Hope, Wonder and Joy


To arrive in May—at long last May!—is to rejoice. Traditionally, “the lusty month of May” has been a time for festivity: May poles, May flowers, May devotions to the Virgin, all bespeak a tradition of hope renewed. It is to live in wonder at the world around us. Core Virtues celebrates that. Accordingly, we highlight the virtues of hope, joy, and wonder. It is our belief that parents and educators—who are responsible for forming the next generation of citizens—have a special responsibility to nurture the hope of our children. A great deal in our culture and media has the potential to turn children to cynicism, contempt, and despair. The “get-real!” and “so what?” undertone of much pop culture is a very real threat to the innocence and promise of our children.


This tendency must be actively combated with its opposite— hope for the future, wonder at the unknown, and joy in the great gift of life. We ought to cultivate and nurture in our children the virtue that gives spring to their step and joy to their hearts: the gift of hope. To raise people who live in hope is not to create Candides. It is to form individuals who will engage. People who hope, like people who love, are catalysts for constructive change and a brighter future. Children intuit hope. Even in the toughest situations, they wake up with it most mornings. One of our most important jobs is to make sure they move through life with their hope for a brighter future in tact.

May Recommendations

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

antelopeAntelope, Bison, Cougar.  A National Park Wildlife Alphabet Book. Steven P. Medley. Illustrated by Daniel San Souci.
Yosemite Association, 2001 (Wonder, K-3)

Daniel San Souci’s vivid watercolors capture the majesty of America’s national parks and the grace of the wild ones who call them home. Steven Medley’s richly informative text serves up intriguing detail on critters known and unknown. Did you know that the 2000 pound bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND) is a very good swimmer, who keeps his head, hump and tail above water as he paddles?  Have you ever met the javelina in Chiricahua National Monument (AZ)?  The text provides basic and not-so-basic information on animals and their national park habitats. The book will captivate third graders as well as Kindergartners, inspire wonder, curiosity, and an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the land children call home.


seashoreThe Seashore Book. Charlotte Zolotow. 
Illustrated by Wendell Minor. Trophy Books, 1992. (Wonder K-2)  

A mother explains to her son what its like at the sea’s edge, where the sky meets the sea, and the “swishswashing sound” of the waves lulls you to sleep on golden sand, and “two little gray sandpipers run past you … and when you wake up, you …see their claw prints like pencil lines in the sand.  You rub your eyes and it seems there is nothing in the world except the sound of the wind and the rising and falling of the waves.”  As children look longingly toward summer, this beautifully illustrated work will inspires hope and wonder.


lotusSilent Lotus. Jeanne M. Lee.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.  (Hope, Joy K-3) 

Lotus is a gentle Cambodian child, born deaf and mute, but has a knack for imitating the graceful steps of the heron and egrets that live near her home.  She is shunned by other children, growing up both lonely and longing for more. Her parents take her to the temple of the gods, hoping for a sign, and Lotus is mesmerized by the temple dancers. The king notices her grace and offers her the chance to learn the court dances, and in time she becomes the leading dancer of the Khmer kingdom. This is a stirring and superbly illustrated story of a child who, though different, realizes her talents, and through them hope and joy.


travelingTraveling Man.  The Journey of Ibn Batutta, 1325-1354. 
James Rumford.  Houghton Mifflin, 2001.  (Wonder, Hope 3-6)

Less well known than Marco Polo, the fourteenth century Moroccan-born traveler Ibn Batutta, undertook equally exciting and perilous journeys. He spent nearly three decades traveling the world, leaving a rich account, which is brought to life in this eloquent and elegant picture book. The book inspires not just wonder for the vast world and its unknown marvels, but for the whole experience of travel. While the text is simple, the material is rich and the thoughts run deep. (“Traveling – it gives you a home in a thousand strange places, then leaves you a stranger in your own land.”) This book is a wonderful complement to any study of the late Middle Ages.  Profitably read by fourth and fifth graders who may know more of the geography.  A fine map at the end shows his journeys through Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor, Russia, India, and China.


sevenSeven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lynn Curlee. 
Atheneum, 2002.  (Wonder, Curiosity

To leave something that will last forever…  Art historian Lynn Curlee brings his formidable talents to the world of antiquity and looks at the seven wonders of the ancient world renown for their “size, beauty, grandeur and perfection.” The pyramid at Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus at Rhodes, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and others are explored with an eye toward all that makes us marvel. This work, illustrated by Curlee’s fabulous paintings, excites intellectual curiosity and wonder.


charlotteCharlotte’s Web.  E.B. White. Illustrated by Garth Williams and Rosemary Wells. Harper Collins, 1952 and 2001. (3-6)

Beloved by generations, Charlotte’s Web is the story of a runt-of-the-litter pig named Wilbur, adopted by a farm girl named Fern, and befriended by a spider named Charlotte. In this magical barn kingdom, Wilbur can talk to both Fern and all the farm animals. When Fern learns that her adorable pet pig is to be fattened for someone’s dinner, she is devastated, but Wilbur even more so.  Charlotte, the wise, enterprising and resourceful spider, weaves a pattern in her web that ensures his survival. The pure joy, delight, and wonder of this book, with its extraordinary characters and very right ending have made it a classic for generations.




Bound for Oregon.  Jean Van Leeuwen.
Puffin, 1996. 3-6

This slender historical novel shows the power of hope and determination in one of the most trying adventures of the mid-nineteenth century – the 2000 mile trek across the Oregon Trail. A pioneer’s story told from the vantage point of a nine-year old girl, Mary Ellen Todd. Well researched and hugely reaffirming of the human spirit.


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

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