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Teaching Integrity With Literature

November 2nd, 2017

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

~ Samuel Johnson

Our character trait for the month of November is:

Integrity: Having the inner strength to be truthful and trustworthy, acting justly and honorably, and being consistent in words and actions.

Catch phrase: Tell the truth. Keep your word.

We are thrilled to welcome SLOCA librarian Emily Ferrarini back again this month, who has expertly curated another list of books for us. The following selections winsomely address the character trait of Integrity/Honesty:

The Empty Pot, by Demi – This is a perfect story! Set in imperial China, it tells of a young boy who proves his worth through hard work and honesty. The illustrations by Demi are beautiful, the language is simple and lovely, and it will serve well as a catalyst for discussion about the meaning of integrity. I have read it with success to children as young as 4 years old; it will be enjoyed even more in subsequent years.

You don’t need to stray further than your living room to find perhaps the most classic story of honesty and integrity: The Shepherd Boy and The Wolf, one of Aesop’s ancient fables. Our students are reading his fables in Trimester 2, so you should have the excellent Milo Winter version, originally published in 1919, already at home. No childhood is complete without learning about the boy who cried wolf! “Liars are not believed even when they speak the truth.” – Aesop’s Fables For Children

Once your children are very familiar with Aesop’s version, have fun exploring some modern retellings. I particularly like The Boy Who Cried Ninja, by Alex Lasimer. Another favorite, quite popular with the Little Wonders students during storytime, is The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, by Julia Sarcone-Roach. I won’t spoil the story for you: it’s funny. These are both entertaining read alouds, and don’t feel overly instructional. They both deal with honesty.

Jackalope, by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel – A jackrabbit who wishes to be feared asks his fairy godrabbit for horns, and becomes the first jackalope! There’s one condition: he must not tell lies. I love that this cute story was created by two sisters.

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, by Patricia McKissack – Should we always tell the truth… no matter what? What if the truth could hurt someone? This is another great conversation starter that you won’t want to miss reading aloud to your primary student. Honesty is important, but so is kindness. I have a particular fondness for the heartfelt illustrations of Giselle Potter.

Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie, by Laura Rankin – Ruthie, an expressive and well-dressed little fox, finds a miniature camera on the playground, and wishes it belonged to her. She decides to tell the teacher and her friends that she got it for her birthday. The lie weighs on poor Ruthie all day long. (Her stomach flip-flops! She is filled with remorse!) This story normalizes a common childhood experience, while offering children a way out of the mess that dishonesty creates.

The Cold and Hot Winter, by Johanna Hurwitz – This chapter book focuses on fifth graders Derek and Rory, who are thrilled when their neighbor’s niece Bolivia comes to town for a visit. Soon, however, objects begin to go missing, and the friends begin to doubt one another. Johanna Hurwitz has written dozens of middle grade novels, and seems to really connect with that age group. This would make a good independent read for your student, as they begin to navigate complicated social situations on their own. Look for other books about these same characters. They do not need to be read in order.

Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead – Unlike many of the books I have recommended here, this one focuses more on the “being true to oneself” aspect of integrity, rather than the honesty component. In this book, lonely Georges moves into a new apartment building, where he meets the quirky and compelling Safer. This book is part coming of age, part mystery, and all charm. Stead is one of my favorite contemporary authors for young adults. She seems to have taken to heart E. B. White’s advice: “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.” This is a good book for middle schoolers.

Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies..., by Hilaire Belloc – Families who are extremely comfortable with sarcasm and dark humor will best appreciate my final choice. This is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary verse for children, and it is best employed to induce laughter, rather than tears. The full title of the poem is “Matilda Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death.”  Posy Simmonds’ artwork adds an element of whimsy to this picture book. Here is a link to SLOCA’s friend Garrison Keillor reading this poem out loud. If you and your child enjoy this one, don’t miss Hilaire Belloc’s other cautionary tales, including “Jim, Who Ran Away From His Nurse, and Was Eaten by a Lion.”

Thank you, Emily! Literature is such a fantastic way to influence our children and we are so grateful for these lists of go-to books to help us discuss character with our kids.

Parents, here’s a downloadable mini-poster that you can print for this month's character trait – click on the image to the right for the full-size PDF:



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