Children's Stories About Hard Work

Wisdom from Aesop

Some of the most famous stories attributed to the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop focus on the value of hard work. From the triumphant tortoise who beats the hare to the father who tricks his sons into tilling the fields, Aesop shows us that the richest jackpots come not from lottery tickets, but from our own steady efforts. 

01
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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Illustration of crow and pitcher.
Image courtesy of internetarchivebookimages.

Aesop shows us again and again that persistence pays off.

  • The Hare and the Tortoise. Hare mocks tortoise's short legs. Tortoise vows to beat hare in a race. Tortoise plods along while overconfident hare takes a snooze. Hare wakes up to see that tortoise has won. This one never gets old.
  • The Crow and the Pitcher. A desperately thirsty crow finds a pitcher with water in the bottom, but his beak is too short to reach it. The clever crow patiently drops pebbles into the pitcher until the water level rises and he can reach it: a testament to both hard work and ingenuity. 
  • The Farmer and His Sons. A dying farmer wants to be sure his sons will tend the land after he's gone, so he tells them there is treasure in the fields. Looking for literal treasure, they dig extensively, tilling the soil, which results in an abundant crop. Treasure, indeed.
02
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No Shirking

Illustration of grasshopper pleading with ant.
Image courtesy of internetarchivebookimages.

Aesop's characters may think they're too clever to work, but they never get away with it for long.

  • The Salt Merchant and His Ass. An ass carrying a load of salt accidentally falls in a stream and realizes that his load has melted away. So the next time he crosses the steam, he purposely falls down. Then his owner loads him with sponges, so when he falls down a third time, the weight of his load doubles instead of disappearing.
  • The Ants and the GrasshopperAnother classic: grasshopper sings all summer while ants work to harvest grain. Winter comes, grasshopper begs ants for food, but ants say no. The ants might seem a bit uncharitable in this one, but hey, the grasshopper had his chance.
03
of 05

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Illustration of man lecturing drowning boy.
Image courtesy of internetarchivebookimages.

As anyone who has ever sat through a meeting knows, actual work is usually more effective than talk about work.

  • Belling the Cat. The mice meet to decide what to do about their enemy, the cat. A young mouse says they should put a bell on the cat so they can hear it coming. Everyone thinks it's a brilliant idea until an older mouse asks who's going to put the bell on.
  • The Boy Bathing. A boy drowning in a river asks a passerby for help, but instead gets a lecture. Unfortunately, advice doesn't float.
  • The Wasps, the Partridges, and the Farmer. Some thirsty wasps and partridges ask a farmer for some water, promising to repay him with useful services. The farmer observes that he has two oxen who already perform all those services without making any promises, so he'd rather give the water to them.
04
of 05

Help Yourself

Illustration of farmer, son, and lark in fields.
Image courtesy of internetarchivebookimages.

Don't ask for help until you've tried to help yourself. You'll probably do a better job than other people, anyway. 

  • Hercules and the Wagoner. When his wagon gets stuck in the mud, the driver -- without lifting a finger -- cries out to Hercules for help. Hercules says he isn't going to help until the driver has made an effort himself.
  • The Lark and Her Young Ones. A young lark overhears a farmer announcing that the crop is ripe and it's time to ask his friends to come help with the harvest. The lark asks its mother whether they need to move elsewhere for safety. She responds that if the farmer is only asking his friends, he isn't serious about getting the work done. They won't have to move until the farmer decides to harvest the crop himself.
05
of 05

Choose Your Business Partners Carefully

Illustration of crane removing bone from wolf's throat.
Image courtesy of internetarchivebookimages.

 Even hard work won't pay off if you ally yourself with liars and criminals.

  • The Lion's Share. A jackal, a fox, and a wolf go hunting with a lion. They kill a stag and divide it into four parts … each of which the lion justifies assigning to himself.
  • The Wild Ass and the Lion. Very similar to "The Lion's Share." I particularly like the way the lion distributes the three shares to himself, explaining that "the third share (believe me) will be a source of great evil to you, unless you willingly resign it to me, and set off as fast as you can."
  • The Wolf and the Crane. A wolf gets a bone stuck in his throat and offers a crane a large sum if she'll remove it for him. When she asks for payment, he explains that being permitted to remove your head from the jaws of a wolf ought to be compensation enough.

Nothing in Life Is Free

In Aesop's world, no one gets away with avoiding work, except maybe lions and wolves. But the good news is that Aesop's hard workers always prosper, even if they don't get to spend their summers singing.