words of civility…five for a neighborly new year

Let’s face it. 2016 was a brutal year for the cause of civility.

Breakfast Table Political Argument by Norman Rockwell

“Breakfast Table Political Argument” by Norman Rockwell

Hateful, corrosive speech has ever been a problem for humanity. There is nothing new under the sun. Solomon himself wrote often about the mouthiness that brings ruin. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords,” he says, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

In recent decades our culture has tilted drunkenly toward applauding shock-jocks, zingers, snark, rudeness, and oh my didn’t it erupt into a brawl of meanness this past year.

painting by Henri Deparade

painting by Henri Deparade

Haven’t we all had our fill of this from every corner? 

Most of us can only make a difference in our one small sphere but that is a difference worth the making. I can use my words this year to extend grace, respect, truth, patience, forgiveness, peace. Not perfectly, but better. 

"Conversation Pieces - Snow" by William Utermohlen

“Conversation Pieces – Snow” by William Utermohlen

Today’s books address this with flair and empathy — no heavy moralizing. Maybe they’ll open up some good conversations in your household.

alphonse-that-is-not-ok-to-do-cover-imageAlphonse, That is Not OK to Do! written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

I love Daisy Hirst’s uncanny knack at empathizing with and portraying the real frustrations and emotions of children.

This story of Natalie and her new small brother Alphonse spotlights the limits of patience for an older sibling. Mainly Natalie welcomes Alphonse’s companionship, but there are certainly Challenges! Alphonse’s predilection for eating things not meant for eating is one of those Challenges.


One bad day, the Challenges spin wildly out of control. I think Natalie shows remarkable restraint in the face of Alphonse’s destructo-binge. Even so, there are fences to be mended between these two. Watch them handle their anger and remorse with candor and sweet reconciliation.


Hirst’s flamboyant characters, loud primary colors, and general mayhem are immensely engaging, relatable, and cheering. Love this for ages 2 and up.

ill-wait-mr-panda-cover-imageI’ll Wait, Mr. Panda, written and illustrated by Steve Antony
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Mr. Panda is back (see Please, Mr. Panda reviewed here) and I am welcoming him with open arms! Steve Antony’s stout, steadfast baker with a proclivity for politeness ought to be in every child’s circle of friends.

This time around Mr. Panda is cooking up something most surprising, but it’ll take some patience on the part of would-be partakers. To every eager questioner, Mr. Panda has the same response: Wait and see.


These are tough words to hear, to be fair, for all of us. But the rewards for the one patient penguin are so stupendous! Willing waiting is worthwhile! Down with demanding!

Antony’s pages sprinkled with colorful confections are so enticing! Next up in the Mr. Panda series is Thank You, Mr. Panda, due out in 2017. Hooray! Ages 18 months and up.

please-say-please-cover-imagePlease Say Please! written and illustrated by Kyle T. Webster
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Kyle Webster’s retro, whimsical artwork blasts this little ode to politeness right out of Stuffy-and-Staid and into a land of eye-popping adventure.

One little girl with appalling manners gets schooled in the magical word Please. Her benefactor — a man reminiscent of the Monopoly man — won’t tolerate her rude demands of I Want! I Want! Nope, he insists on a polite Please.


And then – shazam! Her craziest wishes are granted!


It’s an over-the-top, fantastical appeal to polite speech which will bring some laughs and make saying “please” gobs more fun. Ages 2 and up.

fionas-little-lie-cover-imageFiona’s Little Lie, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Fiona is wriggling with excitement over her role as Birthday Elf for her friend Felix’s birthday. Felix is glad, too, because “she knows that I love vanilla cupcakes with raspberry icing and lemon sprills!” He’s sure that’s what she’ll bring to class tomorrow.

But Fiona turns up empty-handed. What?! It seems this Birthday Elf plum forgot her mission until she spots Felix, beaming in his new birthday outfit. Fiona’s heart sinks! She can’t bear to tell Felix the rotten truth. So — she lies.

And that one lie turns into another and another, growing like Pinocchio’s nose, until it all finally catches up with her.


Wise Miss B. comforts and coaches. “Truth and a good I’m sorry always clear the air,” she says. Oh, I love you, Miss B! Celebrate honesty and birthdays with this merry crowd, suffused with Wells’ trademark charm. Ages 2 and up.

the-honest-to-goodness-truth-cover-imageThe Honest-to-Goodness Truth, written by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2000 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Sometimes — and I think you’ll recognize this if you’ve been paying attention this past year — the problem isn’t so much lying as stating your “true” opinion in stunningly hurtful ways. 

Adults who practice this behavior know better. Children sometimes don’t. Patricia McKissack has written a brilliant story about a little girl named Libby who initially struggles with lying, then, when reprimanded, marches headlong into unkind, abrasive “truth-telling.”


After buckets of hurt, Libby learns from Mama that “Sometimes the truth is told at the wrong time or in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons,” and that is not the purpose of honest-to-goodness truth.


Giselle Potter’s warm, rustic illustrations set this lovingly in the rural South, a world full of glowing, growing green and warm-as-cinnamon browns which keep this fairly serious story from a sense of severity. This is such an important idea for all of us. Share the story with kids ages 4 and older.