Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil’s will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination. A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education–that is, the education of character. –Vigen Guroian, Tending the Heart of Virtue
Our book club recently read Guroian’s book, and another group that I am a part of is in the midst of discussing the formation of moral imagination in children–so the question of the role of stories in children’s character development has been on my mind quite a bit recently.
While Guroian is specifically interested in how fairy tales can help develop virtue in children, I think his insights are helpful in evaluating theological kids lit as well. If the books we offer are “mere instruction in morality,” they can come off as boring to younger children, and merely arbitrary to older kids. My 3 year old daughter is already enamored of the question “but why?” — what better answer to give her than to offer a “compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself”?
Theological kids lit that “addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature” – that is, that arouses our children’s minds and hearts simultaneously – will no doubt arouse questions for our kids about the nature of goodness, godly behavior, and the structure of God’s reality. Happily, the best of these stories contain compelling answers within themselves, answers that our kids can feel and understand, rather than requiring us as parents to simply insist that it’s true. The stories and characters are so winning, so real (as opposed to invented didactic “examples”) that we can embrace the truth that they teach with our whole selves.
(Think of Edmund in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: I can’t think of a more compelling portrayal of the costs of self-love and betrayal. We grasp his perfidy so much more deeply – and are more committed to avoiding it – when we can feel as well as intellectually understand what is involved.)
What books, for children or otherwise, have you come across that fit Guroian’s criteria? What books present the Good in a way that our minds can understand and that our hearts love?
I think that Kate DiCamillo’s books definitely fit the criteria – particularly Desperaux and Edward Tulane.
Oh, definitely. I also think of Lois Lowry, especially Number The Stars and The Giver.
Though my friends will easily predict me, Sarah’s closing questions send my imagination right to Port William. I think first of Hannah Coulter, Andy Catlett, and all four of Andy’s grandparents.
I also think of George MacDonald’s Curdie, especially because of the obedience and willful maturity he demonstrates in The Princess and Curdie.
More strangely, I also think of McCarthy’s The Road, a story that alarmed me because it’s horrors were so imaginable. It put demands on my moral imagination and activated my heart and mind simultaneously, though certainly not by offering a vision of goodness.
For my three year old daughter, some favortie are:
James Harriot Treasury for Children
The Alfie Books and The Alfie and Annie Rose Books and others by Shirley Hughes
Winnie the Pooh Complete Collection by AA Milne (not Disney) also a good audio book read by Christopher Plummer
She likes Beatrix Potter a lot lately, but do not think they really “inspire” as everyone is often naughty (good audio book with Jenny Day) – but at least there are consequences to their naughtyness unlike Curious George — may replace with Brambley Hedge series
My First Little House series – these are secular, but easy to insert prayertime, bible time
Sarah Garland Books: Coming to Tea, Making Things Grow, etc
Usborne Book: The Story of Heidi
Will try to write more later