Loyalty, Love of Country, Honesty and Justice

In February, we stress the civic virtues of loyalty, love of country, and honesty – particularly as they serve the larger virtue of justice. Teachers are encouraged to make good use of the February civic holidays (President’s Day – formerly Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays) to encourage student attachment to, and sense of responsibility toward, our civic communities – local and national, and sometimes international. That attachment is a positive good.




Years 1 and 2 of the cycle focus on “loyalty” and “love of country.”  Ironically, from the 1970s through the 1990s, those two virtues all but disappeared from the lexicon of desirable traits in many schools.  In a nation that exalted the individual over the group, they became at best “sleeper virtues” and at worst, synonyms for a “my-country-right-or-wrong” jingoism that could lead to other forms of bigotry.  Much of that changed after September 11, 2001.  Educators, parents, and those in public life became noticeably less reticent to speak of their loyalty and love of country. 


When parents and schools cultivate loyalty and love of country, they increase the likelihood of raising young citizens who will be agents of betterment and constructive change.  Reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King Jr. have proven repeatedly that constructive change and progress do not come from those who maintain cynical detachment but from those who are passionate in their commitment. 


We should educate our children and ourselves on the differences between loyalty and jingoism.  We should distinguish between of love of community and hatred of others.  We should celebrate and learn from those who exemplified such positive traits.  From Abraham Lincoln to Dorothea Dix to Eleanor Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, our greatest reformers have been our strongest patriots.


Year 3 of the Core Virtues program focuses on honesty (as indispensable foundation to the flourishing of just communities) and on the larger virtue of justice. February invites us to think about the civic virtues of loyalty, love of country, and honesty as ultimately good if they are in the service of justice. Justice, in other words, is the greater good and is the end not to be compromised. When patriotism becomes jingoism and serves up oppression (as for example, in Nazi Germany), then loyalty has been perverted and love of country turned to a bad end. When government works for evil, loyalty does not demand submission. Justice always takes precedence.


Our literary selections this month emphasize loyalty to friends, family, country, community, and faith. They highlight the virtues of justice in figures legendary and contemporary.  Whether reading about the biblical Esther, Robin Hood, William Tell, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandes Gandhi or Marian Anderson, we hope to awaken the civic virtues that support justice.

February Recommendations

The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)



Dogger.  Shirley Hughes.
Red Fox, 2008. (Loyalty, K-2)

A little boy loses his favorite stuffed animal at a fair, and his older sister sacrifices her own recently won Teddy bear in order to get it back for him. Touching themes of family loyalty, selfless love, and sisterly devotion.


now one footNow One Foot, Now the Other.  Tomie dePaola.
Puffin, 2006. (Loyalty, K-2)

Grandfather Bob teaches his little grandson Bobby to walk. Years later Bobby’s grandfather has a stroke, and it is the child who teaches his grandpa how to walk again. This is a moving story about family ties, devotion in the face of adversity, and the bonds that move us to each other’s aid.   


francis key

Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner.   Lynea Bowdish.  
Illustrated by Harry Burman. Mondo, 2002  (Love of Country, K-3) 

This lovely picture book brings loyalty, courage, and love of country to life.  During the War of 1812 Francis Scott Key boarded a British ship, seeking the release of an American physician held there  He and his friend watched the British bombardment of Baltimore that night, and feared that Fort McHenry would not hold. At dawn, they were richly rewarded by the sight of the American flag still flying. Francis Scott Key expressed his gratitude penning the words to the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner An excellent recounting for young children. See recommendation below for older children.


leahs ponyLeah’s PonyElizabeth Friedrich. 
Illustrated by Michael Garland. Boyd Mills Press, 1999. 
(Loyalty, K-3)

Living in the Dust Bowl during the Depression, Leah’s family loses all.  But Leah is prepared to sacrifice to save her family’s farm, by selling her pony. Strong, swift, and sturdy, the pony was a gift from her father in good times.  A tear-jerker with wonderfully realistic oil paintings.




America the Beautiful. Bates, Katherine Lee.
Illustrated by Chris Gall. Little, Brown and Co., 2004
(Love of Country, K-4)


New Englander Katherine Lee Bates wrote her poem, “America the Beautiful,” in 1893 when she traveled to Pike’s Peak in Colorado.  In this striking picture book, her great-grand nephew Chris Gall illustrates Bates’s poem with images that are vivid, nostalgic, and historically evocative. Gall’s bold style (reminiscent of 1930s WPA art) has huge range:  New England light houses, farmers in the field, Sacajawea on the Lewis and Clark pirogue, immigrants arriving Ellis Island, firefighters raising the American flag at Ground zero, Tuskegee airmen in WW2, the Apollo 11 launch.  Each of the paintings is an arresting combination of history and heroism. The volume inspires both appreciation for the natural wonders of the United States and the resourcefulness of its people.  Thumb-nail sketches of the art at the end of the book give contextual information about each painting.  They make it a rich resource for the third and fourth graders as well as K-2.


wm tellWilliam Tell. Margaret Early.
Abrams, 1991 (Love of Country, K-4)

This retelling of the beloved Swiss tale will be a classroom favorite. William Tell is so devoted to his country and its freedom, that he risks life and limb to rescue it from Austrian tyranny.  Margaret Early artfully renders the classic incident of Tell shooting an apple from his son’s head.  She follows the Swiss folk hero through his success in outwitting and vanquishing the tyrant Gessler.  Intricate, jewel-toned illustrations and borders evoke the fourteenth century setting.  The book highlights themes of loyalty to country and its ideals, particularly the ideal of freedom.


lewis clarkLewis and Clark and Me:  A Dog’s TaleLaurie Myers. 
Illustrated by Michael Dooling.  Holt, 2002. (Loyalty, 3-6)

In this imaginative tour-de-force, the journey of Lewis and Clark is brought to life through the eyes of Lewis’s devoted canine companion, Seaman. The enormous black Newfoundland (called “Bear-Dog” by the Indians) is game-hunter, retriever, guardian, and loyal friend to the intrepid crew of the Corps of Discovery in 1803. Whether chasing buffalo on the plains or hunting beaver and squirrels, his charmingly told story is one of faithfulness to Lewis, providing a refreshingly novel perspective on the greatest journey of discovery in the nineteenth century. Realistic and clean illustrations are a perfect complement to the engaging text.


EstherEsther’s Story.  Diane Wolkstein.
Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.  Harper Trophy, 1998. (Loyalty, 3-5)

A moving retelling of the Old Testament story, in which one woman’s faithfulness and courage save her people. When the King’s advisor, Haman, hatches a plot against the Jews, Esther, the Jewish girl turned Persian Queen, intercedes for her people. She risks ignominy and death to foil the scheme. Glorious illustrations bring new life to the ancient story.


dawns earlyBy the Dawn’s Early Light.  Steven Kroll. 
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen.  Scholastic, 2000
(Love of Country, 4-6)

Marvelous oil paintings complement vivid text in this lively description of how Francis Scott Key came to write the national anthem. He risked his own life by boarding a British ship to seek the release of a fellow American captive (a physician who had been treating British soldiers), and lived to see a surprise American victory, which he wrote about in his poem,The Star Spangled Banner.



lincolnLincoln. A Photobiography.  Russell Freedman.
Clarion Books, 1989.  (Love of Country and Justice, 4-6)

If any one man in history fully embodies civic virtue (love of country, justice, honesty, public service), that man is Abraham Lincoln. Russell Freedman has written and illustrated the most readable, lively, and insightful portrait of Lincoln available for young people. From his frontier youth to his Civil War presidency, Lincoln’s challenges and his country’s were one and the same:  settling the frontier, preserving the Union, ensuring freedom for all the nation’s inhabitants, fighting and winning a war without permanently sundering a people. Freedman triumphs once again with his imaginative use of photos. (for example: four photos of Lincoln in the Presidency aligned by year. These clearly show the lines of worry and care etched deeper in his face as the war dragged on from 1861 to 1865.) More than 15 years in print, this classic is still going strong.


voiceThe Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Russell Freedman. 
Houghton Mifflin, 2004. (Justice and Love of Country, 5-8

Another of Russell Freedman’s moving photo-biographies, The Voice that Challenged a Nation combines deft prose and striking photographs. Freedman tells the life story of Marian Anderson, the African-American singer whose rich contralto voice warmed European concert halls and graced White House gatherings. But in 1939 Anderson was not allowed to perform at Constitution Hall because she was black. An indignant Eleanor Roosevelt arranged the Washington Mall Performance at the Lincoln Memorial instead, and there 75,000 people thrilled to her voice. This is the story of Anderson’s life, and not of a single incident. Freedman portrays Anderson not as a social crusader, but as a woman of immense musical talent making her professional way in a land still segregated by race and riddled with racial injustice. By steadfastly pursuing her talents and dreams, Anderson lit a lamp of hope and became a symbol of “justice for all.” 


arnoldTraitor:  The Case of  Benedict Arnold. Jean Fritz.
(Unforgettable Americans)  Putnam, 1997.  (Loyalty, 5-6)

The virtue of loyalty (faithfulness to duty and ideals) is sometimes best illustrated by its opposite: treason. In this fast-paced historical biography for middle school students, Jean Fritz tells the story of America’s infamous Revolutionary General-turned-traitor. Benedict Arnold’s loyalty was first, always, and exclusively to himself.  Fritz helps us see Arnold grow, but not change. He is the daredevil Connecticut boy whose quest to be noticed still defined (and marred) him as an adult. His madcap bravery in battle helped win the day in the key American victory at Saratoga. In another battle, it cost him a leg, but as long as his reckless deeds won accolades, Arnold acted with no regard to personal safety.  When overlooked for promotion and charged with improper use of public funds, Arnold deemed Congress and the American people ungrateful. In command of the garrison at West Point, General Arnold sold detailed plans of the fort to the British. He expected his nation’s foes to take the fort, end the divisive war, and establish Benedict Arnold as a far-sighted and clear-eyed hero. Instead “Benedict Arnold” would become a synonym for “traitor.” The story invites a rich discussion of what loyalty entails:  of the difference between true heroism and simple fame, between actual honor and vainglory, and finally between principle and self-serving rationalization. (How did Arnold justify his actions to himself?)  A not-to-be-missed story.

For an extensive bibliography of quality children's literature exemplifying these virtues, see the Core Virtues resource guide.

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