In classrooms across the country, September is a month of community building, a time to establish new bonds, and to develop class spirit and a climate conducive to group effort. To that end, the themes of respect and responsibility are critical. We find that regardless of the age of the class, regardless of the number of years in the moral development program, and regardless of how basic we as adults may consider these concepts, they cannot be repeated too often in the grade school years. Yet in the long run, respect and responsibility are necessary to every social realm we occupy—family, friends, classroom, work, and civic life.
Although we start each school year with these twin attributes, “respect” and “responsibility” are not static concepts. Our students’ understanding of both should expand from year to year. Therefore, each grade level focuses on respect in a different, more specific, and more complex way. Students in the Kindergarten may be focusing on respect for family and friends, in the 1st grade— respect regardless of faith, national origin, appearance, or handicap; in the 2nd grade— respect for our world, its creatures, our environment, and ultimately respect for self. We also include under the rubric of respect, such basics as courtesy: good manners are part of the way we show respect for others.
The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)
The Other Dog. Madeleine L' Engle, Illustrated by Christie Davenier.
Touché, the haughty family poodle, has a very hard time accepting the arrival of a new and pathetic family pet. "The Other Dog" has no fur, no tail, must be walked in a pram, and in general, demands a lot of their mistress’s attention. Young children being asked to welcome a newborn sibling will relate to Touché’s touching dismay. In this darling K-1 book, Touché comes to respect and accept "the other dog," concluding finally that “in every home there should be at least two dogs.”
Seastar Books, 2001. (Respect, K-1)
Sister Anne's Hands. Marybeth Lorbiecki
Illustrated by K. Wendy Popp. Dial Books, 1998. (Respect, K-2)
“Welcome to the 2nd grade. I’m Sister Anne.” Set in the 1960s, this is a rich story of the only African-American nun in a small southern town. Sister Anne’s lessons to the 2nd graders entrusted to her care include the timeless classics of love, humor, and math, but mostly of human dignity, and the respect owed to each human being regardless of color. This is a moving book, with illustrations that combine realism with an ethereal, almost supernatural quality.
Paperboy by Mary Kay Kroeger and Louise Borden.
Illustrated by Ted Lewin Sandpiper, 2001. (Responsibility, 1-3)
Lewin’s lush watercolors bring Kroeger and Borden’s touching story to life. In 1927, confident young Willie Brinkman signs up to hawk the “Fight Extras” (special edition newspapers) that will report results of the boxing match between his hero Jack Dempsey and rival Gene Tunney. Willie fully expects Dempsey to win, is heartbroken by his loss, and faces the agonizing prospect of showing up for work to hawk the victory of Dempsey’s challenger. This is a story of personal responsibility, faithfulness to duty, and just plain doing the right thing as he conquers his own desire to simply stay home, and reaps an unexpected reward.
Peppe the Lamplighter. Elisa Bartone
Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Harper Colllins, 1997. (Respect, 2-4)
An Italian immigrant child in Manhattan wants to help his sick father support their family at the turn of the century. In the days before electric lighting, Peppe eagerly accepts a job as a street lamplighter. “He works with care. With each lamp lit, he sees himself lighting a small flame of promise for the future.” But the boy’s father is ashamed that his son is engaged in such “menial” labor. A dark night and a lost sister, help both father and son understand that all work is deserving of respect. Starkly and dramatically illustrated.
Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. Jay Williams
Illustrated by Mercer Mayer. Macmillan, 1984. (Respect, 2-4)
A young boy’s compassion and respect for a ragged and impoverished old man saves his village. In this stunningly illustrated tale set in China, Mercer Mayer helps children see that all are entitled to respect regardless of age or appearance. And helping the weakest among us may, in the end, help us all.
When Marian Sang. Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press, 2002.
This is a splendid picture book biography of Marian Anderson, the early twentieth century African-American singer whose “range of notes caused all the commotion. With one breath she sounded like rain, sprinkling high notes in the morning sun. And with the next she was thunder resounding deep in a dark sky.” This is the story of her gifts and her quest to sing professionally in the face of prejudice in 1920s America. She went overseas, where she became a sensation. Returning to the United States in 1939, Marian was not allowed to sing at (ironically) Constitution Hall, which had a “white performers only” policy. Eleanor Roosevelt intervened, and Marian Anderson sang “My Country ‘tis of Thee” to 75,000 people at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial instead. The lyrics of Marian’s songs (reprinted throughout) underscore her faith and courage in the face of indignity and prejudice.
When the Circus Came to Town. Laurence Yep
Illustrated by Suling Wang. Harper Collins, 2001. (Respect, 3-5)
This slender novel is set in early twentieth century Montana, where young Ursula helps with the family stagecoach business, plays at pirate games, and revels in the life around her. When she contracts smallpox, though, she retreats within. Her face deeply pitted and scarred, Ursula considers herself a monster, and cannot be coaxed from her self-hatred and gloom, till the Chinese cook, Ah-Sam invites his cousins to entertain her. They stage a circus and she (who has been dismissive toward the family’s Chinese help) learns that it’s not a how a person looks that matters, but what’s inside them. That would be a good ending, except Ah-Sam’s cousins are stranded in a blizzard that holds them in Montana. Now Ursula is thinking beyond herself. How can she help them celebrate Chinese New Year? This is an often humorous, heart-warming novel, well researched. The artwork is a wonderful complement.
The Hangashore. Geoff Butler
Tundra Books, 1998. (Respect, 5-6)
In this tale set in Newfoundland, a proud British magistrate (impressed with the dignity of his office and insistent on the respect owed to him) butts heads with a teenage boy. John, the sixteen year old minister’s son with Down’s Syndrome, doesn’t treat the official with the sort of deference he believes is his due. The magistrate threatens to have John institutionalized. Events reveal John’s character and gifts, and the magistrate learns a thing or two about respect.