Sunday, February 10, 2008

Manners for Minors

If you are like me, you think manners are important. But children are, by definition, uncivilised little beasties, and it is our job to teach them. We teach by example, of course, and by demanding that they follow suit. But what about bringing some into your reading? Showing them that the world at large thinks etiquette counts, too?

Myself, I thoroughly dislike a books that addresses the teaching of children in a didactic tone, an earnest manner. These may be designed to teach, but they are a total turn-off, and I can't imagine the child who would actually want to hear them. Instead, I look for books that teach in a gentler, often sillier, way. Here are a few that I think get the message across without the two-by-four.

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?
How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?
How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room?
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, by Jane Yolen, ill. Mark Teague

This collection of titles is great fun, while teaching children about better behaviour for a variety of situations. Buoyed by Teague's fantastic illustrations (he is one of my favourites), they suggest some crazy, outrageous behaviours, and then go on to remind of what correct conduct would look like. This approach is a savvy one, winning the kids over with the silly (like the one sticking beans up his nose, which I punch up even more with a silly voice for Pumpkinpie), and then coming back down to reality. If, you know, reality involved dinosaurs with human parents eating at the table.

Little Piggy's Books of Manners, by Kathryn Madeline Allen, ill. Nancy Wolff

This little piggy put her playthings away. This little piggy pouted. This little piggy spoke kindly to others. This little piggy shouted. Bold, quirky drawings show a bunch of behaviours in action, as well as the reaction of others around them. I like the jaunty rhyme, the simple telling, and the extremely fun illustrations in this one.

What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle joslin, ill. Maurice Sendak

You are picking dandelions and columbines outside the castle. Suddenyl, a fierce dragon appears and blows red smoke at you, but just then a brave knight gallops up and cuts off the dragon's head. What do you say, dear? (Thank you very much.) This and a host of other silly situations teach youngsters the proper words for polite response. As ever, Sendak's illustrations bring a whole new dimension to the already-funny text. Classic.

Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf, by Judy Sierra, ill. J. Otto Siebold

B.B. Wolf receives, in the mail, an invitation to tea at the library. His friend helps him brush up on his manners and prepare himself, and he spins the tidbits into a little song he sings on the way. Once there, he is doing well, and even slips into the etiquette section to remind himself of what to say at one point. He charms the librarian and the other attendees, including Bo-Peep, Red Riding Hood, and the Gingerbread Man. Siebold's trademark loopy illustrations (think Olive, the Other Reindeer) keep things crazy and a little confusing, but overall, it's a cute reminder that anyone can learn to be polite, even if it only covers a couple of specific rules. The bigger picture is in the payoff, when he manages to totally revamp his image in one afternoon of good behaviour.

I Want My Dinner, by Tony Ross

The Little Princess (yes, the one from the TV show) wants things. But she can't have them without a please. Once she absorbs this lesson, she turns around and teaches it to a beastie, topping it off by requesting a thank you. It's a simple book, and shows her learning just as most kids do - by not getting what she's after until she remembers to add a please. Even royalty is obliged to have manners!

Are You Going To Be Good?, by Cari Best, ill. G. Brian Karas.

Older kids will identify with this one if they have ever been invited to a grownup party. Robert's enthusiasm rides up and down as he is dressed up (good), instructed on how to behave (boring), faced with weird food (gross), told "Don't do that!" innumerable times as he tries to entertain himself (frustrating), and gets to dance with his grandma (super-fantastic). Everything here rings perfectly true to how tiresome a grownup party can be for a kid, but also how special some moments can be. I would suggest this for a kid of 5-10 years old who has gone to these parties or will be soon.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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