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Cautionary Tales for Children

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  3,517 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Known as a central figure in English literature, Hilaire Belloc produced a number of stunning, funny, and clever admonishments for children. The tales in this volume, illustrated by the inimitable Edward Gorey, contain instructive lessons for almost everyone.

For those children prone to wandering off from their caretakers, there is the story of a certain young Jim, "who ran
Published (first published January 1st 1907)
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Very dated, but all the more charming because of it.

My father read them to me with great expression when I was a child, and to this day, I can only hear or read them with his intonation (fortunately his was very good).

As with and compendium, there are some duffers, but the best are sublime: Matilda (obviously), Sarah Byng, John and many others.

For a modern and darker twist on these, see Tim Burton's "Melancholy Death of the Oyster Boy" (
Like his Bad Child's Book of Beasts, this short collection will make you laugh out loud while reading it. Here, for instance, is the story of one Henry King:
Henry King,

Who chewed bits of String, and was early cut off in Dreadful Agonies.

The Chief Defect of Henry King
chewing little bits of String.
At last he swallowed some which tied
Itself in ugly Knots inside.
Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered,
as they took their Fees,
“There is no Cure for this Dis
If only more parents read this to their little hooligans they might learn to be bad in more original ways.
I know many of these well enough to recite them. Some of my favourite quotes:

[Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion:]
"Now just imagine how it feels
when first your toes and then your heels
and then by gradual degrees
your insteps, ankles, calves and knees
are slowly eaten, bit by bit!
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted Hi!
The honest keeper heard his cry
Though very stout, he almost ran
to help the little gentleman!"

[Henry King:]
"Physicians of the utmost fame
Were sum
Edward Gorey fastidiously illustrates these cautionary tales. One would be tempted to read one of these scary tales to a particularly bratty kid to cure him. Might work.
You can find the complete book, with illustrations, online at Google Books or Project Gutenburg.

As its title says, this book is full of gory poems celebrating the gruesome punishments (deaths! in some cases) of children who are just not well-behaved. I'm not sure if this is for young children--I'm not going to read it to my kids, at least not yet--but those 8 and up will probably find this book hilarious (if they can understand the language and references). The black and white illustrations are
This volume has only 7 of the 12 cautionary tales that Hilaire Belloc wrote - which I discovered after reading reviews here, realizing I hadn't read all 12, and doing some Googling.

The first 3 in this volume were my favorite of the 7: Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion; Henry King, Who chewed bites of String, and was cut off in Dreadful Agonies; and Matilda, Who told lies, and was Burned to Death. That sounds sort of awful, doesn't it?

The illustration by Edward Gorey are a
The English version of Struwwelpeter. I definitely prefer the German version. In the English version the only story I really liked was the one about lying.
This book is simply hilarious, the poems are fun ( I recommend reading them outloud), but in some cases the title and subtitle are just as funny as the poem as a whole.

Here are some of my favourites:

Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a lion.

"Henry King"
Who chewed bits of String, and was cut off early in Dreadful Agonies.

Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.

"Lord Lundy"
Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career.

"Charles Augustus Fortescu
Twelve macabre poems of misbehavior -- and dreadful consequences -- certain to elicit a simper of satisfaction from even the dourest of caregivers. Very well suited for bedtime stories and Sunday School lessons.

Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion
Henry King, Who chewed bits of String, and was early cut off in Dreadful Agonies
Matilda, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death
Franklin Hyde, Who caroused in the Dirt and was corrected by His Uncle
Godolphin Horne, Who was cursed wit
Mar 30, 2013 Yvonne rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Edward Gorey fans
Recommended to Yvonne by: ?? except being an Edward Gorey fan
Perfectly ridiculous cautions for children with very Gorey illustrations. First admonishment for children: Do not let go of Nurse's hand and get lost at the zoo because a lion will eat you.
Gorey and Belloc (1870-1953) seem a match made in heaven.

The Book Collector summary: Known as a central figure in English literature, Hilaire Belloc produced a number of stunning, funny, and clever admonishments for children. The tales in this volume, illustrated by the inimitable Edward Gorey, contain instru
Very brief, very funny. I read it in one sitting. Belloc parodies nursery rhymes by writing sing-song tetrameter verse about the gruesome deaths of children [I can see this kind of thing--if it has no moral, that is--being on Adult Swim:] and concluding with the story of a good boy rewarded with success for his goodness.

Belloc doesn't just use the incongruity of the nursery rhyme and, say, a child being burned to death, to be funny. He also uses some hilarious understatement, such as "Now, just
Extremely amusing book! The rhyming is fun, the pictures are delightful, and the concept is great. Watch out kids! You're about to find out what happens when you lie, eat string, shoot a gun, etc. And not in any subtle, gentle way. Oh no. These are stories that typically end in the most drastic way possible, and the moral of each poem is stated in the very title (Matilda, Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death; Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and was Eaten by a Lion; etc). This may not be very P ...more
I loved this book, which is a surprise. Rarely do I give five stars but this book is modern poetry for children done right. It is witty, fun, great for read-a-louds and entertaining. I am not big on poetry but I truly enjoyed this book from cover to cover. Recommend it for students of all ages.
This is a brilliant book for children describing the trouble you can get in to if you have certain vices. It rhymes throughout, is very witty and I wish I'd read it when I was younger although I definitely knew Matilda's and Jim's stories.
Had this book as a child and loved it. I would read the poems again and again. 40 odd years on I can still remember many of the lines from one in particular - Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death. My favourite!
On Project Gutenberg:

Written and illustrated in 1907 and still a hoot. My favorite is "Rebecca, Who slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably."
My copy of this is completely falling apart, and rightly so, given its age! I recall taking it to school with me, very carefully, in year 7... something about things from our grandparents' day. Anyway, the culmination of this was me - shy, new little me - having to read out one of the tales at school assembly one day. EEK! I can't remember which one, I think I blocked it from my mind because it was so terrifying. Loved pretty much all of these... I loved stories about naughty children! I mean, I ...more
Siraj Shaikh
It might not be too profound, but I got hooked immediately. And apparently I'm not the only one. All in all, this was one of the most entertaining books that I've read.
Easy and fast read but seriously worth it. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much while reading. Definitely worthy of five stars.
For all you people who think "The Giving Tree" is a great children's book, this volume should be required reading. Belloc is a master.
Stacy Fetters
Pure horror genius.
A few creepy stories to read to bastard kids to keep them from doing idiotic things.

Love it
Seth Holler
Better than More Peers; the humor is sharper, perhaps because of the infant subjects. Kindle editions unsatisfactory.
They are exactly as advertised - cautionary tales for children. They remind me of Strewelpeter.
"Young Algernon, the Doctors son, was playing with a loaded gun. He pointed it towards his sister, aimed very carefully but missed her"
Rick Jones
Gorey's illustrations combined with Belloc's dire moralities. Lovely.
Filled with the horrible fates that befall naughty children, Mr. Belloc’s cautionary poems are well suited to the drawings of Edward Gorey, recalling the latter’s contribution to questionable children’s literature, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Pithy and to the point, each child’s fate is both absurd and all too possible. Whether as an object warning to wayward waifs or simply amusement for those with mildly twisted senses of humor, “Cautionary Tales” is a pleasure to read, especially for Gorey fans.
Lisa Lemus
The illustrations in this book are worth it alone.
This is a very short book of macabre nursery rhymes published in the early 1900's (it can be easily read in under 30 minutes). If you love dark, twisted humor and think more children should be eaten by lions this book is for you! (Incidentally, I think Ponto is the greatest name for a lion ever!) I am a big Edward Gorey fan and believe he must have drawn inspiration for his own work from Cautionary Tales, particularly The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Both are great books to scare children by, which shoul ...more
I adore these poems, my father can recite them all by heart and always used to trot them out whenever we looked like we were getting bored or restless, especially on long car journeys.

They are funny and especially appealing to children, and although they are quite dated in parts, I dont think it really matters, my young cousins love them especially Jim as they have bits that dont date at all;

Now just imagine how it feels,
When first your toes and then your heels,
Are slowly eaten bit by bit,
No won
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Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was an Anglo-French writer and historian who became a naturalised British subject in 1902. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century. He was known as a writer, orator, poet, satirist, man of letters, and political activist. He is most notable for his Catholic faith, which had a strong impact on most of his works and his ...more
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