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Do all picture books have to happy endings?

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Last night I sang the words of the book Puff the Magic Dragon to my daughter and she burst into tears and even began to howl a bit when I got to the bit where Jackie Paper didn't come anymore. (I swear it wasn't my awful singing - she is one of the few people in this world who thinks I've got a musical ear.) I felt awful but then it got me to thinking about whether it's a good thing to experience sadness this way.

I also remember crying about Puff when I was a kid (although it was just a song then) but I've loved that song so, so much ever since - maybe partly because it's sad and made me cry?

The book is illustrated/designed so that there's now a semi-happy ending in that a little girl comes along to make Puff smile again (but the words remain the same as the song) and I wonder about that... it might make it an easier read but do our kids always have to have happy endings? I think not.

Any other good sad books to recommend? (I love Raymond Briggs' The Snowman.)
#1 - May 16, 2012, 06:43 PM

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The Giving Tree makes me break down and sob each time. I don't think it's sad. I think it's tragic. I'm not sure it's for kids, really. They don't cry. Just me.
#2 - May 16, 2012, 06:46 PM

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The Little Match Girl makes me BAWL every time.

#3 - May 16, 2012, 06:54 PM
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Ooh yes good ones. And the Little Mermaid. Tragic.

I wonder if there are any modern tragic PBs. All of these are pretty old. Remember that hoo-ha about the woman who 'rewrote' picture book stories she didn't like? (The Snowman was one - the ending was too sad so she changed it.) It's probably because of people like her that we don't get the sad stories anymore. That, and the fact that parents don't like to feel responsible for having made their kid cry. I felt bad yesterday but in the end I decided it was a good thing for her to cry about people going away/growing up/changing and me be able to talk to her about it than for her to cry about something similar at school or elsewhere where we wouldn't talk about it.
#4 - May 16, 2012, 07:03 PM

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I can't remember the name, but there's a picture book by Sendak about a grandfather that had a stroke or something and the kid learning to deal with that. It was a very emotionally hard book for me since I discovered it about a year after my own father suffered a massive stroke. But now that I think about it, it might have had a hint of a happy ending.
#5 - May 16, 2012, 07:11 PM

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Okay, I was wrong - it's by Tomie DePaola and it's called "Now One Foot, Now the Other"  I'm not sure why I connected it with Sendak in my mind.
#6 - May 16, 2012, 07:24 PM

I can't read The Giving Tree - I refuse - it's too unbearably sad for me.
I think kid stories used to be more sad and scary than they are now - probably because they were meant to keep children in at night and minding their parents, etc. But I mean, Dumbo? Bambi? Really? Movies, I know... but I do think there's something to exploring sadness. I'm not going to write one like that, but I think it may be importat.
#7 - May 16, 2012, 07:30 PM
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Well.... speaking of sad movies,... what's up with ICE AGE I?!? I mean... the Native American mother DIES/DROWNS right off the bat, after handing her baby to a mammoth! I thought it was a fun movie with cute animals. Had no idea the movie would start this way,... and it's not as old as Bambi (where the mother gets shot). I thought modern movies were sweeter/happier.  I found that scene troubling. I preferred Ice Age II.
#8 - May 16, 2012, 07:34 PM

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There's another Tomie DePaola book called The Clown of God that's a retelling of a French legend where the MC dies in the end. My son loved that one. Didn't seem to mind a bit about the ending.

Same son was absolutely LIVID when I had him listen to a recording of Peter and the Wolf. At the end of the recording, even though Peter is safe and the wolf is captured, the duck has been eaten and you can hear her still quacking in his belly. He was outraged by this ending. "Why did they have to do that to the duck? Why did you let me listen to this???"
#9 - May 16, 2012, 07:37 PM
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I *think* the Ice Age movies are PG...they really aren't meant for really little ones, although my little ones love them. The inappropriate humor they don't understand, it just goes over their heads.

The beginning to UP makes me bawl, when they find out they can't have kids and then when the old guy loses his wife. SO sad.  :bluesad: Ack, I'm getting sniffy just thinking about it.
#10 - May 16, 2012, 07:52 PM
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I can't even watch the opening montage to UP, Artemesia. It makes my heart hurt way too much. In fact, I think I've only seen it (the opening, that is) all the way through the first time. Since then, I've seen snippets while my kids are watching it, but I CANNOT sit through the beginning. The rest of the movie I absolutely adore.
#11 - May 16, 2012, 08:27 PM

"Old Pig" is a sad (but beautiful) picture book I remember from my childhood in the 90s: http://www.amazon.com/Old-Picture-Puffins-Margaret-Wild/dp/0140562117
#12 - May 16, 2012, 10:16 PM
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Can't think of any particularly sad pbs that are recent.

When my kids were little, we were listening to a kid's music recording and Puff came on. "I always cried at the end of that when I was little," I told them, laughing a bit.

And at the end I cried.
#13 - May 17, 2012, 03:42 AM

VELVETEEN RABBIT... I'm even getting choked up just thinking about it.

...and, if you want to get more traditional, look at fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Lots of downer themes in those.

One important thing to remember when making a sad ending is to know that picture books are going to be re-read. I would re-read the Velveteen Rabbit because the bunny does achieve his goal in the end and his suffering helps make it a worthy ending... I might need some therapy, but it's at least a 'content' ending. Even in the examples given by other posters, it's not sad or downer ending for the sake of sadness or being down, it's more that was an element in the story's resolution. Bittersweet.
#14 - June 25, 2014, 02:43 AM

I'm so glad I'm not the only one wondering that. The ones mentioned come to mind.

I think the thing about depressing endings, is it needs to be done more subtly. But I see nothing wrong with downers (to write that is, as a reader my feelings are mixed.)

Though not a picture book, one of my favorite children's book has some depressing parts.
#15 - June 25, 2014, 08:53 PM
« Last Edit: June 25, 2014, 08:55 PM by SarahW »
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I'm thinking there are some contemporary PBs about sad topics, but they end in a slightly uplifting way. For example, from memory QUEENIE, AN ELEPHANT'S STORY by Corinne Fenton is about an elephant that kills its keeper in a tragic accident and has to be put down (a true historical story). However, the PB ends with a statement about the huge number of people the elephant took for rides, and how those people still have wonderful memories of her, many decades later.
#16 - June 25, 2014, 09:51 PM
I've Got Eyes! - Amicus Ink (August 2018)

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Love this topic...  I'm probably crazy for trying this, but one of my WIP PB is a story set in space where it's finally revealed to adult readers that the main character (young boy) had actually passed away on the first page and has been sending reassuring messages to his parents from heaven ever since his accident.

It may never pan out. But, I'm encouraged to see so much emotion on this thread about sad books and perhaps with your input, I can learn how to handle the topic more subtly.
#17 - June 25, 2014, 11:58 PM

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A newer picture book that is heartrending is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (illustrated by EB Lewis) Not a happy ending but a thought-provoking one reminiscent of The Hundred Dresses. Books like this make good classroom read-alouds with discussion (it's a long one too -- 865 words). It won the Jane Addams Award and a Coretta Scott King honor.
#18 - June 26, 2014, 05:41 AM
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 05:46 AM by Kell »
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CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG has an ending that's both happy and sad, involving the loss of one friend and the discovery of another. THE SEA SERPENT AND ME also has a sad ending, albeit one that's about the normal, healthy sadness involved with seeing a loved one grow up and leave to start a new, independent life.
#19 - June 26, 2014, 05:53 AM

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I immediately thought of EACH KINDNESS also. Beautifully illustrated book and thought-provocative.
#20 - June 26, 2014, 06:55 AM

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I don't remember if the somewhat odd Love You Forever had what would be considered a happy ending, but it was pretty sad throughout. In my children's elementary school, there were several teachers who loved the book so much, they would read it aloud each year for their classroom's parents' event.
#21 - June 26, 2014, 07:59 AM
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It's been fifteen years since I read it, so bear with me on details, but there's a PB called Little Elephant Thunderfoot. It also has/had a soundtrack. It's about how the herd survives...and then the matriarch is shot dead for her tusks...but the book ends that because they had learned from her, the herd knew where to go for water.

The book hadn't been re-written last I knew, but the soundtrack WAS changed. The sound of that single, faint, in-the-distance gun shot was removed.

I used to be the buyer in a zoo and certain parents didn't mind the matriarch getting shot, but the parents who bought books like that ("books like that" also included the near-$20 price) were of the belief that children need to know the cycle of life and everything in-between. (You can spot these parents in a second in a zoo.) The parents who didn't value books, of any kind, didn't even look at it. The parents in-between these two types wouldn't buy the book if they learned while browsing it that the matriarch was shot. It was pretty cut-and-dry with this title.

I was sent a sample PB about a dancing bear. It told what REALLY happens to dancing bears. (In this story, the bear was in the middle east.) I wouldn't carry the book. It wasn't for the reason most zoos wouldn't like a book like that, though. Most zoos would not like that book because it puts captivity in a bad light. I didn't like it because the pictures, while very well done, just kind of "made light" over a very distressing fact of life...facts they put right out there in the text.

If you were to write about the horrible (horrible!) life of a dancing bear--in PB form--would you give it a different treatment other than "this happens and this happens, and this hurts the bear, and then the handler does this...?"

Oops...to answer the question...no, I don't think all PB have to have happy endings, though I wouldn't like to see that as the new wave of PBs.
#22 - June 26, 2014, 09:41 AM
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 09:48 AM by Arona »
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

...And what was the name of PB about a boy's dog dying? I'll Always Love You (I think). Didn't get much beyond the title with that one.  :( (No crying emoticon?)

Marcia: thank you for calling Love You Forever "somewhat odd." Everyone liked that book but me. I found the ending, with the mother sitting in the son's lap, um, disturbing--it didn't make sense.
#23 - June 26, 2014, 09:54 AM
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 09:58 AM by Arona »
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

Thanks, everyone (not really) for making me relive all these tear-jerkers. Just in Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado is another, but again not recent (2000). My kids, cruel youth, think it's hilarious when I can't get through a story.
 
I'm with you, Arona, on Love You Forever. I seem to be the only one in my circle who finds it creepy.
#24 - June 26, 2014, 11:51 AM

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I just thougth I would mention Blue Bird. by Bob Staak.

Thougth, it is wordlese the bird does die.
#25 - June 26, 2014, 09:01 PM
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Well, Mike beat me to it, but I second The Sea Serpent and Me. Not that it is particularly sad for little ones, but I can't read the dang thing out loud without choking up. Good thing my son is out of PB stage and reading middle grade on his own now. Whew!

(I also think Love You Forever is just creepy.)
#26 - July 07, 2014, 04:08 PM

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I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Some think it's funny, but the first time I read it, I was so sad for the little rabbit.
#27 - July 08, 2014, 10:09 AM

The way I think of the question is this: Should a picture book have the topic, that would lend to having a downer ending.

The reason I rephrase it like this is, if your writing about a furry animal story, unless its written with the overall picture of having a darker tone, it's going to be hard to make a downer ending not feel contrived.

One of the reasons I like magic realism, is you could use it to have some happy moments in an otherwise dark piece. The key thing I keep in mind is about balancing the overall mood.

But that's just my thoughts on it. Its a tricky thing though.
#28 - July 08, 2014, 02:52 PM
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LOVE YOU FOREVER is creepy.  I think that I'LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU is more for children who have lost a pet.  I borrowed this book and another from the library when we found out our dog was very sick.
 
#29 - July 30, 2014, 08:44 AM

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Oooh or what about Mo Willems "That Is Not A Good Idea!"
#30 - July 31, 2014, 12:25 PM

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