William J. Bennett,
Children's Book of Virtues
(Simon & Schuster, 1995)

Looking over my tattered copy of this book, I feel a rush of memories. For almost 10 years I've been reading this collection of short stories and poems, from the time my son was a baby, and still as he approaches his teenage years.

How rare and lucky it is to find one book that will carry through so many years and all the changes a child experiences within them. It's gone through Vinnie, my daughter Molly (now 6) and any number of neighbors, friends and school parties. It has never let us down.

There is a story here for nearly any situation, and one fit to teach most life lessons. Each is culled from various cultures around the world, although they are primarily European in origin.

Our absolute favorite is "Please," a tale of a rude little boy, and the Please (a small creature that looks like an elf) who lived in his mouth. The Please never gets to come out for air, as his owner Dick is so remiss in manners. Finally he escapes, causing havoc in the household when Dick decides to try to be more polite but finds himself lacking the word. Though only five pages long, it has a powerful message, and we often refer to it when manners slip around our house.

I like to read to Molly "There was a Little Girl," the familiar poem about a child who does not always follow rules. Let's just say Molly is another little girl with a little curl. ... It doesn't take her long to catch my meaning!

There are stories of adventure and courage as well, such as "St. George and the Dragon," which begins with this reminder, "Such people who go out of their way to help are sometimes called knights, saints, sometimes they are called ministers, teachers and parents."

Each story is presented as an example of right and wrong, with role models to emulate, and little morals head each one for easy reference. As well as being instructional, the tales are entertaining, and children don't feel as though they are being preached to or lectured.

Although Bennett gets a lot of flak (and much of it deservedly, in my opinion) for having a "holier than thou" attitude and a Christian agenda, I don't see that problem in this book. Many, though not all, of these stories have their basis in Christianity, and a household in which children are introduced to many cultures and belief systems seems healthiest to me. Although we ourselves are not Christian, I find little with which to argue in the morals presented here.

In addition to the wonderful storytelling, the artwork of Michael Hague lends a soft and appealing atmosphere to each tale, inspiring the imagination of young readers.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 20 March 2004

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