Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.
The following short stories illustrate a moral or lesson. There are sections for
- children's stories,
- Aesop's fables,
- and stories for adults.
There is overlap between the stories for children and adults. Many of them are suitable for both. I've divided them as a general indication of their difficulty level.
The parenthetical description after the title and author indicates what the lesson or moral is related to.
Stories With Moral Lessons for Children
King Midas and the Golden Touch Adapted From Ovid (Greed)
King Midas is very rich and loves gold. His wish is to be able to turn whatever he touches into gold. One day his wish is granted.
Harry and the Haystack by Unknown (Obey Your Parents)
As Harry leaves home to play ball with John, his mother reminds him not to play on the haystack. It's dangerous, as it could collapse at any time. Harry and John amuse themselves as long as they can with various games. Eventually, their attention turns to the haystack.
Read "Harry and the Haystack" (PDF Pg. 3)
Please by Alicia Aspinwall (Manners)
A little boy demands things without saying "please". His older brother is very polite. One morning at breakfast, something unusual happens that makes the older brother even more mannerly.
Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air.
— Alicia Aspinwall
The Little Red Hen by Unknown (Work Ethic)
A little red hen lives on a farm with a dog, a pig, and a cow. One day, the hen finds some wheat. She decides to plant it so that, eventually, there will be bread to eat. She asks her neighbors for help, but they would rather rest.
Read "The Little Red Hen"
The Little Hero of Holland by Etta & Mary Blaisdell (Perseverance)
Peter, an eight-year-old boy, is sent on an errand by his mother. As he walks home, he admires the dikes, glad that they keep everyone safe. He hears a trickle of water.
Cat and Mouse in Partnership by The Brothers Grimm (Choose Friends Wisely)
A cat convinces a mouse that they should cooperate and keep house together. They buy a pot of fat to get them through the winter. Before long, the cat wants to have some of it. He makes an excuse to leave for a day to sneak some for himself.
A cat had made the acquaintance of a mouse, and had said so much to her about the great love and friendship that he felt for her, that at last the mouse agreed that they should live and keep house together.
— Brothers Grimm
Read More From Owlcation
The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen (Flattery, Honesty)
An emperor who loves fine clothes hires two weavers. They say that the clothes they make are invisible to incompetent or stupid people. The emperor wants to weed out these people, as well as wear a beautiful garment. He pays them a large sum and they begin their work.
The No-Guitar Blues by Gary Soto (Honesty)
After seeing Los Lobos on American Bandstand, Fausto really wants a guitar. He tries asking his parents and looking for odd jobs, without success. While resting after one of his low-paying errands, he's approached by a dog. It seems like it's from a rich family. Fausto gets an idea.
While Aesop's fables are excellent examples of short stories with lessons, they're very well known. I'll only include a few here. If you like these selections, it's easy to find lots more.
The Boy and the Nuts (Greed)
A little boy sees a jar of nuts on the table. He reaches in and grabs a big handful. He has trouble getting his hand out of the jar.
The Travelers and the Plane Tree (Look for the Good, Appreciate Small Blessings)
On a very hot day, two travelers rest in the shade under a tree. They complain about how useless it is by itself in a barren plane.
The Miller, His Son, and Their Donkey (You Can't Please Everyone)
A miller and his son are taking their donkey to a fair to sell him. They encounter a series of people, each of whom has a preference on how the donkey should be handled.
Short Stories With Lessons for Adults
Many of the following stories are also good for children, but the writing level and content make them suitable for adults.
The Good Samaritan at Luke 10:29-37
An expert on the law asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells a story of a traveler who is attacked—beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Three different people come across him on the road.
Read "The Good Samaritan"
Grandmother's Table Adapted From the Brother's Grimm (Respect for the Elderly)
An old widow goes to live with her son's family. Her diminishing abilities cause her to make a mess at the dinner table. Her son and daughter-in-law revoke her seat at the main table.
How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy (Greed)
A peasant, Pahom, works hard and honestly. He doesn't own any land. When he hears of land for sale, he scrapes together enough money to buy forty acres. He's content for a while. When he hears of land for sale somewhere else, he decides to sell what he has and improve his life again.
They had one hundred roubles laid by. They sold a colt, and one half of their bees; hired out one of their sons as a laborer, and took his wages in advance; borrowed the rest from a brother-in-law, and so scraped together half the purchase money.
— Leo Tolstoy
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (Unselfish Giving)
Della and Jim are a young married couple. They don't have much money and Christmas is near. Della wants to get Jim a nice present. She takes the little she's been able to save and goes shopping.
The Chest of Broken Glass by Unknown (Honor Your Parents)
An old man is poor and can no longer work. He has three sons who only visit him once a week and, later, even less. He knows they don't want to be burdened with helping him out. He comes up with a plan.
The Bell of Atri by James Baldwin (Treat Animals Kindly)
The King of an Italian town has a bell installed in the marketplace. It has a long rope almost to the ground. It is the bell of justice. It is only to be rung when someone has been wronged. It serves its purpose well. One day its ring has an unlikely source.
Read "The Bell of Atri"
Many times did the bell in the marketplace ring out to call the judges together. Many wrongs were righted, many ill-doers were punished.
— James Baldwin
The Silent Couple by Unknown (Stubborness, Pettiness)
A young man and young woman, both stubborn, get married. After their wedding feast, all their guests leave. The man asks his wife if she would shut the door. She thinks he should shut it, instead. They remain firm in their positions.
Read "The Silent Couple" (PDF Pg. 8)
Damon and Pythias by James Baldwin (True Friendship)
Pythias offends Dionysius, a tyrant ruler. He is sentenced to death. He asks leave to say goodbye to his friends and family. Dionysius refuses until Damon, the best friend of Pythias, says he will stay in his stead and die in his place, if necessary.
Read "Damon and Pythias"
The Rebellion Against the Stomach by Unknown (Cooperation)
A man dreams that his his other body parts rebel against his stomach. They're the ones who do all the work, but the stomach gets all the food. They decide not to help it anymore.
And one by one the parts of the body joined the complaint against the stomach, which didn’t say anything at all.
I have an idea, the brain finally announced. Let’s all rebel against the lazy belly, and stop working for it.
The Appointment in Samarra by W. Somerset Maugham (Death)
After seeing Death in the marketplace, a man is terrified. He rushes to his master and asks for permission to flee. The master lends his horse, and the servant wastes no time in leaving.
The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury (Resisting Progress)
Emperor Yuan rules China in A.D. 400. One morning a servant alerts him to a miraculous occurrence. He has seen a man flying. The Emperor thinks the servant is confused from a dream. After much urging, the Emperor agrees to take a look.
The Piece of String by Guy de Maupassant (Slander)
A man, Hauchecorne, is on his way to the public square when he spots a piece of string on the ground. Not wanting something useful to go to waste, he picks it up. Later, it's reported that a wallet has been lost. A witness identifies Hauchecorne as the guilty party.
They're Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson (Judging by Appearances, Preconceived Notions)
Two speakers discuss the new beings that have been examined. Apparently, they're made completely of meat. This doesn't make any sense. They're trying to find out who sent the radio signals. They had to come from machines, not meat.
"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
— Terry Bisson