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While society tends to prefer children to be polite and well behaved, while still adventurous and cheerful, in fiction there seems to be an either/or set up. Children who are adventurous and who have interesting stories to tell, or to tell about, always seem to be mischievous at least and sometimes downright naughty and ill behaved.
Well-behaved children are often antagonists to the main character if he or she is a child, and these "good" kids can be portrayed as being anything from just absolute bores, to evil incarnate. The reason for this might be because the well behaved children in the stories are often viewed as being suck-ups to the evil adults, who only want to take away all the fun stuff for little kids. These kids also tend to be 'tattle tales' if they're real sticklers for the rules.
This trope has been around in some form for quite a while, at least since the early twentieth century. Before that, especially during the Victorian era, naughty children in fiction would usually endure very bad repercussions for their actions... sometimes these repercussions would far outweigh the actions they committed. After all, in Victorian times, Most Writers Are Adults was in force to an even greater degree than it is today.
This doesn't necessarily mean the kids will get away with being naughty in Naughty Is Good stories. They're just as likely to find they Can't Get Away with Nuthin', but the story will still be on their side, rather than just saying "And it served them right!"
- The Beano features Dennis The Menace, Minnie The Minx and The Bash Street Kids.
- Also Roger the Dodger, though he's more of a schemer.
- Villainous "good kids" include Dennis's neighbour Walter and Bash Street school swot Cuthbert Cringeworthy.
- The Dandy has/had this with most of its characters like Beryl the Peril, Cuddles and Dimples, etc., but Bully Beef and Chips subverted it somewhat.
- Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little hellion a lot of the time, but the strip just wouldn't have been nearly as good if he were well-behaved.
- Proven when Calvin makes a good duplicate of himself. The Good Calvin is interesting only in contrast to the Jerkass Calvin.
- Not exactly the same, but ill-mannered Goofus, of Highlights' "Goofus & Gallant" fame, tends to be the favorite of many more readers than the prissy Gallant.
- In the kids' book Conrad (I think that's the title), an old woman gets a giant can that turns out to contain a mostly-dehydrated boy, straight from a factory that creates boys for families who want perfect children. After she gets to know the kid, the factory guys realize they sent him to the wrong house, and come to try to get him back. The old lady and her allies manage to get rid of them by training Conrad to be naughty. Specifically, they teach him to write on walls, slide down banisters, call adults names, and all the myriad things he was specifically designed not to do (they even have to punish him for doing the right thing, for a while). It's a very amusing read and a... very... strange Aesop.
- Gene Kemp's "Cricklewood School" series, starting with The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, all feature kids who are basically decent, but end up causing trouble, usually due to the inflexibility of a Sadist Teacher. The exception is Gowie Corby Plays Chicken, where the title character is an outright bully who has a Heel Face Turn over the course of the book.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid is this trope. The protagonist, Greg, isn't what you'd call a good kid, and most of the time he's not even aware of how morally wrong his behaviour is.
- Just William is the terror of his family and his teachers, and pretty much the embodiment of every "undesirable" trait an eleven-year-old boy can have, but he's also a beloved children's book protagonist. His friends, the Outlaws, are pretty much the same type of characters, though the series do also include some "naughty" children who are portrayed in a far less favorable light and serve as occasional antagonists. "Good" children tend to swing between being well-meaning but annoying nuisances and malicious antagonists.
- The Tracy Beaker series by Jacqueline Wilson.
- The Horrid Henry series.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: The perfectly well-behaved Delightful Children From Down the Lane are villains; the heroes are rebellious, mischievous, and disobedient, but fight for the rights of kids everywhere.
- Interestingly, all the Kids Next Door appear to be pretty good sons/daughters if not 'good' kids. They all stop in their tracks when their parents tell them too. Possibly because there appears to be 'good' adults and 'bad' adults.
- Isn't that Truth in Television?
- Ben 10 tends to play with this trope a lot; while the protagonist, Ben Tennyson, is an immature kid who is not above to use his powers for childish reason, and as such seems to play it straight, his attitude is often shown to attract him trouble and get in the way of his heroic actions. It's usually only when he gets serious he proves to be a true hero, and his maturity in the sequel Ben 10 Alien Force is portrayed as a good change (though he later turned back to immature due to Flanderization). Moreover, his arc enemy and rival Kevin, who is even more mischevious than him, is portrayed as an Ax Crazy Complete Monster in the original show and a Anti-Hero in the sequels.
- Ben's cousin, Gwen, is a more ambivalous case; she sure is much more reasonnable than Ben, but her exact portrayal is unclear; in the original show, she was a Deadpan Snarker and could occasionnally appear as bitchy to Ben, but she was definitely not evil nor boring. In the sequels, she is portrayed as less snarky.