Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Happily Never After: Modern Cautionary Verse

Happily Never After: Modern Cautionary Verse

Mitchell Symons
For ages 7 to 10
Random House UK, 2013   ISBN: 978-0857532701

In the 1800’s adults were fond of writing tales for children that essentially told them that they should always be good and obedient. The stories would describe how bad children came to sticky ends, and there was always a moralistic ending. These stories were called cautionary tales and many children were forced to read the dreadful things.

   In 1907 Hilaire Belloc decided that enough was enough, and he wrote eleven rhyming tales that made fun of the old cautionary tales. The parodies in Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years are wonderfully funny, but they are, to the modern reader, rather dated.

   Mitchel Symons grew up reading Belloc’s wonderful poems, and when he ran across his old copy of the book not long ago he wondered if anyone had written modern cautionary tales. He was shocked to find out that no one had, and in the end he decided to try his hand at writing one. It turned out that he is rather good at writing rhyming couplets and telling the stories about children who suffer terrible fates, and thus this book was written.

   The first poem in the collection is about Tiffany “Who couldn’t put down her mobile phone and died a horrible death.” Tiffany, like so many girls, spends hours on her phone surfing the Web, tweeting, texting, updating her Facebook status, and talking. As far as she is concerned her phone is an extension of herself, and she feels that she has to keep in touch with others all the time. One day she is texting one of her friends as she is crossing the road and is hit by a car. “When car hits girl, the former wins” and Tiffany’s days came to an abrupt end. Which just goes to show you that you should “listen to parents and not get vexed / When told not to phone and not to text.”

   Another girl who has a terrible fault is Chelsea who likes to make herself feel big and important by bullying “by exclusion.” She tells people that she is having a party and then explains why they are not invited. Chelsea’s reasons are always cruel and mean, but in the end Chelsea ends up getting a taste of her own medicine.

   Readers are going to enjoy seeing how Mitchell Symons was able to use an old-fashioned storytelling device to create tales in verse that modern day readers can enjoy. At the end of this deliciously funny collection readers will find a few treats that wrap up the cautionary tale experience perfectly.