Anyone who knows me knows that I am, of course, a huge Agatha Christie nerd. There is, however, one fictional universe that I have loved for longer and much deeper than hers, and that is the one inhabited by the Mr Men. Ever since I was a small child, I have been charmed by this series. I continue to adore the series unironically and think that there aren’t many book series of children that can compare. I’ve even started sharing the joy with my friends’ young children. At first glance, you may wonder why I’m spending a post talking about this and can’t see what value there is in the Mr Men series, but that’s because I’m here to educate you. These books are not what they seem to be at first glance.

Firstly, a little background on the series. Once upon a time, Roger Hargreaves was asked by his son Adam, “What does a tickle look like?” The result was the very first Mr Man – Mr Tickle. Inspired, the first seven characters arrived in 1971, and their number swiftly grew over the decade, being joined by their female counterparts, the Little Misses, in 1981. In 1988, Roger Hargreaves died and the marker pen was handed on to his son, Adam, who continues to run the empire, creating more characters under his father’s name. Since then, the series has spawned merchandise of all kinds including Mr Lazy slippers, Mr Bump plasters and Mr Sneeze tissues, and even became a much-loved television series, brilliantly narrated by Arthur Lowe.

The Mr Men and Little Miss characters are famously all named for their primary personality trait. The world they inhabit is one that is routinely fair and just, which means that these names will impact your story. If you have a positive name (Mr Happy or Little Miss Wise), your trait will be enforced. If you have a negative name (Mr Grumpy or Little Miss Trouble), your trait will be challenged and potentially even removed. If you have a neutral name (Mr Impossible or Little Miss Twins), that usually means you simply get to have an adventure. This is a world free of sex, drugs and death, where the biggest issue is rarely more than there not being enough cake. It’s a pleasant enough world to inhabit, but this lack of drama doesn’t mean it can’t teach us things.

Several stories including Mr Happy, Mr Muddle, Mr Wrong and Little Miss Scatterbrain have a strong emphasis on conformity, something that is otherwise ignored by the likes of Mr Impossible or Mr Daydream. Above all, though, the series I believe celebrates difference. Several of the stories focus on characters trying to find jobs that suit them. Mr Bump ends when he discovers he’s best at picking apples simply by bumping into trees. Mr Slow’s dream job turns out to be a steamroller driver. Little Miss Star longs to be famous, predating the vapid “celebrities” that come from reality television and have no genuine skill. Generally though, the books show that you are wanted and have a purpose, no matter your shape, size, personality or background. A frequent – and important – theme in the stories is about finding your own place in society.

Even topics such as body positivity can be shown through the texts. In Mr Greedy, the titular character is shown to be an enormous glutton who gets hungrier the fatter he gets. Unable to ever be full, he spends most of his time thinking about his next meal. There is little suggestion here that he is physically unhealthy, merely that an obsession with food is not a great way to live. After he finds himself the house of a giant and is forced to eat all the enormous food on the giant’s dinner plate in order to teach him a lesson, Mr Greedy discovers that perhaps gluttony isn’t the way forward and manages to slim down. Conversely, the hero of Mr Skinny is so thin that if he turns sideways, he becomes more or less invisible. Here, his lack of appetite is considered bad, but also shown to be a genuine illness of some kind. He is unafraid to seek advice from a doctor and in the end goes to live with Mr Greedy (presumably before his run-in with the giant – the chronology of the stories is all-but-impossible to establish) and learns to eat better. The books, therefore, establish that there is a healthy and happy medium. This all goes out the window, however, when Little Miss Greedy (originally known as Little Miss Plump) is brought into the universe. She is Mr Greedy’s cousin, and her story does nothing to say that her way of life is wrong. Indeed, with her high heels and flower-adorned hat, she is the poster girl for the “big, beautiful woman”.

The books remain an utter joy. The illustrations, all done in marker pen, are bright, beautiful and simple, and the stories are entertaining to small children, although according to some studies they’re on par with John Steinbeck in their complexity. I find them charming beyond belief, and have an enormous amount of merchandise based on the series, just because I find it all so cute. With over 100 million sales to date and another book sold every fifty-seven seconds, the characters have made their way indelibly into popular culture, and resulted in Roger Hargreaves being one of the bestselling authors of all time. Long may the books and their morals teach our children.

Here are six of the best morals we can learn from the Mr Men and Little Miss characters:

Have consideration for others

Mr Noisy is probably one of the most famous Mr Men. Not perhaps up there with the likes of Mr Happy and Mr Bump, but second tier for sure. In his story, we discover that his sneezes can be heard across the country and his alarm clock sounds like a fire engine. He stomps around his local town, slamming doors and yelling at people in shops. He’s not rude, necessarily, just doesn’t really think about how he’s coming across. The shopkeepers give him what he wants just to get rid of him. When two of them, however, decide to pretend they can’t hear him, he realises that he can get what he wants without resorting to volume.

His story is one of consideration for others. Mr Noisy goes about his own day without any apparent interest or even awareness of how he is affecting other people. Only when he discovers that he’s being annoying – no matter how passive aggressively the residents go about telling him – does he tone it down. He notably doesn’t argue or tell people that it’s a “free country”. He sees the problem and corrects his own behaviour for the good of the community. If that’s not a lesson that many of us need to learn right now, I don’t know what is.

Anger is futile

Mr Rude is a later addition to the series, arriving in 2003, and is one of the most unpleasant characters we encounter. Lacking entirely in manners, tact or anything approaching kindness, Mr Rude insults people, shouts at them, is always angry, and is like by exactly no one. When Mr Happy learns of his behaviour, he settles himself into Mr Rude’s house without invitation and a large grin plastered permanently on his face. Mr Rude begins by shouting at his “guest” and insulting him, but Mr Happy doesn’t react, meaning eventually Mr Rude has to ask him what he wants, and even begins to develop a friendship of sorts with him. This is an extreme way of teaching him manners.

It also teaches us that anger is futile. Mr Rude shouts and screams at Mr Happy, but Mr Happy simply doesn’t react. Mr Rude seems to have been the way he was to get a rise out of people and cause an argument, but when he meets someone who isn’t affected by anything he says or does, the wind is taken out of his sails, and he begins to see that there are other ways to get what he wants. As someone who has spent a long time in customer service, I long ago learnt that the best way to deal with a rude person is to be perfectly polite. Don’t give rude or angry people the satisfaction of ruining your day.

It’s OK to ask for help

Like all the characters, Little Miss Stubborn is the walking form of her surname. Unwilling to take advice from others and never prepared to change her mind once she has decided on something, her story sees her taking a wrong bus because she won’t accept someone else saying it’s the wrong one, getting caught in an avalanche, and eating an omelette that is too big for her.

Although this is one rare occasion where she doesn’t seem to completely learn her lesson, the book does teach us that it’s alright to ask for help once in a while and to accept the advice of people who might know better than you on something. As it is, she continues to move through the world ignoring everyone else and pretending that all the bad decisions she makes are the ones she meant to make after all and she’s happy with their outcome. We should all take help now and again, and never be afraid to ask for it, as sometimes we don’t always know what the best option is, even if we think we do. Like the lesson we learn from Mr Noisy, this also feels like one that is particularly relevant right now.

Don’t worry

Mr Worry joined the collection in 1978, bringing with him a case of anxiety so bad that his forehead was permanently etched with worry lines. As suggested by his name, he will worry about absolutely everything, not limited to the weather, money, forgetting things and health. As is sometimes the case in these books, one day he meets a wizard who asks him to write down everything that worries him (it is an incredibly long list) and the wizard promises to make sure none of those things happen. This leaves Mr Worry happy for a few days, before beginning to worry about having nothing to worry about.

The overall moral is that worrying is pointless – in the words of Baz Luhrmann, it is “like trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum” – and it’s especially futile to worry about things we have no control over. The book does, however, give good advice on how to handle worries. Writing a list and getting these things out into the open can really help clear your mind, as often things seem smaller on the page. To-do lists, for example, always seem more manageable when written down rather than just being held in the mind.

Love yourself

Mr Tall suffers terribly with his height. Able to step over trees and sit on cliffs with his feet on the beach below, he is far and away the tallest person in the world. He longs to be “normal”, but after meeting with Mr Tickle, Mr Nosey and Mr Greedy who all share with him the reasons why they love their big arms, nose and belly (respectively), he realises that his legs are what make him special, meaning he can walk forty minute in four minutes without tiring. This is one of the most important lessons children can be taught.

We all look different and have different abilities, and when you’re young especially this can make a person insecure. Mr Tall teaches children that just because someone doesn’t look like them or is differently abled, it doesn’t make them any less special. Indeed, it might mean they have a whole other way of looking at life, or are able to do things that others couldn’t imagine. Mr Tall also strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mr Small, and between them they are able to find a way to get through life together by helping each other. That is, until Mr Tall forgets he was out with Mr Small, and the latter has to do the walk home that took Mr Tall four minutes. Mr Small takes a year. This raises a considerable number of questions that the logic of the universe can’t handle, so let’s not analyse that further.

Don’t be afraid to take risks

I’ve always had a particular fondness for Little Miss Dotty. Created in a similar vein to the other “unusual thinking” characters like Mr Nonsense and Mr Silly, she too lives in Nonsenseland where the grass is blue and pigs play tennis. She decides to enter the Nonsense Cup, a competition seeking out the silliest ideas. The contest this year is specifically looking for something dotty, so she decides to enter. She eventually settles on covering her own house in 999 coloured dots, and is declared the winner.

Although other characters enter the contest, it is her literal interpretation of the subject that cinches it for her, and it’s quite brilliant. She takes a risk by going up against some people with a great knack for nonsense, but uses her own brand of individuality to claim victory. Spending so much time painting her house could fail her, but she persists and the effort is worth it. She is an icon to anyone who thinks they shouldn’t enter a contest because “they won’t win”. The only way to guarantee you won’t succeed is by not playing the game. Take a chance, join in, and see if you get surprised. There is a second moral in here as well about being yourself. She wins because she plays to her strengths and doesn’t pretend to be something she isn’t. Being yourself (unless you’re someone like Mr Rude) is always the right thing to do.

Thanks for joining in and reading this new entry in my new series, Six of the Best. This is a twice-monthly series in which I take a look at fiction and books more generally and explore the fictional worlds I love so much. If you’ve got any suggestions for things you’d like to see me talk about, then please comment and let me know!