Children's literature is often explicitly intended to teach young readers important lessons they will need later on in life. This is as true of the illustrations as it is of the text. This didactic intent permits us to ask, and usually answer fairly unambiguously, what is the "moral" of the story? What kind of society seeks to teach its young these kinds of morals? is not so easy to answer but will be our question.
Both stories deal with little girls who are punished for misbehaving. In the first "they" change an Earl's daughter into a sailor. In the second Mopsa's parents sell her as a Black Doll. What does the nature of each girl's misbehavior suggest about how "good little girls" ought to behave? What does the nature of each girl's punishment suggest? In particular, what does the gradual darkening of Mopsa tell us about how white, middle-class Northerners thought about race? Why should a Tomboy consider becoming a real boy a punishment? Consider the last illustration.
Both stories illustrate one of the central paradoxes of popular ideas about gender. Nineteenth-century Americans routinely spoke of woman's "nature." Yet they also recognized just how much effort women had to expend in order to fulfill expectations supposedly based upon their "nature." A good illustration is A Young Wife's Book. Why, one might ask, was "doin' what comes naturally" so hard? A Young Wife's Book had as its intended audience girls approaching marriage. What picture of that institution and of the wife's roles within it emerges in it?
Parents were encouraged to begin the moral training of their children at as early an age as possible. One way to do so was to use the "books of pictures" published by organizations like the American Sunday-School Union. Here are excerpts from one such book published just after the Civil War.
What makes a "good" boy and a "good" girl, so far as you can judge from these excerpts? How similar are the "morals" of the book of pictures to those taught by "The Tomboy Who Became A Real Boy?" To those taught by "The Girl Who Inked Herself"?