Tag Archives: Cautionary Tales for Children

The Cautionary Tale of The Latchkey Child In Wow Comics


There is a single story line titled, “Spooky Tales: Mortimer McFright” that is found in the 17th issue of Wow Comics (January 1943) that tells the story of a young boy named Mortimer who gorges himself on cream puffs and gingerale, goes out into a cemetery in the middle of the night and eventually falls asleep on a tombstone—dreaming of being seduced by a voluptuous vampire. The absence of a parental figure is apparent, the only sign of any sort of parenting is the mention of a bedtime curfew set at 10:30, which Mortimer dutifully ignores as he casually strolls into a cemetery at midnight.


The Purpose of Spooky Tales

At this time, in the early 1940’s, the roles of children and indeed the roles of parents were changing due to the strains that the Second World War placed on familial structures. Suddenly, fathers were being deployed to foreign countries to fight for their country and their lives, mothers were being sent into the workforce out of financial necessity, and children were left alone or neglected. The latchkey kid emerged from this era of independence; a child that was doomed to be involuntarily self sufficient. In the comic that is being discussed however, onomatopoeias like “gulp” are repeated by Mortimer throughout the story line, as are emanating motion lines that indicate stress or surprise (Virgan 13). These elements work together to create a distinct comical tone, one that, despite the disturbing imagery of homicidal vampires, is light and juvenile. After examining the conditions that children were dealing with at the time of this story’s publication, it becomes apparent that Spooky Tales utilizes comedy as a way to subliminally educate children on the dangers they may encounter if they should misbehave while home alone, or unsupervised.

Mortimer, the star of this storyline, is a goofy looking kid, and at first glance his hair looks like a mustache, or a toupe. He has a large wrinkled divot on his forehead and his nostrils almost look like pince nez glasses; something that no young boys at the time wore.

Fig. 1. Mortimer Mcfright. Panel from “Spooky Tales” WOW Comics, no. 17, January, 1942, pp. 13. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166679.pdf

Mortimer is sitting on a chair that is much too big for him, one that his father might like to sit on. On the table beside him there are empty bottles of ginger ale which upon first impression resemble beer bottles. The picture forms quite quickly after the first few visuals of Mortimer; he is a child parodying an adult. As the story progresses though, it is obvious that Mortimer does not possess the exceptional decision making skills of an adult, as he eventually creeps into a graveyard at midnight to investigate the potential existence of vampires.


Nocturnal Curfew

In 1942, a nocturnal curfew was imposed, and as Gleason notes, some children who were used to prowling the streets after dusk resisted the change. There was a heap of controversy surrounding the curfew; some seeing it as a stabilizer for family relationships at the time, and others noting that the bourgeois child saviour approach blinded the more privileged to seeing that some less fortunate children worked at night (Gleason et al. 3). The nocturnal curfew poses as a significant contextual clue as to why in “Spooky Tales” a child was seen sneaking out into a cemetery in the middle of the night, because it was newly illegal, and comics would have certainly wanted to take this opportunity to address a current controversy.


Concerns For The Latchkey Kids

Many were severely concerned for the “eight hour orphan”, otherwise known as the “latchkey child” (Zucker 43). Zucker refers to these children with sympathy, but maintains a critical tone as he addresses the apparent neglect that these children faced. He says that the house key around these children’s necks were symbols of “cold meals” and of a “child neglected”, “shorn of the security of a mother’s love and affection” (43). According to Zucker, this neglect and “maladjustment” to self sufficient life is directly linked to a surge in delinquent behaviours that Zucker observes in children. It should be noted however that Zucker’s journal article was published just two years after my comic’s publication, so the author may have been too temporally close to the subject he discusses. However, other more modern scholars also share Zucker’s remarks, including Venter and Rambau’s study on a latchkey child’s mental health. In a child’s primitive years, important bonds and attachments and lessons are usually made; with the absence of a carer, the child’s mental health and academia suffers. In such primitive years, this article argues that important bonds and attachments and lessons are made, and with the absence of a carer, a child’s mental health and academia suffers (346). As a child grows older, they form relationships with the self, parents, peers, educators, and other people who may play a prominent role in their life. Relationships can be viewed as the very substance of life, but a negative parental relationship can be linked to risky behaviours from children, such as “delinquency, sexual experimentation, and experimentation with harmful substances and various forms of peer pressure.” (Rambau et al. 349).

Other contextual clues support these scholars arguments; just flipping through the Toronto Daily Star proved that there was a surge in reckless child behaviour and child injuries. In one article, horrific stories were told. 4 year old Jeanette ended up in the hospital after setting her clothes on fire from the pilot light of the gas stove. She had been left alone for what was only “a minute”, and soon enough she was engulfed in flames (“Jeanette, 4, Badly Burned” 13). Her mother and sister were only notified of the fire when little Jeanette ran to the bottom of the stairs and calmly asked for help. The mother says the incident occurred because Jeanette had overheard her sister Margaret discussing with her brother John how their father had lit his cigarette from the pilot light of the gas stove (13). On the same page, there is a short article on Stephen Smith, a 6 year old child who was admitted to the Hospital for Sick Children with both legs fractured (“Both Legs Broken Of Chid, Age Six” 13). Police said the child was injured when he ran suddenly from a parked truck and straight into the path of oncoming traffic. He was hit by a car and rushed first to the clinic and then to the hospital. The article does not mention whether the boy was being monitored or by whom he was being monitored. The injuries seem to have occured due to their parents’ lack of supervision and control over their children. The rebellious behaviours that we see in these children (lighting themselves on fire, jumping in front of cars) were seen more frequently as the war progressed and children were continuously left alone. Drawing back to Rambau and Zucker’s articles, the self sufficiency and boredom that the latchkey children experienced resulted in pent up energy that eventually materialized as delinquent acts.



The True Villain

Children were being neglected, true, but by whom? Their parents? Or the government? Working mothers were petitioning for the right to proper child care and day care centres, subsidized by governments.

Fig. 1. Veronica Puddle Queen. Panel from “Spooky Tales” WOW Comics, no. 17, January, 1942, pp. 13. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166679.pdf

Oddly, the only woman featured in the comic is a vulgar vampire who goes by the name “Veronica Puddle, Queen of all vampires”. She is unapologetically lustful, a Nazi supporter and a potential child molester. This paints quite an evil figure of the types of women that walk the streets past children’s bedtimes. Veronica is essentially drawn as a prostitute, with dramatic makeup, nipples erect and dialogue that is so sexual it borders on perverse (Virgan 13). However it is important to note the misogynistic undertones present in Veronica’s character, and the misconceptions they brew about women who patrol the streets late at night. The Second World War morphed the duties and responsibilities of almost everyone it affected, but the most significant change in role, arguably, was the role of the mother. Before the war, mothers were accustomed to staying at home and concerning themselves with the upkeep of their houses and the welfare of their children and husbands. When fathers enlisted though, mothers headed off into the workforce to be the breadwinners of the home. Many saw mothers leaving to work rather than staying to take care of their children as an act of negligence, but they failed to see that mothers were fighting hard for proper child care. The real obstacle facing neglected children was the government. The establishment of daytime nurseries for children of mothers in the war industry began a controversy over who exactly was exempt from these nurseries and who was entitled to them. An Ontario Education Board trustee member at the time by the name of Loftus Reid objected to the apparent limitations to the nurseries, specifically objecting to how they appeared to only pertain to those wives in the “war industry” (“Says Serviceman’s Wives Can’t Use Daytime Nurseries” 23). He mentioned two wives of sailors who struggled to survive on their allowances and were forced to work (23). Reid pointed out that because they themselves were not in actual war industries, their children were exempt from the daytime nurseries. This of course posed a massive problem for mothers just entering a workforce that wasn’t technically under the war industry. The Canadian government felt that even when a father was deployed and a mother was working tirelessly, only those wives who the government perceived were working in a profession that directly benefited the war effort were considered eligible for subsidized daycare. This controversy is imperative to pay attention to, as it establishes a clear contrast to the type of woman portrayed in the comic and the one that dominated the workforce in reality. The comic falls prey to the misogynistic ideals that still prevailed at the time and showcased a pedophilic fascist succubus instead of showcasing a struggling, but dedicated working mother.


Heartbreaking Realities

To the children that weren’t exempt from daytime nurseries, they were taught the importance of self sufficiency. They were taught not only how to eat by themselves, but also taught how to put their plates and cutlery away, how to wash their hands by themselves, how to groom and brush their hair, dress themselves (Parker et al. 12:16). These all may seem like menial mundane tasks to the average person, but it is crucial to understand that these are 3 year olds completing tasks that today’s 7 year old wouldn’t be able to complete. It is also important to understand that these nurseries weren’t teaching etiquette, but way of life. If children weren’t taught these tasks in nurseries, they would have to teach themselves alone at home. These children were being prepared for a life of relative solitude at the time, and there is a striking image captured in the beginning of the ‘Before They Are Six’ film where a little boy by the name of Roy, who looks to be barely 3 years old, is tied to the fence by his mother by a rope so he won’t run off. He is secured to this fence in the morning, and is only collected by his neighbour at meal time. The children of World War 2 all faced the same problem; solitude. It is a problem that no child should have had to face, but then, their parents were doing the very best they could under the circumstances of war, so what could be done? The government, while denying most mothers proper access to child care, was also advertising victory bonds that used children to tug at parents’ heart strings.

Fig. 1. Children featured in victory bonds. Poster from Library and Archives Canada. www.collectionscanada.gc.ca

The axis, that is to say the two sides in the Second World War, had the inevitable outcome of spinning in a certain side’s favor. Someone would eventually come out the victor in the war. This poster warns of the possibility that everyone seemed to dread; the enemy winning. This is a parent’s worst fear, because the enemy is bound to mistreat the losers of a war, even the children that ended up on the losing side. This poster is a scare tactic–urging families to put in every last dollar they have into Victory Bonds–an “essential duty of the freedom loving citizen.”. The hypocrisy of the government is displayed here, as they urge parents to invest in Canada’s children, as they refuse to invest themselves in children and make nurseries more accessible to working mothers.




This comic is a warning to both children and parents, a cautionary tale for children who break nocturnal curfews and a subtle jab at mothers that have “abandoned” their children (Zucker, 43).  During the second world war, the government attempted to persuade the female population to engage in their civic duty and help the war effort by volunteering or employing themselves in a war related industry. As a result, the myths surrounding the capabilities that women possessed regarding working the same jobs as men began to fade away. Women began to transgress the gender divide, half way through the war, the government began urging mothers with young children to join the war effort–not just single women. However these barriers were not broken unconditionally, and the government refused to accommodate the very same people they were urging to join the war effort. Daytime nurseries for these working mothers were only made available in 1942, and even then they were not available to mothers who did not work in a war industry, a clear discrimination. Examining this comic allowed for the misogynistic ideals that the government held to come through, revealing the prejudices and hypocrisies of the time.


Works Cited

“Both Legs Broken Of Child Age Six.” Toronto Daily Star, November 27, 1942.

Canada’s Children For Sale. n.d. Library Archive Canada.

Elza, Venter, and Eunice, Rambau. “The Effect Of A Latchkey Situation On A Child’s Educational Success.” South African Journal of Education 31, no. 3 (August 26, 2011). http://www.sajournalofeducation.co.za/index.php/saje/article/view/540/256

Gleason, Mona, ed. Lost Kids: Vulnerable Children and Youth in Twentieth-Century Canada and the United States. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

“Jeanette, 4, Badly Burned Sings Bravely In Hospital.” Toronto Daily Star, November 27, 1942.

Parker, Gudrun. Before They Are Six. Documentary, 1943. https://www.nfb.ca/film/before_they_are_six/.

“Says Serviceman’s Wives Can’t Use Day Nurseries.” Toronto Daily Star, December 18, 1942.

Virgan. “Issue No. 17 Digital Copy.” Bell Features, January 1942. RULA. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166679.pdf.

Zucker, Henry L. “Working Parents and Latchkey Children.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 236, no. 1 (November 1, 1944): 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/000271624423600107.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Through the Eyes of a Child During 1918: Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children

Cautionary Tales for Children, by Hilaire Belloc

Fig. 1. Hilaire Belloc, Cautionary Tales for Children, Children's Literature Archive.
Hilaire Belloc’s, Cautionary Tales for Children, Children’s Literature Archive.

There is an abundant amount of literary texts published during the 19th century that addresses society’s expectations of appropriate child behaviour. Many of these beliefs were gender specific, focusing on the expectancy of what constitutes as obedient behaviour for young boys and girls (Frost 27). However, in response to these advisory texts, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children satirizes this style of writing and the messages they tend to convey. As there have been three separately published editions at various time periods, this exhibit will particularly examine Duckworth and Company’s 1918 edition, published in London, England, with illustrations provided by Basil Temple Blackwood (B.T.B.).

In relevancy to the theme of war, Duckworth and Company had published Cautionary Tales for Children towards the closing of the First World War (1918) possibly to provide a form of post-war relief for children. The following research intends to explore Belloc’s purpose for parodying cautionary texts for children by comparing it to conventional Victorian advisory children’s literature. The reason for republication during the end of the First World War will be further researched to provide clarification and understanding as to how child audiences of 1918 would receive this particular edition. Additionally, the following exhibit will explore how the theme of war is conveyed through the partnership of Blackwood’s illustrations and Belloc’s verses.

Hilaire Belloc, 1870-1953

2014-03-13 16.15.43
Hilaire Belloc (1902), Testimony to Hilaire Belloc (London: Methuen and Co. LTD, 1956)

Hilaire Belloc was an English writer, who had written a wide selection of biographies, essays, novels, travel books, poetry and children’s books (Lingen). Less known for his serious literary pieces, Belloc was better known as a children’s writer whose main focus was to produce works that opposed the culture of didacticism (Lingen). The Herald reports that Belloc’s children’s books were so successful that upon the production of More Beasts for Worse Children, there had been “heavy advanced orders” of the text, causing an inability to produce enough supplies (26). Belloc’s work in children’s literature aimed to satirize early 19th century writers who focussed on instructional texts for appropriate child behaviour; he did this by creating extremes of unnaturally obedient children and mischievous children, who would consequently suffer an ill fate due to their disobedience (Lingen).

Content Topics, Verses & Illustrations

Many of the sketched illustrations provided by Blackwood congregate to a common theme of ‘consequential death;’ meaning, that due to specific circumstances, these characters experience a morbid fate. Provided with some insight from Ian Cooke, a Lead Curator for International and Political Studies at The British Library, this close examination will explore how a child from 1918 may interpret the text.

Contrast of Victorian Expectations of Child Behaviour
Matilda Death
Fig. 1. Matilda’s Ashes. Basil Temple Blackwood. Illus. in Cautionary Tale for Children.

When it came to the behaviour of children, obedience and dutifulness was a major expectation among parents and guardians (Frost 11). Ginger S. Frost explains that it was assumed by most parents that females were morally superior in comparison to males, which enabled them to escape their way out of trouble. It appears that Belloc had written “Matilda” in parody of this belief. Although the plots of each tale are extreme, the duality of word and image make it clear that  Belloc believed that female superiority is inadequate, and that anybody who commits wrongful decisions will be prosecuted (fig. 1). 

Given the context of the poem, Blackwood’s illustration emits a sense of morbidity; that these are the ashes of a young girl who had burned to death because she had lied on numerous occasions, and thus could not be trusted by the townspeople. Although the sketch does not include typical images of gore – as some of the other illustrations do – the context of the poem enhances the gruesomeness of the tale.

Straightforward Illustrations of Morbidity
Dalton Father
Fig. 2. D’Alton’s Father. Basil Temple Blackwood. Illus. in Cautionary Tales for Children.

Blackwood alternates from indirect sketches of morbidity to unequivocal illustrations of the macabre, which can most especially be seen in the poem “Gordolphin Horne.” By including a graphic illustration of a man who had been hung, Blackwood effectively reaches out to the child audience a form of execution (fig. 2). The sketch is rather detailed in comparison to the illustration of Matilda, possibly to enhance Belloc’s attempt to create a parody of conventional cautionary tales, as the inclusion of death is unfamiliar to Victorian children’s texts.

Duality of Illustration & Verses

The closing verses of “Jim” work effectively with the illustration to produce a skin-crawling feeling. Belloc’s narrator states,

Jim Lion Death
Fig. 3. Jim, Cautionary Tales for Children. Illus.

“Now just imagine how it feels / When first your toes and then your heels, / And then by gradual degrees, / Your shins and ankles, calves and knees, / Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.”

The partnership of Blackwood’s sketch and Belloc’s set of verses offers additional gruesomeness to the poem, as the duality of word and image work together to produce an enhanced experience of death and violence (fig. 3). Although it may be clear to a child of 1918 that this is a tale of exaggeration and humour, this particular image reinforces the idea that this text functions as a means of leisure.

Analysis of Images in Relation to War & Reception of a 1918 Child Reader

It is clear that beneath the purpose of providing a parody of Victorian cautionary tales, these images represent underlying themes of death and morbidity as well as a commentary to Victorian ideals. The way in which Belloc produces his poetic verses, he creates an upbeat tempo that eliminates the sorrowful ways in which these characters die. This strategy of pairing poems and playful illustrations of death helps lighten the morbid themes, thus amplifying the notion that this text intended to be humorous.

During the time of its republication in 1918, the closing of the First World War was also in motion. As many lives had been lost to the war, it is sound to predict that the republication of Belloc’s text was to demonstrate that the Victorian era is now over. As mentioned before, Belloc had written this text to satirize the Victorian ideals of child behaviour. Therefore, in republication of this text, clarifies an end to the old world.

Cautionary Tales for Children. Book.
Cautionary Tales for Children Published by Eveleigh Nash. Book.

Moreover, as child audiences were the target for the original text, the republication was no different. Blackwood’s original illustrations were created in 1907, in which Cooke states that prior to the war, the use of morbidity for children’s humour was common (The British Library). Yet Cooke states that during the war, children, “experienced the loss of parents and other adults in their families as fathers and uncles joining the armed forces…” (The British Library). Thus, children may have been desensitized to concepts of death, violence and morbidity. Therefore, with the republication of this title, children of 1918 may have been able to identify with these images, and interpret them with humour.

Production and Reception Within the Media

HB 191 NY Tribune copy
Fig. 4. Hilaire Belloc’s War Article “German’s Sacrifice Divisons in Desperate Haste to Break Through. The New York Tribune. 1918.

Eleven years after its first publication by Eveleigh Nash, Cautionary Tales for Children was republished by Duckworth and Company in 1918. Although there are no sufficient articles that clearly discuss the production and reception of this particular edition, there are few speculations that this edition was a commemoration for Belloc’s son who had died in 1918, as well as for Blackwood, who had died 1907. However, given the time of its republication, the First World War was concluding. It appears that many journalists and newspaper companies were focussed on the outcomes of the war rather than publishing reviews on literary works. Even during this time, most of Belloc’s published works appeared in newspapers, where he offered his conclusions on the war rather than the recent republication of his text (fig. 4).

Walter Barnes does, however, provide some reception on Belloc’s text New Cautionary Tales which follows closely to the structure and style of Cautionary Tales for Children. Calling it a “Child’s book of necessary nonsense,” Barnes claims that New Cautionary Tales was Belloc’s:

Latest offering to the gaiety of the children of the nations […] No one since Edward Lear surpasses Belloc in the palatable mixture of sense and puckishness, of high spirits of nonchalant handling of intractable rhymes and meters. These are cautionary rhymes, but often set spinning with the ‘reverse English’ on them so that the Jane and Ann Taylor-ish morals are neatly and completely laugh out of court (303).

Although Barnes discusses the more recent text, I found that his review can be interpreted as a ‘secondary reception’ as its formulation had been inspired and structured according to Cautionary Tales for Children. Both texts share the same style of presenting virtuous lessons through poetic verses, while also ridiculing those who enforce didacticism (Lingen). However, direct reception for Cautionary Tales for Children remains unfound possibly due to the excitement of war ending.

The decision for Duckworth and Company to republish Belloc’s work appears to be an attempt to comment on the closing of the First World War. Duckworth and Company may have felt that with the closing of the war brought forth a time children needed to escape from the traumatic events and be enlightened with moralistic, yet humorous literary material. Cautionary Tales for Children presents illustrations and ideas of morbidity that children of this time could identify with, without having sorrowful feelings.

Carol Fox claims that, “literature is one of the most powerful media for communicating to children what war is, what it is like, what it means and what its consequences are, thus the project is not so much an ideological or moral enterprise as a literary one” (126). Thus, in the decision to republish this text, Duckworth and Company may have felt that a fun, playful piece of literature may assist children in healing from the war, and possibly answering any questions they may have of it. Therefore, the text fulfills two purposes – to parody the cautionary texts that were commonly distributed, but to also function as a response to the effects of war, by providing education as well as leisure to children.  

Outcomes of Duckworth and Company’s 1918 Republication

The end of the First World War had marked the closing of a chapter within the United Kingdom. Thus, Duckworth and Company’s means for republication expresses society’s outgrowth for orthodoxly modes of cautionary texts for children. The societal movement away from these ideals demonstrate the aspiration for a new beginning; which would mean an end to the period of instructional texts for children. The republication of Cautionary Tales for Children assisted the transformation within the society and its environment.

Conclusion: How Would a Child of 1918 Receive This Text?

A common experience of the First World War entailed death of male figures within a typical family household in the United Kingdom. Thus, given the effects of the war, children of 1918 may have had a sense of identification with the morbid concepts. Albeit the exaggeration and hilarity in Belloc’s prose, it is due to children’s close experience with death, that they are able to recognize these concepts and interpret them in a comical way. Thus, as a result, the children become desensitized to these normally, alarming topics.

While a juvenile audience from the Victorian era may express unease, children of 1918 had most likely approached the text with an understanding of Belloc’s intent – to pair the customary form of didacticism with playful verses and illustrations that mocked this form. With its republication in 1918, the child reader may have used this text as an instrument of leisure as it illustratively presented ideas that they could identify from their life experiences of the war.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Works Cited

Barnes, Walter. “Contemporary Poetry for Children (Concluded).” The Elementary English Review 13.8 (1936): 298-304. JSTOR. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Cooke, Ian. “Children’s Experiences and Propaganda.” The British Library. N. p., n.d. Web. 10
Mar. 2014.

Jebb, Eleanor Belloc and Reginald Jebb. Testimony to Hilaire Belloc. London: Methuen, 1956. Print

Fox, Carol. “What the Children’s Literature of War is Telling the Children.” Reading 33.3
(1999): 126-131. Wiley Online Library. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Frost, Ginger Suzanne. Victorian Childhoods. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2009. Print.

Lingen, Marissa K. “Belloc, Hilaire.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature 2006.
Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

“Books and Their Makers” The Herald (Los Angeles [CA]) 30 Jan. 1898: 26. Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers.
Library of Congress. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.


© Copyright 2014 Carmen Jimenez, Ryerson University

Cautionary Tales for Children : The Return of the Edwardian Child in WWI

© 2014 Christina Ford, Ryerson University

Interior Cover (Original Publication)
Interior cover in 1907 publication of Cautionary Tales for Children.


Cautionary Tales for Children is 79 pages of light verse each decorated with drawings, written by Hilaire Belloc and illustrated by Basil Blackwood (B. T. B.). This book was published in London by Duckworth and Co. This particular publication of Cautionary Tales for Children was published during the final year of WWI in 1918, although it was republished many times both before and after this date. The First World War (1914-1918) is of great significance to Hilaire Belloc’s writing, he produced numerous works both during the war and on the subject of the war.


Cover of CLA Catalogue's copy
Cover of Children’s Literature Archive’s 1918 publication Cautionary Tales for Children‘s ,

The war had an even larger influence in Belloc’s personal life with the loss of many of his loved ones. Blackwood, the illustrator of  Cautionary Tales for Children and long-time friend of Belloc, died in the war in 1917 (De Fontenoy 6). A year later in 1918 Belloc’s son Louis went missing during a bombing and was eventually assumed to be dead, his body having never been found (Speaight 372). It is likely that these two deaths, and the impact of the war in general, had an influence on the decision to republish Cautionary Tales for Children in 1918. The work that Belloc produced during the war were all historically and sociologically focused (Speaight 541) and Cautionary Tales certainly contains a much more lighthearted and humorous tone.



Franklyn Hyde & Uncle
Image from the tale of Franklyn Hyde in Cautionary Tales for Children


Cautionary Tales for Children contains the stories of 11 different children whose actions produce extreme effects, usually of the most undesirable kind. Four of Belloc’s characters perish as a result of their mischievous and nasty behavior. Matilda and Rebecca become ironic victims of their own actions while the other two unfortunate characters come to their respective ends under more peculiar circumstances. Jim abandons his nurse and is dramatically eaten by a lion while Henry King who ingests string dies because it has knotted up inside him. But not all of the characters in Cautionary Tales for Children suffer such random and disproportionate punishments. Godolphin Horne is unhappily employed as a boot black after he is passed over for the position of court page because of his poor manners and lack of respect. Another character, Hildebrand, is similarly less drastically punished when he is frightened by a car and simply brought to reason by his father.


Image of George at the end of his unfortunate tale.

Although a few of the stories include morals they are so nonsensical that they can’t be taken seriously. One of these morals appears at the end of Franklyn Hyde’s story and tells readers that when playing children should avoid mud but sand is okay. The illustration underneath this is of a staunchy looking man in a suit kicking at the rear end of a boy dripping with mud who appears to be either jumping to avoid the man’s foot against his behind or being lifted off the ground by a kick to his rump. The boy’s expression is not one of pain but rather he seems to be scowling and appears more as a guilty trouble-maker than an innocent child. The man looks ridiculous he appears to either be raising one eyebrow in an awkward way or unevenly bug-eyed. The illustrations add to the wit of the humorously absurd events in the stories, George’s story is a particularly good example of this. George’s head looks like a sideways pear at the end of the story after he is disfigured by a dangerous toy that also results in the death of many people, the dangerous toy in question being a balloon he was given for good behavior.



Basil Temple Blackwood (B. T. B.)
Photograph of Blackwood in uniform in 1916.



Hilaire Belloc and Basil Blackwood first met while both attending Oxford and remained life-long friends afterwards (Speaight 80). Cautionary Tales for Children was one of four books collaborated on by Belloc and Blackwood, the first of which was The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts in 1896 (Speaight 112). Belloc’s friendship with Blackwood extended much further than a formal author-illustrator relationship. The two spent time together in Scandinavia (Speaight 91) and Blackwood was also a godfather to Belloc’s daughter Eleanor (Speaight 119).


Newspaper advertisement for the original publication for Cautionary Tales for Children in 1907.

The original publication of Cautionary Tales for Children was in 1907 and was well received, it drew large audiences all over England who came to hear the Cautionary Tales sung by Clara Butt (Speaight 270). There seemed to be a lack of information recorded on the reception of this book’s 1918 publication, presumably because, among others, literary critics, newspapers, and journalists were focused on the coverage and recording of the war in its final year. Reviews of the book from both pre- (original publication date in 1907) and post-war (1936) publications help provide an idea of how the book was received by the public. Both reviews praise Belloc’s wit and his clever satire of stories intended to moralize and properly socialize children.


Hilaire Belloc
Image of Belloc.

The review of the pre-war, original publication of Cautionary Tales for Children expresses particular appreciation for Blackwood’s illustrations and claims they are the best to accompany nonsense verse since Edward Lear (The Academy 249). Blackwood’s illustrations in the book make even the fatal stories laughable, they are quite the opposite of graphic and often picture ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters in an equally ridiculous fashion. The 1936 review of the post-war publication of Cautionary Tales for Children also compares the book to the work of Edward Lear in its parody of traditional English morals (Barnes 303). It is possible that during the war the readership may have interpreted the book more seriously but the reviews suggest that both before and after the war Cautionary Tales for Children was read purely as a satire or parody.




Cautionary Tales Intro
Introductory poem & accompanying image.


Cautionary Tales for Children was written and originally published prior to the First World War during  the Edwardian years in Britain. A great portion of Edwardian writing is focused around childhood and Cautionary Tales‘ original publication date and content are consistent with this trend (Gavin 166). The child in Edwardian fiction challenged the Victorian trend to present childhood as a solitary stage with adulthood as the escape and presented the child as separate and unadulterated by adults, the adult world, and its problems (Gavin 166). This Edwardian attitude toward children and childhood is reflected in the content of Cautionary Tales and is referred to in the Introductory poem to the book. The poem is a response to the question of whether or not the stories it tells are true and lets the reader know that they are not. In this introduction Belloc discredits the kind of moral precepts that British success has been attributed to especially during times of war (Edwards 312). It is important to note that this book was originally released during a period that glorified childhood in its literature and held it sacred and untarnished by the external, adult world rather than during the dark years of the war.

Another important consideration is Belloc’s poetry overall as only a fraction of the work he produced, he also wrote essays, novels, histories, criticisms, and more. Belloc wrote on many heavy subjects, including the war, but his poetry is typically of a much lighter tone (Mendell 4) and this is evident in the verses of Cautionary Tales. Despite the fact that Belloc wrote extensively during the war Cautionary Tales for Children was not written about the war, nor was it written during the war. However Belloc’s light verse is not free from his tendency to reveal his views, not only was Belloc a devout Catholic and at one time in his life a politician he was also known for his strong opinions and stronger inclination to defend them. Belloc’s humorous verse incorporates wit and irony but remains consistent with his values and beliefs in the things they show appreciation for and the things they satirize (Hamilton 45-46). Blackwood`s illustrations increase this effect by complementing Belloc’s ridiculously grotesque satirical tales perfectly (Mendell 12).


Belloc & Company
Belloc (center) photographed with GB Shaw (left) and GK Chesterton (right).

The publishing company that originally published Cautionary Tales for Children in 1907 was not the same publishing company that published this particular book in 1918. Duckworth and Co., known for their publication of several novels from well-known modernist writers, particularly Virginia Woolf (Beare), was responsible for the 1918 publication of Cautionary Tales. Duckworth and Co. also published several other works of Belloc’s, two of which Blackwood also worked on (Hamilton 64). The publisher had at very least an appreciation for, if not a friendship with, the author and illustrator`s work and it is likely that Blackwood’s death would have had some impact on the publisher as it did on the author Belloc.




Image of Matilda from her story in Cautionary Tales.

Cautionary Tales for Children is a brilliantly witty satire which seems to always have been interpreted similarly as such by the receiving public. The book’s contents are humorous and were composed during the childhood-revering Edwardian period during which war was not a concern to children and it had little if any effect at all on their socialization experience. It is also possible that the book’s publication in 1918 was intended to satirize the socialization of a new generation of British youth directly affected by war. In this sense Cautionary Tales for Children`s 1918 publication could have presented a sentimental and nostalgic return to fond memories of a less complicated and brighter version of childhood that was lost forever with the war. Belloc’s poetry has been distinct in its contents from his other work implying in its lighter tone and more playful themes that it is meant to be read for entertainment rather than for a lesson or moral. The book’s release during the final year of the war was likely influenced by the fond remembrance of not only Belloc’s son Louis but also Blackwood who were both tragically lost to the war. With the heavy losses brought by the war and an era that was gone forever Cautionary Tales for Children provided a literary return to earlier, pre-war childhood tales.




Belloc, Hilaire. Cautionary Tales For Children. London: Duckworth, 1918. Print.

*link to Cautionary Tales for Children in Children’s Literature Archive Catalogue.

*link to full text of Cautionary Tales for Children online from Project Gutenberg.

Beare, Geraldine. “Duckworth, Gerald L’Étang (1870-1937), publisher”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. London: Oxford UP, 2004. Web. 27 February 2014. –link to entry.

Barnes, Walter. “Contemporary Poetry for Children.” The Elementary English Review 13.8 (1936): 298–304. Print.

“Cautionary Tails for Children.” The Academy (1907): 249–249. Web. 10 March 2014. –link to review.

Edwards, Owen Dudley. British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007. Print.

Fontenoy, Marquise De. “Lord Basil Blackwood Died in Battle, It Seems Certain.” Washington Post 28 July 1917: 6. Web. 10 March 2014. –link to article.

Gavin, Adrienne E. “Unadulterated Childhood: The Child in Edwardian Fiction”. The Child in British Literature: Literary Constructions of Childhood, Medieval to Contemporary. Ed. Gavin, Adrienne E. New York: Palgrave, 2012. 166-181. Print.

Hamilton, Robert. Hilaire Belloc: An Introduction to His Spirit and Work. London: Douglas, 1945. Print.

Mandell, C. Creighton, and Edward Shanks. Hilaire Belloc The Man and His Work. London: Methuen, 1916. Web. 24 February 2014. –link to book.

Speaight, Robert. The Life Of Hilaire Belloc. London: Farrar, 1957. Print.