Right between Johnny Johnny Yes Papa (moral: Lie all you want and get away with a big smile) and Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew (moral: students in the West have an awful lot of spare time), there is this stage when every kid reads cutesy stories with hardcore morals in them. Some memorable morals are that in all Russian families, there are 3 sons and the youngest one is the most kind, intelligent and forgiving, small animals are kinder than large animals, demons are vanquished by the cute and not the brave, and anyone with three kids is either gonna die and leave them squabbling, or face a lot of sorrow in life.
I read an awful lot of moral stories too, but the one that probably defined my attitude to life was an unfortunate little book, of which, for some inexplicable reason, we had two copies at home. Probably some wise kid, not realizing she was inviting two sisters to her party, gave us both the same book as a return gift… there is really no other explanation.
Now in my ripe old age, the title of the book has escaped the zoo of my mind, but the story was roughly this: there's a barnyard in which there are many little animals, and they're all hungry, so Mother Hen says let's bake some cakes… I now wonder where barnyard animals got their fascination for processed food from, but at the time, hen-made cakes sounded like a good idea. So she and her kids gather some grains, and nobody wants to help them….she asks some random critter to thresh the grain, and he flat out refuses. She approaches someone else to knead the dough, and they make excuses; for baking again, nobody helps and she makes it herself…ultimately, the hen and her babies do everything, and the cakes are ready. Now almost-ready cakes give off this nice cakey smell, even those made by hens…..so all the barnyard critters are sooper excited and run up saying hooray let's have a cake party!
And then comes the masterstroke: Mother Hen tells them all to bugger off and has a party with just her kids! No being nice to lazy asses! No being charitable! Pure, unadulterated, triple refined, iodized justice! I dunno if the book was intended to teach me the steps of baking or the basics of the English language…what it entrenched deeply into my kiddie brain was that if you're working your ass off, what you get out of it belongs to you.
And therefore, despite spending 14 years in a school that made kids have debates on topics like"which is better: sharing & caring OR loving & giving?" I am a staunch believer in earning and keeping.