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Cautionary Tales for Children

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  4,204 Ratings  ·  148 Reviews
One of Hilaire Belloc's most famous works, "Cautionary Tales for Children" satirizes a genre of admonitory children's literature popular in England in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The seven stories contained in this work are macabre parodies of childhood lessons, and will entertain more sophisticated readers who can appreciate these tales of disproportionate punishmen ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published January 1st 2010 by (first published 1907)
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Nandakishore Varma
May 09, 2016 Nandakishore Varma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All those with a twisted sense of humour
Recommended to Nandakishore by: Cecily
Thanks to Cecily for pointing me to this book! It was available online at Gutenberg, and I wasted no time in reading it. It is sarcastic, creepy and hilarious in a very English way.

About Jim, who ran away from his nurse:

With open Jaws, a Lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.

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.
No wonder Jim detested it!

Aug 23, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016

One wonders who, with options wide
would name their screaming, new born baby Clyde?
Even Hilaire -- a name so florid, French, and rude,
Seems pre-destined to start a feud.
Inspire a Belle Edward of francs and also quids,
to scribble moral poems to reckless, dirty kids.
Scribble poems Hilaire he did, and books and also letters,
This funny man Belloc would often best his betters.
Sep 18, 2011 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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
Feb 21, 2009 Cecily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour, childrens, poetry
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" (
Mar 23, 2017 Kimberly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
CAUTIONARY TALES FOR CHILDREN, written by Hialaire Belloc, and illustrated by Edward Gorey. (Naturally, it was the Edward Gorey part that had me purchasing this in the first place.)

The stories/punishments for children were amusing--the deadly ones, better ;), but the illustrations by Gorey are what really makes the book a collectible! 3* for text, 5* for illustrations.
Jan 02, 2017 C-shaw rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading the review of my GR friend Orinoco Womble, I downloaded this little freebie and read it today. There were no illustrations in my copy and the little verses but amusing, but pretty gruesome and certainly not suitable for children!
Aug 28, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, humor
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
Dec 29, 2016 Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant little book probably published donkeys years ago about rhyming short snippets / tales for children to heed in life. One of my favourite which I read out to my kids was about a little kid called Jim who ran away from his nurse (carers in today speak) and got eatened by a lion
There was a boy whose name was Jim
His friends were very good to him
They gave him tea and cakes and jam
And slices of delicious ham
And chocolate with pink inside
And little tricycles to ride
They read him stories
Stephen McQuiggan
Delightfully dark and twisted - like all good books for kids should be.
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.
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.
Feb 26, 2017 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, britain
A short collection of nursery rhymes about children who misbehave and consequently either are reprimanded or die slow, torturous deaths. The most offensive ones (i.e. the best) are the first three: "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" (my favorite), and "Matilda: Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death."
Nov 07, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning: mild anti-semitism in some places. e.g. Rebecca, who slammed doors, is killed by a bust of Abraham shaken off by one of her slams. Most young children will not pick that up, but it probably be well to explain it in passing to little readees as thoughtless, typical of the class and times and not vicious. These verses and pictures are otherwise so funny and so memorable that most kids who hear and see them early in life will not forget them. They may wonder later as I did, about Rebecca's ...more
Mar 15, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 10, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2016 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a fantastic book about horrific deaths and all but they were quite short, so I wish the author had mad his rhymes longer. My personal favorite for some reason is Lord Lundy
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Ostensibly a children's book, but obviously for adults. It's the kind of thing that would be published in the popular magazines of the day such as Punch or the Spectator. Thanks to Project Gutenberg for this trip down memory lane.

Many years ago when I was a kid, there were a lot of programmes on PBS to encourage kids (and others) to read. I remembered the poem about the boy who slips away from Nanny at the zoo and gets eaten by a lion. I even remembered the illustration; but remember the author
Shaunda Penny
Jan 23, 2017 Shaunda Penny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All of my children (ages 2-14) are completely rapt by these poems telling the stories of ill mannered children and the fates they suffered due to their habits.
The verse is engaging, the language beautiful and the content darkly hilarious.
Julie-Anne Graham
Loved this book.

I found this book to be very interesting and entertaining.

Although it did not appeal as much to my children.

Stephanie Gamache
Apr 05, 2016 Stephanie Gamache rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Children Ages 8 and up
Shelves: etec-545-class-4
Belloc, H., & Gorey, E. (2002). Cautionary tales for children. New York, NY: Harcourt.
Target Audience: Ages 8 to 12, Grades 4 and up
Genre: Children's Poetry

With poetic stories about Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion or about Matilda, Who told lies, and was Burned to Death Cautionary Tales for Children is meant to teach its readers important lesson about life. Lessons like do not lie or people will stop believing anything you say, and do not be prideful or conceited be
Nov 22, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edwardian, humor, kids, 1900s
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
Aug 05, 2012 Yvonne rated it liked it  ·  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
Katy Womack
This book was okay. Although some pieces were entertaining, I found myself stumbling on a few words. Cautionary Tales for Children is a collection of poems warning children to do the right things. We learn first about Jim who wandered away from his nurse and got eaten by a lion. Next comes Henry King who teaches you not to eat things that are not breakfast lunch or dinner. Then we learn about Matilda, the girl who cried "fire" and was eventually burned down with the house. After Matilda comes Fr ...more
Nov 20, 2012 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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
Jul 23, 2015 Arlian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a weird little volume. I picked it because this book was a huge influence on Edward Gorey, and you can really tell. He is credited with rediscovering the original volume and bringing it to light. He loved it so much he actually did an edition where he redid all the artwork. This book is very strange, fairly dark, but I'm not actually sure how tongue in cheek it's actually supposed to be.

I give the book overall 4 stars, but this particular edition only 3 (at best). This is the first editi
Apr 05, 2010 Σς rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 20, 2015 Mitch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
This collection of Hillaire Belloc's verses is not really for children, dealing as it does (which is rather acidic, and funny) with the foibles of British High Society in addition to children's and animals' various types of behavior.

I found the copy I read in a primary school library in the Caribbean and can, offhand, think of few other places where it would be less appreciated.

Hillaire's wit is very terse and clever and I imagine he inspired others; he is a precursor to such as Edward Gorey and
Feb 20, 2012 Ellee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 400-500pgs
A predecessor to Shel Silverstein. The Cautionary Tales are the best part of the collection in my opinion. :) There are some illustrations that are offensive by today's standards, but might provide a good bridge to a conversation with children about *why* they're considered in extremely bad taste (at best) and what happened to cause public opinions to change. For the most part, the poetry itself isn't as bad in the places where nationality or race are mentioned & Belloc does take a stab at W ...more
Feb 16, 2015 Christy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
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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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“A strong Protectionist, believes
In everything but Heaven.
For entertainment, dines, receives,
Unmarried, 57.”
“Upon being asked by a Reader whether the verses contained in this book were true.   And is it True? It is not True. And if it were it wouldn’t do, For people such as me and you Who pretty nearly all day long Are doing something rather wrong. Because if things were really so, You would have perished long ago, And I would not have lived to write The noble lines that meet your sight, Nor B. T. B. survived to draw The nicest things you ever saw. H. B.” 1 likes
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