingly innocent wolf pup who can’t get his story straight. When he finally does spot the ever-elusive boy, the wolves aren’t in a hurry to investigate. I actually like this version more than the original. Fractured fairytales break your expectations and often work better than their standard counterparts at getting kids to re-think basic truths.
“The Berenstain Bears and the Truth”
by Stan and Jan Berenstain
I love Bear Country. I want to live in a hollowed out tree and munch on honeycomb. Why you would even need to lie in a paradise like this is beyond me, but it happens. Brother and Sister Bear break a lamp while Mama Bear is out and spin a yarn so long it sends them to the breaking point. We’re all familiar with the moment when the poker face crumbles because the kid just can’t hold it in any more. This is a great one to read to siblings who tend to hatch lies together, like a little cluster of spies.
by Paulette Bourgeois
Do you have a kid who likes to brag? I’ve got two. Who can jump higher? Yell louder? Say the alphabet faster? They always have to one up the other and if they can’t, they claim they can. This story’s great for the exaggerator. Franklin the turtle claims he can swallow 76 flies faster than one can blink. Then of course he has to prove it. It does not go well. This is my new catchphrase as I watch my kids stretching the truth: “prove it.”
“Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big”
by Berkeley Breathed
Speaking of exaggeration, this one pulls out all the stops. When Edwurd Fudwupper tells a lie so big that it spins out of control, they send in the army and air force to contain it. The best part of this book are the illustrations. Edwurd looks like a little old man with pants up to his armpits. His facial expressions are just as extravagant as his lies.
by Mercer Mayer
The Little Critter books never fail. This one hits the nuances of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is the greatest trick that both kids and adults pull: the “almost” truth. We tell whatever is necessary to get us off the hook. Nope, sorry kids, I did not bring any ice cream home from the store (because I ate it in the car in the driveway while scrolling through my Facebook feed). This one hits all the little pockets of untruths we tend to overlook.
“The Honest-to-Goodness Truth”
by Patricia McKissak
If we’re getting into nuances, this one teaches kids the importance of having a filter. After being caught in a lie, Libby Louise decides she’s only going to tell the truth. The problem is that she tells everyone else’s truths too. If somebody doesn’t mow their lawn, you’ll hear about it. If somebody has a hole in their sock, Libby Louise will tell the world. This is one of my daughter’s favorite roles, the do-gooder tale-teller. She tells everything all the time to everyone including the fact that mommy ran the red light on the way to preschool. We’re working on the phrase: “need-to-know basis.”
Teaching honesty is harder than it sounds. By default we all tend to lean toward the version of the truth that suits our needs. Unless we want our kids living in a world of their own alternative truths, we’ve got to give them a concrete foundation of fact versus fiction. These books can help build them a solid place on which to stand.