When we tell stories, we impart values, we convey messages. Through stories about animals, trees, toys, the distinctions between people and animals, animate and inanimate beings fade, and children experience delight and compassion for all that surrounds them. Some children’s stories, such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” educate through the use of caution or fear. Others, such as those described below, cultivate virtues through example.
Such literature teaches values which lead to happiness and freedom from suffering both for oneself and for all other beings. These books teach values such as patience, wisdom, generosity, loyalty and compassion.
The Story of Ferdinand (Munroe Leaf, 1936, Puffin Books), a classic story of a bull who prefers sitting and smelling flowers to fighting, illustrates both ahimsa (reverence for all of life, a fundamental precept of Buddhism) and commitment to nonviolence.
All the other little bulls he
lived with would run and jump
and butt their heads together,
but not Ferdinand.
He liked to sit just quietly and
smell the flowers.
Horton Hatches the Egg (Dr. Seuss, 1940, Random House) is a delightful story which illustrates both patience and fidelity. Says Horton, an elephant,
I meant what I said
And I said what I meant….
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!
Thidwick, The Big Hearted Moose (Dr. Seuss, 1948, Random House) depicts selfless generosity and non-injury to others. Thidwick is willing to sacrifice his own life in order to preserve his sense of hospitality to creatures who have established “residence” in his antlers.
He could have run faster without all those pests,
But a host, above all, must be nice to his guests.
Horton Hears a Who (Dr. Seuss, 1954, Random House) is a story of an elephant who makes an extraordinary effort to protect a town of “Who’s” that he cannot even see. The story warmly illustrates compassion, dedication, perseverance and ahimsa. According to Horton,
Because, after all,
A person’s a person, no matter how small.
The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein, 1964, Harper and Row) is the story of a tree whose happiness results from generosity in the form of selfless giving of her leaves, apples, shade, etc. to a small boy, and, later, of her branches and stump to the boy who had grown into a man.
Once there was a tree . . .
and she loved a little boy.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (Leo Buscaglia, 1982, Slack) focuses on life, growing old, and death. It is the story of a leaf named Freddie who with his fellow leaves changes with the seasons, finally falling to the ground with the winter’s snow.
Animalia (Barbara Berger, l982, Celestial Arts) is a collection of thirteen tales of wise persons and animals. Each tale is exquisitely illustrated and the text is done in calligraphy. The stories illustrate a variety of virtues, including compassion, ahimsa and wisdom.
Here a Little Child I Stand: Poems of Prayer and Praise for Children (Satomi Ichikawa, l985, Philomel Books) is a collection of spiritual, yet nonsectarian, poems from around the world. Each poem is delightfully illustrated with a watercolor painting.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox, 1985, Kane/Miller) is a heart warming story of love, generosity, growing old, and mortality with wonderful water color illustrations.
The Mountains of Tibet (Mordicai Gerstein, 1987, Harper and Row) is a story of life, death, reincarnation, and choice. The book opens:
In a tiny village, in a valley, high in the mountains
of Tibet, a little boy was born. He loved to fly kites.
The boy grows older, dies, and is then faced with a number of choices as to what and who and where he would like to be in his next life.
The book closes with the following lines:
And so, in a tiny village, in a valley, high in the mountains
of Tibet, a little girl was born. She loved to fly kites.
The Jataka tales are stories which were told by the Buddha approximately 2500 years ago to illustrate the way that our thoughts and actions profoundly affect the quality of our lives. The Dharma Publishing versions of the tales are adapted for children. They are richly illustrated and are printed on high quality semi-gloss paper.
Great Gift and the Wish Fulfilling Gem (Lama Mipham, l986, Dharma Publishing), one of the Jataka tales, is the story of a boy named Great Gift who, seeing the misery of the poor, embarks on a magical adventure in search of a gem which will satisfy the needs of all beings.
A Precious Life (1989, Dharma Publishing), another Jataka tale, is the story of a deer who risks his own life in order to save the life of a hunter who has pursued him. The story illustrates compassion, respect, and loving-kindness.