The Just So Stories for Little Children were written by British author Rudyard Kipling. They are among his best known, and arguably best, works.
The stories, first published in 1902, are fantastic accounts of how various natural phenomena came about. A forerunner of these stories is "How Fear Came" in The Second Jungle Book (1895), in which Mowgli hears the story of how the tiger got his stripes.
The original editions of Just So Stories were illustrated with woodcuts by Kipling himself, though later editions have included illustrations by other artists. Each story is accompanied by a poem, in a somewhat ballad style.
Many of the stories are addressed to "Best Beloved" (they were first written for Kipling's daughter), and throughout they use a comically elevated style inspired by the formal speech of India, full of long and improbable-sounding words, some of them made up. As a result, it is a delight to read them aloud, and easy to memorise passages from them. They were a highly popular item on the BBC's radio programme Children's Hour in the 1950s.
Because of the stories' extravagant nature, burlesquing the Lamarckian theory of heredity, the "inheritance of acquired traits", the phrase "just so story" has acquired the meaning, in evolutionary biology, of an unecessarily elaborate and speculative evolutionary explanation that, while it may fit the facts, lacks any shred of empirical support.
Some sense of the style of the stories may be gathered from the following extract:
In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn't pick up things with it. But there was one Elephant--a new Elephant--an Elephant's Child--who was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions...
One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this 'satiable Elephant's Child asked a new fine question that he had never asked before. He asked, "What does the crocodile have for dinner?" Then everybody said, "Hush!" in a loud and dretful tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time.
By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thornbush, and he said, "My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have spanked me for my 'satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!"
The Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, "Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out."
That very next morning, when there was nothing left of the Equinoxes, because the Precession had preceded according to precedent, this 'satiable Elephant's Child took a hundred pounds of bananas (the little short red kind), and a hundred pounds of sugar-cane (the long purple kind), and seventeen melons (the greeny-crackly kind), and said to all his dear families, "Good-bye. I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner." And they all spanked him once more for luck, though he asked them most politely to stop.
The full list of Just-So Stories is:
- How the Whale got his Throat
- How the Camel got his Hump
- How the Rhinoceros got his Skin
- How the Leopard got his Spots
- The Elephant's Child
- The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
- The Beginning of the Armadilloes
- How the First Letter was Written
- How the Alphabet was Made
- The Crab that Played with the Sea
- The Cat that Walked by Himself
- The Butterfly that Stamped