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Showing posts with label courage book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label courage book review. Show all posts

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Courage Book Review: Beautiful Souls

I've just finished reading Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, by Eyal Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).  This book shares the stories of several people in different times and different walks of life who demonstrated moral courage at great risk: a Swiss border officer who defied the law to help Jews flee from Nazi oppression; a Serb soldier who "identified" Croat prisoners as Serbian to save them from genocide; an Israeli soldier refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories; a financial adviser blowing the whistle on a Ponzi scheme that was bilking thousands of investors of their life savings; a U.S. military prosecutor questioning the treatment of Muslim POWs at Guantanamo Bay.  Press interviewed all of these people, trying to dig to the bottom of what causes "ordinary" people to make decisions that turn them into rebels, renegades or outliers.  It's fascinating reading, although somewhat disconcerting.   Although Hollywood would have us believe that the moral hero rides into the sunset to the sounds of a grand and inspiring soundtrack, none of these actual moral heroes obeyed their conscience without paying a heavy price.  

Press points out that at the very least,  refusing to conform stirs anger and resentment among those who are conforming.  If you and I are both members of Group A, and I announce that the activities of Group A are morally questionable or even evil, then by implication you accept their validity if you don't walk out with me.  What is striking about the people in these profiles is that they were almost all people who fervently upheld the values and principles of their group originally; it was that very conviction that led them to break ranks when those values became distorted or poisoned.  As the military prosecutor poignantly stated, his sworn duty to protect the U.S. Constitution made it impossible for him to accept what he saw without speaking out.  Yet the consequences for all these conscientious resistors were significant: social exclusion, financial ruin, loss of security, loss of faith in previously esteemed institutions.

It is difficult to read these stories without feeling some misgivings about moral courage and the price it exacts.  Does raising a child to be a good citizen of the world, who has conviction, integrity, and an audible conscience place that child at risk?  In my opinion it does, and yet I also hear my own conscience telling me it's the right thing for me to do.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Courage Book Review: Three Little Three Little Pigs

Know how you can tell this classic is about physical courage? All the huffing and puffing! Just as The Three Billy Goats Gruff had plenty of act-out-able bits, so does every version of The Three Little Pigs. Straw, wood, bricks - these are all parts of our physical experience (as opposed to tricks or puzzles, which are part of our intellectual experience). A big bad wolf who wants to eat you up is a physical risk. Physical courage may be the most easily recognized of the six types of courage, and so it is one that features in so many tales for the very young.

The Three Little Pigs have also been a mainstay of children's book illustrator/retellers for many years, and today I offer a few words on a few notables from the Three Little Pigs' Pen that should be readily available in libraries or stores.

Paul Galdone's version from 1970 is a basic, friendly start. The trim size is small, making it comfortable for little hands. The story is straightforward and the illustrations are bright and dynamic. It's perfectly satisfactory and we move briskly from one pig's fate to the next. From 1989 we have the beloved James Marshall offering his trio of roly poly piggies, each dressed in a distinctive costume. I particularly like the pig who builds with sticks - he wears colorful, striped shorts, and his house is decorated with flags, balloons and wind chimes. The brick-building pig in this version looks like a London banker, with waistcoat and bowler hat. In this version, as in Galdone's, the unfortunate straw-builder and stick-builder are both gobbled up. Both books end gleefully with the provident third pig gobbling up the wolf in turn.

Steven Kellogg's 1997 version adds a subplot of a mobile waffle business that supports the pigs financially, and and enterprising mother pig who comes to the rescue at the end. Although the art and the subplot are both full of fun and interesting details, I would only share this with kids who are already well-versed in the story, for two reasons. For one thing, the subplot slows down the cadence of the main action. As you may recall from my post on The Rule of Threes, classic stories make use of triads to carry the emotional punch. It's useful to keep that triad clear of clutter, however, so the pattern can emerge. The echoes of "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin," and "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in," should ideally still be in the air by the time the next round comes. The second reason I feel less than enthusiastic about this version is related to the internal v. external locus of control, which Lisa has explained so well in earlier posts. Mommy pig comes to save the day - emphasizing that forces outside of the little pigs are in control. It's so much more satisfying to have the final pig (even if he is poignantly the last pig standing) be the one to thwart the big bad wolf and deliver revenge, as in the more traditional versions. That shows the internal locus of control that we want our kids to develop for themselves.

Finally (and yes, I realize that this makes four) we have David Wiesner's 2001 The Three Pigs, the Caldecott Medal winner for that year. It's a brilliant tour de force of illustration and revision, but again, I would share this with older kids who are already perfectly familiar with the traditional story. You can't even understand this book without knowing the model it subverts. This is a book to be enjoyed by a more sophisticated audience than the one that will squeal with delight and huff and puff as ferocious wolves. This is one that demonstrates qualities of intellectual courage - flexibility, creativity, and inventiveness - rather than physical courage. Enjoy the Galdone or Marshall versions of the story with your small kids, and then once they've gone to bed, appreciate the Wiesner book with your wordly-wise middle schooler.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Courage Book Review - Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the BraveImagine putting Cinderella in a blender with Hansel and Gretel, and then adding some voodoo.  You will end up with something approaching Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, a retelling by Marianna Mayer of one of Russia's most beloved folktales.  There have been many retellings of this tale over the years, most often called Vasilisa the Beautiful; sadly, not many are in print at the moment.  Fortunately, this one is beautifully done, with magnificent artwork by K. Y. Craft.

First, a word about Baba Yaga, who appears in many many Russian tales.  Much has been written over the years about witches and wicked stepmothers and fairy godmothers in folklore.  Metaphorically splitting the "great mother" into a good/benevolent character and an evil/malevolent character simplifies things in tales and may help kids manage their conflicting feelings.   Ambiguity and ambivalence tend to muddy the waters.   That's why Baba Yaga is a fascinating figure.  She is almost always represented as a horrible, cannibalistic witch living in a house of human bones - but she still does good deeds from time to time, or takes righteous vengeance on behalf of the protagonist.  In this book you will find all the duality of the "great mother" inhabiting Baba Yaga - a powerful, dangerous figure who commands powerful natural forces and sends Vasilisa home to her wicked stepmother and stepsisters with a reward.  For this reason, this story (fairly lengthy and complex, and hard to summarize) is best suited to independent reading by older children who can manage the ambiguity.  My 12-year-old daughter was fascinated by it.

What may be most memorable about Vasilisa is her little doll, given to her by her dying mother.  The (secret) doll goes everywhere with Vasilisa, hidden in her apron.  When given food and drink, it comes to life to give comfort, advice and aid to the sad and lonesome girl.  This source of spiritual courage is easily recognized as Vasilisa's dead mother, referred to obliquely as "my mother's blessing" or "my mother's love," the source of her fortitude.  Vasilisa does much more than Cinderella ever had to do to earn her triumph at the end, and keeping her composure around Baba Yaga, as well as performing the difficult chores set to test her, are part of that.

For kids looking for a good creepy scare this Halloween season, the artwork in this book will not disappoint.  Full of Russian costumes, folkmotifs and intricate detail, the pictures offer much to examine - even if some inspire a hasty page-turn!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Courage Book Review - Why Courage Matters, by John McCain

In Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life  we have a small, accessible book for adult readers (or teen readers, of course) by Senator John McCain with Mark Salter. McCain has been rightly honored for the courage he demonstrated as a POW, and regardless of your political opinions of his public service in the U.S. Congress, his is a voice of experience on this issue. He brings to this exploration of courage a not suprising inclination to praise military heroism, but there's much more than that. One thing that I like about this book is that he does discuss courage as something for parents to heed, and to strive to develop in their children. He offers many examples from history of tremendous courage, from soldiers on the front lines to civil rights activists using nonviolent disobedience to further their cause. I have three takeaways from the book:
1. Courage must be voluntary. We must make a choice to overcome the challenge before us, and move through and beyond the fear that faces us. Even when we are faced with a challenge we can't escape, such as an illness, the choice of how we face it is ours to make.
2. Courage is contagious. When we have the example of a courageous person before us, it inspires us to greater courage ourselves. (His description of how POWs encouraged and inspired each other to continue resistance is very moving.) Offer your kids models of courage from traditional tales and true stories. They can strive to deserve the courage of those heroes who went before them.
3. The people whom McCain portrays as examples of courage have only one thing in common: fear. As we have said all along, courage is not the absence of fear, it is going forward despite fear.

In summing up, McCain corroborates what we have said on Lion's Whiskers many times. When you give your kids opportunities to practice courage, whether with courage challenges, courage workouts, or by setting an example that your kids can see every day, you help them build their courage for the challenges on the path ahead.

"If you do the things you think you cannot do, you'll feel your resistance, your hope, your dignity and your courage grow stronger every time you prove it. You will some day face harder choices that very well might require more courage. You're getting ready for them. You're getting ready to have courage."


Monday, September 19, 2011

Courage Book Review - treasures from Geraldine McCaughrean

The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the WorldWe rank Geraldine McCaughrean among today's most resourceful and exciting retellers of myths and legends from around the world.  Her vivid writing style makes her treasuries of stories gripping, funny, provocative, fascinating and beautiful.   In these books - The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the World, The Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World, The Bronze Cauldron Myths And Legends Of The World, and The CRYSTAL POOL: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD -we have a dazzling variety of traditional tales, all gloriously illustrated by Bee Willey.  There are creation stories and trickster tales and stories of how stories came to be.  Above all, there are hero stories.  These stories of quests and courage show us how people from around the world told their tales highlighting all six types of courage.  Many of them may well be familiar favorites already, or at least ring some bells: St. George and the Dragon, Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow, Midas and the Golden Touch, the Golem, the Tower of Babel, William Tell, the Pied Piper and many others that readers may already recognize.  But there are also tales from cultures whose stories were once considered "quaint" or "curious" by Western readers.  Legends and folktales from New Zealand,  Melanesia, Bolivia, Finland, Togo and many many other places show us what is the same, and what is different, about how cultures portray courage.   I particularly liked the Hittite myth of the goddess Inaras conquering a family of dragons by feeding them until they were too fat to get back into their underground lairs.  As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to conquer dragons.  These collections show us that in dazzling, delightful detail.   Great for reading aloud or handing to an independent reader. 

The CRYSTAL POOL: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD (Illustrated Stories for Children)
The Bronze Cauldron Myths And Legends Of The WorldThe Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World

Monday, August 8, 2011

Courage Book Review - The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for GirlsLast week I talked about The Dangerous Book for Boys. This week it's the girls' turn, with The Daring Book for Girls, a sister volume.  Using the same old-fashioned design sensibility and tone, this book offers girls their own hodgepodge handbook with  essential tools for a toolbox, how to paddle a canoe, math tricks, silly pranks to play on friends, slumber party games, cat's cradle, how to pop a wheelie on your bike, how to write a thank-you letter, flower pressing - wait, this is my own childhood! 

As I suggested in my review of the boys' book, having a wide and eclectic set of skills and knowledge may contribute to having a strong internal locus of control - the profound assurance that one is up to the challenges that life presents.  Studies on fear show that a lack of control is one of the things that contributes to stress and anxiety.  The more things you know how to control, the less you are a prey to fear.  You can't control the tides, but knowing how to read a tide chart and why the tides change at all can make a difference in a day at the beach; you can't be injury-proof, but knowing first-aid may take the edge off of panic what an accident happens.  What looks like courage is often basic competence.   Maybe you don't know how to tie a sari yourself, or how to make a peach pit ring.  But give this book to your daughter and she'll learn how.  

Just as there was little in the Dangerous Book that seemed very dangerous, there's little here that seems very daring, unless you think changing a tire or opening a lemonade stand takes daring.  Do your daughter a favor.  Dare her to read this book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Courage Book Review - Saints and Animals

Last week I shared the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.  Today, Lion's Whiskers offers two books on the same theme.  On Lion's Whiskers, we define spiritual courage as that which fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Today we review books about people who answered those questions for themselves, and had the courage to act accordingly.

Saints Among the AnimalsSaints Among the Animals, written by Cynthia Zarin and illustrated by Leonid Gore, is a beautifully simple book for independent readers, giving very short stories of some of the saints whose legends involve animals.  St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio is here, of course, but so are much lesser known saints.  There is Saint Werbuge, who patiently reasoned with a flock of geese that were destroying farm crops; we have Saint Canice, who used the antlers of a living stag as a book stand, Saint Colman, for whom a fly acted as a reliable living bookmark.  Ten saints make up the collection, offering a glimpse of a simpler time when people were still sorting out what it might mean to be Christian (perhaps a quest still ongoing?) and what embracing all living things might look like.  These are mostly gentle courage stories, about people with the courage to live as their consciences commanded, without heed for raised eyebrows among their fellow human beings.  That makes these stories of moral courage and social courage, as well as spiritual courage.  Read these stories on your own to retell to younger children on a nature walk, perhaps, or leave for your older reader to nibble on.  The writing is excellent, not didactic, and not in any way evangelizing.  It's very fine.

Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature"Sing praises to Sister Moon and the stars... sing praises to Brother Wind and to the air and the clouds...Sing praises to Sister Water..."  Part of a Mohawk blessing song in a Joseph Bruchac book maybe?   No, this is from the Canticle of Brother Sun, written by Saint Francis.   Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature, by Karen Pandell with illustrations by Bijou Le Tord, is a truly exquisite book for young and old.  In large format with deceptively rustic pictures (they seem childishly simple, until you look closely) the book outlines the life of Francis of Assisi in brief vignettes, interspersed with verses of the canticle (which would make an awesome dinner blessing for a special occasion.)  What would that really be like, to give away everything as Saint Francis did?  To save no food for tomorrow but to give it to the birds and rely on providence for tomorrow?  In today's possession-heavy world, it's a challenge to imagine the wealthy and privileged young Francis taking a vow of poverty, and walking so carefully that he not harm a worm, or an ant, or even tread carelessly on spilled water.  In this we see echoes of the Buddha's journey and practice.  Such complete reverence for all of life actually takes extraordinary courage.  You might be inspired to create a courage challenge for yourself and your family: spend a day doing no harm to any living thing.  What does it take? What will it cost you?  Do you need the courage of a saint?