In March our program turns outward once more in a dedicated way—focusing on the virtues which build community. Aristotle exalts the magnanimous and just man. Aquinas speaks of the person transformed by love.
Moderns laud caring, empathy, and sympathy. All of these move in the difficult direction of otherness— getting beyond self and sensing the needs of others. In the month of March we focus those commitments to community around the virtues of compassion, faithfulness, and mercy. Each virtue has its own specific characteristic. Compassion is sensing the distress and need of our neighbor and acting on his behalf. Faithfulness is solidarity with our community. Mercy acts not only to end the distress of those in need, but also to those who have wronged us and, in strict justice, “deserve” much less. Community service is the natural extension of faithfulness compassion, and mercy.
The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)
The Paper Crane. Molly Bang.
Greenwillow, 1987. K-2.
This is the touching tale of a Japanese restaurant owner, who treats a penniless passerby like a king, and is rewarded for his efforts by the dance of a paper crane, whom the stranger brings to life. The crane insures prosperity for the restaurant owner. Molly Bang’s vivid artwork (cut-paper and origami style) bring the mesmerizing tale of compassion and mercy to life. Number of years in print testify to its classic status.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. John Steptoe.
Puffin, 2008. (Compassion, mercy, K-3)
This magical and gorgeously illustrated tale has been in print for more than two decades, and has assumed classic status. It is, in some ways, an African variant of the Cinderella story, but it is more. Mufaro has two beautiful daughters, and the prince chooses his wife by observing how each treats others – especially the least among us. His elder daughter Manyara is a beautiful but heartless woman who covets the throne, and doesn’t realize she’s being watched for those qualities. Her sister Nyasha is compassionate and kind to all she meets, giving of herself to many in need. She doesn’t know she is being tested either, but her care for others leads her to the throne.
The Story of Jumping Mouse. John Steptoe.
Harper Trophy, 1989. K-3
This is a break-your-heart beautiful tale of a mouse on a journey. On his own odyssey, he comes to sense the needs of others so deeply that he gives up most of what he owns to help them, and is in the end richly rewarded. Steptoe’s rendering of this native American tale, with its themes of hope, compassion, sacrifice, and perseverance, will touch the hearts of young children everywhere. Still in print, Steptoe life-like pencil drawings are reminiscent of Durer’s and move the simple story to a poignant close.
The Selfish Giant. Oscar Wilde. Music by Dan Goeller.
Illustrated by Chris Beatrice. Noteworthy Books, 2011. (K-6)
This lavishly illustrated picture book includes an audio CD with the tale of the Selfish Giant put to music (in Peter and the Wolf fashion). It is a marvelous rendering of Oscar Wilde’s classic fairy tale of the selfish giant, who attempts to keep his large garden for his own use, walling out neighborhood children. The giant grows in happiness only as he learns to open his heart to the children’s needs. Composer Dan Goeller has set the story to music for symphony orchestra and it is a complete triumph. For additional lesson plans, visit Goeller’s website:
The Three Questions. Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy.
John Muth. Scholastic Press, 2002. (1-4)
Young Nikolai seeks wisdom and has three pressing questions: when is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? He eagerly queries animal friends who give him conflicting answers. Nikolai sets off to find the true answers from the wise turtle Leo who lives in the mountains. Along the way, he helps dig a garden and rescues an injured panda and her baby in a storm. Leo helps him understand that "There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.” Adapted from Tolstoy’s story of a tsar with the same questions, the beautifully rendered text, muted watercolor washes and misty landscapes make the story appropriate for third and fourth graders as well as younger students.
Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. Jay Williams.
Illustrated by Mercer Mayer. Alladin, 1984. (2-4)
In this classic and stunningly illustrated tale set in ancient China, a young boy’s kindness to and compassion for an elderly beggar saves his village. The besieged villagers seek the assistance of a powerful dragon-god, and pay no attention to the needy old man seeking their aid and mercy. When the boy shows his concern, it becomes clear that the beggar is indeed the dragon they seek. Still in print after all these years!
Mother Teresa. Demi.
Margaret K. McElderry, 2010 (2-5)
A startlingly beautiful picture-book biography of the woman whose life came to be synonymous with compassion and service of the poor. Demi, who has written about and illustrated the lives of many religious figures, uses gold ink, simple lines, vivid colors, and intricate borders to tell the life story of the little nun who founded an order of sisters to helping India’s sick and dying. Demi situates Mother Teresa’s work with the poorest of the poor in the context of her deep faith. This is a wonderful introduction to one of the great human beings of modern times.
The Happy Prince and Other Fairy Tales. Oscar Wilde.
Illustrated by Harriet Golden. Dover, 2001. (4-6)
All nine of Oscar Wilde’s compelling fairy tales are retold in this wonderful collection and exemplify March themes of compassion, faithfulness and mercy. “The Selfish Giant,” is the tale of an embittered old man who eventually opens his heart to the children who play each day in his garden. “The Happy Prince” tells the story of a prince who, hardened to the needs of his people in life, sees their distress after death, and works to end it with the help of a tireless bird. “The Young King” develops similar themes of a prince who will not allow his regal robes and scepter to be the cause of misery for his people. These are fairy tales for older children, and Wilde’s elegant, simple, and often witty prose engages and rewards.
“Maximilien Kolbe” in Character is Destiny. Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember.
John McCain and Mark Salter.
Random House, 2005, pp.146-152. (5-6)
In World War II, Polish priest, Maximilien Kolbe, wrote fearlessly about the confrontation between “good and evil, sin and love” and his work was seen as a threat to the Nazi regime. Kolbe was rounded up by the Gestapo and interned at Auschwitz. McCain and Salter recount the gripping tale of suffering in the camp, Kolbe’s work there, and the priest’s sacrifice of his own life to save a fellow prisoner from execution. Because of the graphic descriptions of suffering, the story is not recommended for younger children, but it is a compelling true story of compassion and love in action