The primary theme of The Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich may be considered childhood fun and mischief. In other words, boys will get into all sorts of mischief and will learn their lessons through it.
This novel appeared on the scene of children's literature in 1870, and it challenged the conventions of the times. Many children's stories of the day focused on good children who obeyed their parents, never got into trouble, and grew steadily in virtue. Their naughty counterparts, on the other hand, suffered for their disobedience and mischief and were usually converted to goodness in the end (or died).
Tom Bailey in The Story of a Bad Boy isn't the worst boy in the world by any means, but he finds plenty of mischief when he goes to live with his grandfather in New England. Tom and his friends put on the play William Tell, for instance, but they quickly learn that shooting arrows at each other is not a good idea and that people can (and do) get hurt. They also set off explosives, push an old stagecoach into a bonfire on the Fourth of July, play plenty of practical jokes (to the amusement of the townsfolk, unless, of course, they are the victims), have snowball fights, and even shoot the town's rusty cannon. None of these activities causes any lasting damage (thankfully), yet Tom and his friends often learn that sometimes they go too far with their risks and their escapades.
In the end, though, Tom grows up and goes to work in New York. He learns responsibility and is successful, yet he always looks back on those crazy boyhood days with fondness. He had fun, and he sometimes learned his lessons the hard way, but it was all worth it.