Now, for today’s lesson:

di-dac-tic –adjective

1. intended for instruction; instructive: didactic poetry.

2. inclined to teach or lecture others too much: a boring, didactic speaker.

3. teaching or intending to teach a moral lesson.

4. didactics, (used with a singular verb) the art or science of teaching.

If you were to read Scarlet Whisper’s origin story (Action Comics #666), you’d learn that as a child, I attended Sunday School every week.

In these moral fiber knitting sessions, sweet little old ladies shared a lot of “application stories.” Some sort of flip chart, poster board, flannel graph, or book story was presented in order to “teach a lesson.”

These stories were didactic by design.

They were also usually boring.

Take a gander at some of the lovely illustrations from actual examples.

Look closely: Are they children or frolicking Stepford robots?

In these stories, the pictures and words are all about telegraphing an explicit message. Ala After School Special mode, the reader is told how to think about a given situation.

One of the more “edgy” stories…


 Maybe that’s why I always hated those stories. When a book does all the heavy lifting, by answering all the important questions, what is left for the reader to do?

The best stories allow the reader to grapple with questions and issues for themselves. The message is oblique and awaits discovery.

Maybe that’s why my favorite application story was never Grandma Takes Rainbow Kitty to the Dentist or Too Much Candy for Tommy Tuttle.

Instead, I always prayed the little old ladies would read The Giving Tree again. The spare illustrations and simple words leave a lot the imagination, but it’s Shel Silverstein’s message which stayed with me all these years.

Once there was a tree...

 I’d love to know what you think about the modes and messages of books.

 Hungry for more?

Check out this wonderful discussion on didactism in children’s literature. And you might enjoy my Seven Layer Bars. These gooey sweet treats are a lot to chew on.

Seven Layer Bars


1/2 cup real butter

1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup milk choc. chips

1/2 cup semi-sweet choc. chips

1 cup coconut

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup Heath or Skor toffee bits

Melt the butter, pour into a 9 by 13 pan. Layer the rest of the ingredients in the order above. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Binge!

  1. catwoods says:

    I totally agree that Tommy Tuttle’s candy binge is way too heavy handed to be interesting. To anyone!

    I love the subtle messages that books hold and despise being beat over the head with moralistic tales.

    Thanks for bringing this very important consideration to mind. I have one manuscript that needs a bit of tweakiing to take out the teaching and leave it to my characters to learn their way through the piece.

  2. Jamie says:

    It’s HANDS down my all time favorite book. Every time I read it, I cry.

  3. Jemi Fraser says:

    I hate being battered over the head with the moral. Readers are not stupid and should not be led around by the nose. My students prefer more complex stories and issues as well. No patronizing allowed!

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