1st Edition

Lying, Truthtelling, and Storytelling in Children’s and Young Adult Literature Telling It Slant

By Anita Tarr Copyright 2023

    Even though we instruct our children not to lie, the truth is that lying is a fundamental part of children’s development—socially, cognitively, emotionally, morally. Lying can sometimes be more compassionate than telling the truth, even more ethical. Reading specific children’s books can instruct child readers how to be guided by an etiquette of lying, to know when to tell the truth and when to lie. Equally important, these stories can help prevent them from being prey to those liars who are intent on taking advantage of them. Becoming a critical reader requires that one learn how to lie judiciously as well as to see through others’ lies. When humans first began to speak, we began to lie. When we began to lie, we started telling stories. This is the paradox, that in order to tell truthful stories, we must be good liars. Novels about child-artists showcased here illustrate how the protagonist embraces this paradox, accepting the stigma that a writer is a liar who tells the truth. Emily Dickinson’s phrase “tell it slant” best expresses the vision of how writers for children and young adults negotiate the conundrum of both protecting child readers and teaching them to protect themselves. This volume explores the pervasiveness of lying as well as the necessity for lying in our society; the origins of lying as connected to language acquisition; the realization that storytelling is both lying and truthtelling; and the negotiations child-artists must process in order to grasp the paradox that to become storytellers they must become expert liars and lie-detectors.



    Chapter One: The Whole Truth About Lying

    Chapter Two: Children and Lying

    Chapter Three: Is Fiction a Pack of Lies?

    Chapter Four: Liars in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

    Chapter Five: Unreliable Narrators

    Chapter Six: Lying and the Künstlerroman, Part One

    Chapter Seven: Lying and the Künstlerroman, Part Two



    Anita Tarr is Professor Emeritus of English, Illinois State University. She has co-edited, with Donna R. White, two collections of essays: J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan In and Out of Time: A Children’s Classic at 100 (2006) and Posthumanism in Young Adult Fiction: Finding Humanity in a Posthuman World (2018). She has also published on Robert Cormier, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Carlyle, Scott O’Dell, Esther Forbes, and children’s poetry.