Seeds to “Grow” Compassionate Children

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A friend told me about a little boy she knows. He’s in third grade. He fits into the academic “norm.” He is, to all outward appearances, like any other third grade child. Except this: he totally lacks compassion. He feels no empathy for his friends. Of course, parents and teachers have talked about how to help this child to develop one of our most basic human characteristics, but my friend asked me to recommend books that a caring parent or teacher could read – and more importantly, discuss – with this young boy.  I suggest they start with these five books:

The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy) by Jon Muth (This is the book I would read first. The boy in this beautiful and thought provoking book is seeking the answer to the most basic question: What is the right thing to do?” After conversations with several of his animal friends, he gets the answer from a wise old turtle.)

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose (Life from the ant’s point of view – a bit didactic, but may inspire discussion about the Golden Rule)

Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon (A retelling of an ancient folk tale – featuring a very kind-hearted rabbit)

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (To be honest, I’m not sure this 1944 classic is where I would begin with this young boy, but it has to be included on any list of books to inspire compassion. The story of Wanda, who wears the same blue dress every day and talks about the 100 dresses she has at home , still brings tears to my eyes.)

The Lady in a Box by Ann McGovern (A story about homelessness that gently reminds its readers about the ripple effect of kindness)

I know this child is too young to read To Kill a Mockingbird, but when I think about compassion, I am reminded of the scene where Atticus talks to Jem about Mrs. Dubose and her addiction to morphine – the part where Atticus reminds Jem that Mrs. Dubose is determinded to die “beholden to nothing and nobody.” As Atticus (and many others) have pointed out : “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

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