The manner in which we interact with others (a natural extension of our community-building in March) is highlighted in the month of April. We focus on the virtues of forgiveness, gentleness, graciousness, and humility. These are important virtues, but hard ones to teach in a society as “pro active” and entitlement-oriented as ours.
We can find dozens of great stories for children exemplifying such virtues as courage, diligence, perseverance, and compassion— all of which involve an empowered self-taking charge for a good end. There are also many good stories that exemplify the just quest for human rights. It is, however, much more difficult to find stories that speak to the importance of saying “forgive me,” “after you,” “I was wrong,” or “I may very well be wrong.” These are self-effacing virtues. They are often lost in a culture as self-aggrandizing as our own. But to speak with our children in this way and to model these virtues for them is not to mold “wimps,” but to cultivate people of deep inner strength. We use April— the month when Christians commemorate the passion of Jesus, Jews recall the flight from Egypt, and secularists celebrate the gentle birth of Spring—to speak of quiet characteristics that make for better people and a better world.
The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)
Sorry. Jean Van Leeuwen. Illustrated by Brad Sneed.
Penguin, 2001. (Forgiveness, K-2)
Two brothers revel in each other’s companionship and live harmoniously until the day they fight over – of all things – oatmeal. Neither proffers an apology and the family split becomes a feud, and then permanent. Generations later their great-grand children are about to renew the spat over equally trivial things when one great-grandson unexpectedly says: “Sorry” and reconciliation has a chance. This is a satire, and one that tickles the funny bone, but you still feel a twinge of regret for the two brothers who feuded over oatmeal and couldn’t bring themselves to forgive!
Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners.
Karen Santorum. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2003.
(Graciousness, Courtesy, K-3)
This hefty anthology is worth its weight in gold. Mrs. Santorum has collected a treasury of tales from such notable children's writers as Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, and Arnold Lobel - all of whom tell stories that reinforce such lessons as "No Hurtful Words," "Please and Thank You." or "Honor Your Mother and Father." This is a wonderful early childhood collection. One tale could be read at bedtime in addition to morning circle! Using wonderful literature, each reinforces the way we show respect for others through good manners.
What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for All Occasions.
What Do You Do, Dear? Proper Conduct for All Occasions.
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Harper Trophy, 1986.
(Courtesy, Graciousness, K-2)
Two hilariously funny early childhood introductions to basic courtesy or good manners. After two decades, Joslin’s far-fetched examples and Sendak’s whimsical drawings are still in print and going strong. From What Do You Say, Dear? - “You have gone downtown to do some shopping. You are walking backwards because sometimes you like to, and you bump into a crocodile. What do you say, dear?” The correct answer: “Excuse me.”
The Story of Ruby Bridges. Robert Coles.
Illustrated by George Ford. Scholastic, 2010. (Forgiveness, K-4)
This is the powerful true story of the African-American girl, who in 1960 was the first to integrate one of New Orleans all-white schools. At age six, Ruby Bridges faced angry crowds, heckling, and booing, but went about her school work with dignity and prayed for her tormentors. A story of tremendous moral courage as well as forgiveness.
The Invisible Seam. Andrew Frew.
Illustrated by Jan Matsuoka.
Moon Mountain Publishing, 2003. (Forgiveness, 2-4)
Set in early 20th century Japan, this is the true story of Michi, a humble, hard-working young seamstress who joins a household as an apprentice. Michi’s stitching outshines her fellow apprentices and she is asked to stitch the more important kimonos and obis. As the reputation of the house grows, so does the jealous of Michi’s companions. Fellow apprentices take their revenge on Michi and nearly ruin the reputation of their household. Michi, ever mindful of the gifts of her housemates rises to the challenge of forgiveness. The tale exemplifies and exalts the virtues of humility and forgiveness.
The Rajah’s Rice. David Barry.
Illustrated by Donna Perrone.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt School, 2006. (Humility, 2-4)
In this charming folk tale from ancient India, a humble elephant bather gives a proud king some important lessons about wealth and humility. Vibrant watercolor illustrations bring the story to life.
This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Joyce Sidman.
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Grades 4 and up.
For a charming exercise in apology and forgiveness, read your students some of the poems in Joyce Sidman’s text. These poems, written by her sixth graders, describe real situations for which they seek to apologize or ask forgiveness, and those they transgressed against, often write back. This is often funny, charming, and teachable. A great spring board for a classroom exercise.
“Aung San Suu Kyi” in Character is Destiny
John McCain with Mark Salter.
Random House, 2005, pp. 224-231.
(Graciousness and Courtesy. 5-6)
This portrait of contemporary heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi (of Myanmar), helps students see courtesy not simply as form of respect for others, but also a way of “reaching out to beauty to banish ugliness” from what can be a very ugly communal life. Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been ruled by a brutal military dictatorship for forty years. Aung San Suu Kyi is the gracious, articulate woman, who mobilized the movement for democratic reform in 1990. She has been a political prisoner living under house arrest for most of the past decade. The diminutive sixty year old writer interacts with her captors (and anyone she meets) with unfailing courtesy, but her eyes are resolutely on the prize: a democratic future for Burma. Suu Kyi’s story reminds us that graciousness and courtesy are not signs of weakness, but often strength: refusing to allow an ugly reality to define the inner person. Middle School Teachers could deepen student understanding of this remarkable woman by reading some of her articles written for a Japanese newspaper while under house arrest. See Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma (Penguin, 1997).
Desmond Tutu. No Future Without Forgiveness. Desmond Tutu.
(Image, 2000) High School and Adult
South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu chaired the South African commission that investigated human rights abuses under the apartheid regime. He tells the story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 1995. It heard the testimony of over 20,000 people, who recounted appalling abuses under the apartheid regime. The Commission was unique in its emphasis on healing the wounds of the past through truth-telling followed by amnesty and forgiveness rather than punishment or retributive justice. Seeking a “third way,” Tutu and the TRC led a path-breaking political initiative grounded in Christian faith. Desmond Tutu knows all too well the depths of human depravity, but his narrative is buoyed by hope, occasional humor, faith, and love.