Truth Frequency Radio
Nov 24, 2013

kindness-childrens-books-truth-frequency-radio-chris-geo-sheree-geo-alternative-media-news-informationThe Star

In a world where people can be bullied to death with the click of a mouse, it might seem odd to think that the antidote to meanness, loneliness and fear could be something as simple as the lessons in a children’s book.

But glance through many of the classics and you’ll find them filled with advice on kindness and friendship, messages as relevant now as they were when we first read them.

So at a time when the world seems a little bit meaner and colder, we asked Grade 3 students at the TMS School in Richmond Hill to tell us what they learned from some of the most famous tales. Then we turned to some reflective adults, who told us how those same stories helped set them on a course of kindness or provided them with hope and even, dare we say, happiness in times of darkness.

Horton Hears a Who!, by Dr. Seuss

“A person’s a person no matter how small”

Through the eyes of a child:

Noah: “If you’re big, you shouldn’t pick on small people.”

Alyssa: “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.”

XiaoLong: “You should be nice to small children and younger people.”

Jovita: “Don’t ever be mean to other people, even if they are from other countries or provinces or a different age or speak a different language.”

Nima: “If someone does something wrong, don’t be mean to them. Just help them by showing them what to do. Remind them of their manners.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Olivia Chow, MP, Trinity-Spadina: “I grew up in Hong Kong and didn’t read Dr. Seuss until my family immigrated to Toronto when I was 13, but the notion that a person’s a person, no matter how small, has guided me through my entire career. It is about equality, dignity, respect and the power and responsibility of democracy. When I became Toronto’s first Advocate for Children and Youth, I asked children across the city to send in their thoughts about what they would do if they were mayor for a day. And one little girl called Sylvia sent me a drawing of a stick person, holding an empty bag, and the words “I would ask God for money for groceries.” That was such a haunting reminder that even here and even now, some are falling through the cracks, and we have a responsibility to ensure that government reflects the kindness and generosity of Canadians. So here’s how we could build on Horton Hears a Who! today in Toronto: Don’t give up! I believe in you all/ A person’s a person, no matter how small … / No matter if you’re yellow, red, black, brown or white/ Nobody should go to bed hungry at night/ Whether you are a girl or a boy or a Who/ Stand up for yourself and be proud to be you/ And try to be generous, try to be kind/ Because love is much better than anger, you’ll find./ Everyone’s equal, under the sun/ And don’t let them tell you it cannot be done!”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne: “I can remember my mom reading Horton Hears a Who! to me and my sisters, and there were just howls of laughter. We loved Seuss. Looking at the little person made sense because we were little people — we were kids — and that line, “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” was such a great message: that it’s not your size or status, just your humanity that counts. As an adult, I loved reading the Seuss books to my kids because very quickly they could read along and connect to the language. And while the books are rooted in lessons of kindness and the way the world should be, they don’t preach. That’s the wonderful thing about Seuss. The books are funny and crazy, but poignant, too.”

Geoffrey Taylor, director, the International Festival of Authors: “A decade after Horton Hears a Who! was published, my maternal grandmother read it to me. Even after I learned to read, it was a book I went back to. I still have a copy by my bedside. I was fascinated by the unity of the Whos — I so wanted to live a Whoville life. Of course I felt the book was written for me. When you are little in your small world, everything is about you. Later it dawned on me that the Whos were the same Whos from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I am still in love with Cindy Lou Who. Later readings of the book helped me to understand the concept that things you are unable to see can be real. As an adult the book reads as a map for universal peace.”

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

“‘I am sorry,’ sighed the tree.

‘I wish that I could give you something … but I have nothing left. I am an old stump. I am sorry …’

‘I don’t need very much now,’ said the boy, ‘just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.’

‘Well,’ said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, ‘well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.”

Through the eyes of a child:

Jordana: “The tree felt sad it had nothing to give him. But because she got to help the little boy and give him the things he needed, it made her happy to give.”

Aiden: “The tree could be my parents. Moms give love.”

Jordana: “And they ask for nothing.”

Aiden: “It wanted to give the things it had, but it could only give itself. To give makes me feel good.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Avril Benoit, project co-ordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: “The tree overcame its feeling of inadequacy and was happy to be useful in whatever way it still could. That’s a message I took to heart as a Brownie and Girl Guide: no one expected me to save the planet, just to lend a hand. My transition, seven years ago, from CBC journalist to international aid worker goes to show we can all play a small part in easing the suffering of others. In their memoirs, doctors James Orbinski and James Maskalyk wrote about feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the world’s burdens. Québécois novelist and MD Marc Forget has spoken of humanitarians going to war armed with little more than a penknife. ‘Quand tu pars faire de l’humanitaire, tu pars à la guerre avec un canif.’ Humility and experience taught them to focus on trying to heal this one patient in front of them, and then that one. An Imperfect Offering, Dr. James Orbinski concluded, is better than none. If you’re not a medical professional? The Giving Tree reminds us that even stumps have something meaningful to offer. So do logisticians, managers, donors and volunteers of all kinds.”

Elizabeth Warkentin, librarian: “I’ve struggled a lot with depression in my life. When I was living in Germany some years ago, I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t sleep and I was stressed in my job, and life was just too much effort. I didn’t necessarily want to die, but I didn’t have the energy to live anymore. I needed someone to watch over me, I needed a kindly tree to lean on, so to speak. But there was no one. One night, in my desperation, I swallowed a couple handfuls of sleeping pills only to end up in a coma for three days. When I woke up, I was devastated. I felt ashamed and guilty for having hurt the people I cared about back home in Canada. I spent 3½ lonely months in the hospital in Germany after my suicide attempt. A German friend, Iris, more of an acquaintance really, learned of my illness and asked if she could visit me. I was so touched. She came as often as she could and was so kind. She took me out sometimes, a few times to local Christmas markets. She translated things for me. She was a strong person and a strong motivator in my recovery. She was my giving tree, the one that I leaned on. I’ll never forget her kindness.”

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“If nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that — warm things, kind things, sweet things — help and comfort and laughter — and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

Through the eyes of a child:

Victoria: “If you like to give, you can give from your heart. You can give nice words … You can be nice to them and accept them.”

Matthew: “You can spend time with them.”

Alysha: “You can help someone. You can help them when they’re in trouble. If someone is unhappy, you don’t laugh at them.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Bonnie Fuller, CEO and president of “A Little Princess was one of my favourite books as a girl and I read it more than once. Sarah, the key character, comes from a life of wealth, privilege and love but she loses everything when her beloved Papa is killed in World War I. Yet even when Sarah is reduced to rags and hunger and is subjected to constant emotional abuse, she never stops giving to girls who are less fortunate than herself in some way. She gives up her food to a starving orphan and gives love and support to a former classmate who is bullied, and to a maid who becomes her best friend. Sarah teaches both the readers and the girls that she touches in A Little Princess, that you don’t need material wealth to give what’s most important of all — love, friendship and hope.”

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’

‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”

Through the eyes of a child:

Shayla: “You don’t have to give someone a gift. You just have to be nice and kind … If someone feels sad, it will make you feel better when you help other people. It makes you feel good if others feel good.”

Siena: “It doesn’t mean you wait for someone to give you something. You just start off and they will follow. You just be their friends and be kind to them. You don’t always have to give something. You just have to be a friend. Give them a helping hand. Let them play with you.”

Deborah: “When you’re sad you can hug them and you will feel better.”

Olivia: “You need to be kind to people and if you do they will be kind to you too.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Bob Ramsay, communications consultant and writer: “I loved the Charlotte’s Web quote when it was read to me as a child (though it was a pretty complicated thought for me to figure out). Today, of course, it means a whole lot more, though essentially the same: that when it comes to friends, you don’t have to do anything, you just have to be there. And, oh yes, that friends are just about the most important thing you can have as you grow older.”

Kim McArthur, publisher:One of my favourite children’s books was Charlotte’s Web, and this quote about Charlotte the spider talking to her friend Wilbur the “radiant” and “humble” pig still rings quietly true. As a child I identified with Fern, the little girl sitting on the pig stool in the barn, dreamily listening to her friends talk. I loved the way the animals and creatures all worked together to get things done, even Templeton the rat. As an adult, I have found that random acts of kindness bring unexpected joy and happiness to the giver. When I am having low times in my life, I have found that friends from my past have appeared out of the blue to be kind to me, as I was to them in years or days gone by. It truly does bring joy and meaning to ‘these precious days …’ to be as kind as possible to everyone you meet. It will come back to you.”

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

“It’s not what the world holds for you. It’s what you bring to it.”

Through the eyes of a child:

Deborah: “You don’t have to wait for other people to do things for you. Go ahead and do things for them and make the world a better place.”

Emma: “It doesn’t matter if you’re not the smartest person. You can still make the world a better place.”

Siena: “It doesn’t matter how pretty or smart you are. No one will care if you’re not kind.”

Matthew: “You don’t have to have anything to give. You can give kind words from your heart.”

Alysha: “Don’t exclude people. Include people in your games.”

Maxim: “When you give, it’s making the world a better place. When you do something, like give blood, you raise the world betterness by an inch. One little inch can affect the whole world.”

Joseph: “Don’t wait for someone to give you a present. The act of giving is your reward.”

Sanam: “Sometimes you don’t see someone you help, but you feel it in your heart. Try to make the world a better place for other people, not just for yourself.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Paulette Bourgeois, author of the Franklin the Turtle books:As a child I read books so that I could escape my small world to discover adventures and places imaginary and real. What I didn’t realize then was that I was a voyeur into the hearts and minds of hundreds of different characters. Cruel, evil, nasty, pessimistic characters. Kind, empathetic, altruistic characters. And the most memorable heroes were a bit of both. They were just like us. Books taught me that we choose how we react to what the world throws at us. There is no situation made worse by an act of kindness. Just ask Anne, who managed to tame that red-headed temper.”

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Through the eyes of a child:

Samin: “Some things don’t need to be seen or touched to be important.”

Victoria: “You can feel things with your heart that you can’t see or feel with your hands.”

Tea: “Love and happiness and kindness can’t be seen but only felt by the heart.”

Through the wisdom of adults:

Shane Peacock, finalist, Children’s Literature Text category for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Awards for Becoming Holmes: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Final Case: “When I was a teenager I saw a documentary about the movie star James Dean. The film’s narrator said something about this very cool, very adult guy that struck me as very strange. He said that James Dean’s favourite work of art was a children’s book named The Little Prince. At the time I didn’t know anything about that fable-like story, but when I read it, it seemed like it told me the truth, unlike anything else I had ever experienced. That truth was encapsulated in one line. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ To this day, I not only believe that telling the truth is the primary role of the writer, the artist, but also that what truly matters in life is not how big or beautiful or strong or rich you are, but how you treat others, the love you have for other people and things, matters of the heart; invisible things.”


By: Dianne Rinehart Book Reporter, The Star