Dec 2, 2012

Counting the Days Until...

This holiday season is nothing if not rich with traditions. Your own traditions at this time of year may be rooted in religion, ethnicity, or family beliefs, but I'm willing to bet my new oven that a spirit of giving plays a central role. Notice, I said "giving", not "gifting".

When I was growing up (just a few decades beyond the stone age), my parents introduced a  Christmas ritual that encouraged caring and sharing (and not just avoiding elves who might report back to Santa if I pinched or teased a sibling.) A mantel stretched across one end of our living room above a fireplace flanked by bookcases. Dad would carefully extend the slightly yellowed rolls of cotton, arranging them across the full length of the mantel. Little cardboard houses, complete with sandpaper rooftops, were fitted onto a string of lights to create a "village". At the center of the display was a Nativity scene. Of course, there was no baby Jesus-- yet. What's more, there was no straw in the little wooden manger that would be His bed. 

It was our job to earn the straw for the manger.  Each evening after dinner we were expected to report on our own acts of kindness or sharing that day. Then we could add a blade of straw to the manger bed for each kindness we had demonstrated. Whether we were told this or not, I believed that if we did not provide a suitable welcome, He might not come. 

In a blog post earlier this week I read this quote from Frances Myers Newman: "God is the good in each of us." Perhaps what I believed wasn't really far from the truth.

Rather than decry commercialism, greed, and secularism, perhaps these weeks leading up to gala celebrations could be filled with books that explore the values of kindness and sharing.
Nancy Paulson Books, 2012
Heading up my list of suggestions is EACH KINDNESS, written by Jacqueline Woodson and gorgeously illustrated by E. B. Lewis. It was recently featured on GREAT KID BOOKS blog, among others, and deserves all the attention it is receiving. I rated it at five stars on Goodreads, with this note:
An excellent companion story to Woodson's THE OTHER SIDE, this is a superb example of wounding "by omission": by refusing to return a smile, choosing not to play with someone, judging by appearances, etc.
Bullying is often seen to be overt, aggressive, but this passive rejection, the isolation of a peer because s/he is not... not what? Just not, that's all.
The uncomfortable truth of the ending is that sometimes lessons are learned too late to "fix", but not to late to change us.

Gibbs Smith Publishers, 2002

Another title worth exploring is ORDINARY MARY'S EXTRAORDINARY DEED, by Emily Pearson, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka. A chain of good deeds ripples incredibly far when Mary picks some blueberries and shares a bowl with her neighbor. From that point on each act of kindness (at this stage, blueberry muffins), is passed on to five others, each of whom does a kindness to five more. And so on, and so on. A page at the back lays out the math of the extraordinary possibilities in sharing blueberries.
Young children can hardly wait to begin the process, imagining that their smallest deeds, like the flutter of butterfly wings, can change the world. 
Older readers inevitably raise the question of "what if"- someone breaks the progression, or only passes on a single kindness.
While their awareness of the reality of human nature saddens me, it is heartening to hear others chime in with comments that "a lot of good happens anyway", or "maybe some will help more than five others." Best of all is when a child of any age offers this: "We can at least do the best we can no matter what anyone else does."
Picture Book Studio, 1989
Add this out-of-print title to your library search. It suggests anonymity when doing a kindness for others. MAGICAL HANDS, by Marjorie Barker, illustrated by Yoshi, celebrates the power in each of us to provide simple joys while savoring our secret power to produce happiness in others.
My wish for you, and for all of us, is to begin today to make a place for goodness in our hearts and lives, then share it with others. 
If you know of other titles that foster this spirit, please suggest!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sandy,

    Perfect companions to Because Amelia are so right.
    Good luck in your search to get a copy. It is definitely worth it!


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