Give Your Characters Their Just Desserts

by Margaret Welwood

The ending of Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?” has fascinated and annoyed readers for well over 100 years. It also fascinated and annoyed my English as a Second Language students over the span of my 30-year ESL teaching career.

Just like dessert after a meal, the ending of a story stays with us. Here are some endings (without spoilers!) to picture books for children: the simple (but total!) surprise; the totally predictable (and utterly charming); and the sweet and satisfying.

There’s a delicious kind of fear when we’re reading a scary story—not too scary, but scary enough to make us quiver with excitement.

Just ask the kindergartners.

Are you sure you want me to turn the page?” I asked them. “You’re not too scared?” No, they weren’t, but I certainly had their attention right up to the last page.

Rated for kindergarten to grade two, this story even had nine-year-old Tina mystified at first. I think it’s the marriage of text and illustrations that did us all in. Kulka’s bright, almost garish portrayals of the night sky, drooling wolf, and alarmed prey animals set everyone from kindergartners to sophisticated grade threes to the story lady herself up for the ending.

And it’s a good one.

Who doesn’t know that not one of the would-be pet owners will find the elusive feline? The only mystery is where he’s going to hide next. But, like those who watch “The Sound of Music” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” year after year, children take great pleasure in knowing what’s going to happen next—and perhaps they will also enjoy your “surprise” at their accurate predictions.

This happy little bear proved very popular with the kindergartners. When Chaucer’s older friends, Nugget the Fox and Kit the Squirrel, tell the cub he’ll be sleeping the winter away, he’s understandably disappointed—and curious.

So, certain that his parents are asleep in the den, Chaucer sneaks outside for a fun-filled winter. His friends are apt teachers, and Chaucer loves sliding, snowball fights, icicles . . . and he even builds a snug snow house for them all before a storm hits.

But where are his parents? Snoozing peacefully? Look around the corner, behind the tree, and even in the snowstorm, and you’ll see that Chaucer’s watchful parents are never far away.

When his beloved snow melts into puddles, Chaucer heads back to the cave to tell his parents all about his adventures. And then . . . the sweet ending.

So there we have it–the mystery dessert, Grandma’s traditional Christmas cake, and a piece of fudge.

I leave you where we began, with “The Lady or the Tiger?”—can you and I also write stories with endings that stand the test of time?

Margaret loved teaching English as a Second Language, writing magazine articles, and editing a business
magazine and adult non-fiction books (one an Amazon #1 best seller, the other a Writer’s Digest
award winner). However, with the arrival of grandchildren and their welcome
request—“Grandma, can you tell me a story?”— she began writing and editing picture books for
children. This is now her favorite genre. You can contact Margaret in the Author Community Forum and check out her vendor page. 

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