Letter of the Law
The book is designed to teach children norms and values as part of their everyday life, and morals, rather than laws, are at the heart of the book.
Law is not often a topic that attracts much interest among young children, as Dr Michael Ng, Associate Professor of the Department of Professional Legal Education, learnt when trying to teach his own two young daughters. He hit on the idea of using not rules and regulations but morality stories set in everyday life to teach children how best to solve their dilemmas and problems.
The result is his 161-page book in Chinese, filled with illustrations, and called “Kids also know the law,” published by Joint Publishing, and which was nominated for the Hong Kong Book prize in 2017.
The book is designed to teach children norms and values as part of their everyday life, and morals, rather than laws, are at the heart of the book, Dr Ng explained.
“We’re always teaching rules, but the law is more about norms and values than rules,” he said. “It’s easy to impose rules, but hard to infuse norms and values.”
Dr Ng was inspired by the wish to help his daughters – who were aged 14 and 11 at the time he wrote the book – to find for themselves the best solution to the decisions they were faced with in their daily lives at school, at home and when playing with friends. By relating the moral dilemmas to their daily lives, he aimed to make them more thoughtful and to appreciate the importance of the rule of law.
The book is set out like a story book, with three main characters. Each chapter deals with a different moral lesson set in social life, school life or family life, and features the social media often used by kids, such as WhatsApp. The stories are adapted from well-known tales such as the Three Little Pigs, but with a different setting or ending to show potential courses of action that a child can take – for example, when the wolf comes, the pigs call the police. The moral authority in the book is the children’s pet, a friendly cat who doubles as a lawyer and gives advice.
Before writing the book, Dr Ng interviewed his children’s classmates and cousins to see what kind of things they were concerned with and what they thought the legal consequences could be, as well as finding out which fairy tales they liked best, favourite cartoon styles and deciding on the best personality for the cat.
The book has been used by teachers, who say it is a useful way of teaching law and morals to students. “It inspires people how law can be taught, and to a much younger audience than we’re used to imagining,” Dr Ng added.