Children's Stories About Being Yourself

Down-to-Earth Aesop

Jackdaw.
Image courtesy of David Merrett.

The ancient Greek storyteller Aesop is credited with crafting scores of tales with valuable moral lessons. Many of them still resonate today, including the following tales about being yourself.

Pretense is Only Skin Deep

Aesop's fables tell us that nature will shine through no matter what package you put it in. There's no point in pretending to be something you're not because the truth will eventually come out, either by accident or by force.

  • The Cat and Venus. A cat falls in love with a man and begs Venus to change her into a woman. Venus complies, and the man and cat-woman are married. But when Venus tests her by dropping a mouse into the room, the cat-woman leaps up to chase it. The cat can change her appearance, but not her nature.
  • The Ass in the Lion's Skin. A donkey puts on a lion's skin and runs around the jungle scaring the other animals. But when he opens his mouth, his bray gives him away.
  • The Vain Jackdaw. Dressing in the discarded feathers of other birds, a jackdaw almost convinces Jupiter to appoint him king of the birds. But the other birds strip him of his disguise and reveal his true nature.
  • The Cat and the Birds. A cat, hearing that the birds are ill, dresses as a doctor and offers his help. The birds, seeing through his disguise, reply that they're fine and will continue to be so if he will only leave. After all, the birds have a lot more at stake than the cat does.

    The Dangers of Pretense

    Aesop's fables also warn us that trying to be something you're not can alienate others. The protagonists in these tales end up worse off than if they had just accepted themselves.

    • The Jackdaw and the Doves. A jackdaw paints his feathers white because he likes the looks of the doves' food. But they catch on to him and chase him away. When he goes back to eat with the other jackdaws, they don’t recognize his white feathers, so they, too, chase him away. Guess who ends up hungry.
    • The Jay and the Peacock.  This story is similar to "The Jackdaw and the Doves," but instead of desiring food, the jay just wants to strut like a proud peacock. The other jays watch the whole thing, disgusted, and refuse to welcome him back.
    • The Eagle and the Jackdaw. A jackdaw, envious of the eagle, tries to behave like one. But without the eagle's skills, he gets himself into a sticky situation and ends up as a pet for children, his wings clipped.
    • The Raven and the Swan. A raven who wants to be as beautiful as a swan becomes so obsessed with cleansing his feathers that he moves away from his food source and starves to death. Oh, and his feathers stay black.
    • The Ass and the Grasshopper.  This story is similar to "The Raven and the Swan." A donkey, hearing some grasshoppers chirping, jumps to the conclusion that their voices must be a result of their diet. He resolves to eat nothing but dew, and consequently starves.

    Be Yourself

    Aesop also has a host of fables designed to demonstrate that we should all be resigned to our station in life and not aspire to anything greater. Foxes should be subservient to lions. Camels shouldn't try to be cute like monkeys. Monkeys shouldn't try to learn to fish.

    A donkey should put up with a terrible master because he could always have an even worse one. These aren't great lessons for modern children. But Aesop's stories about avoiding pretense (and not starving yourself for beauty) still seem relevant today.