Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life Lessons in Children's Literature

Sometimes a book finds you – rather than you finding a book, and The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy) by Jon J. Muth is a book that found me. In the midst of looking for other topics, my eye was drawn to the muted water color and the fact that there is a children's book based on Tolstoy - not an easy author to understand. I settled down on the floor to enjoy the story.

Nikolai wants to be a good person and sets out to find the answers to three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? 

Like most quest stories, Nikolai consulted several creatures: Sonya, the heron; Gogol, the monkey, and Pushkin, the dog. Each gave answers according to their own perspectives and experiences and their answers did not satisfy Nikolai. Figuring Leo, the wise turtle, might have better answers, Nikolai went to him. Leo was digging and Nikolai offered to help. In the midst of digging, Nikolia heard a cry for help and rescued an injured panda and her cub and cared for them. Through these experiences, Leo observed that Nikolia had the answers to his own questions, “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”

Just recently a teacher mentioned how discouraged she was with teaching - the Common Core mandates, a district imposed literacy curriculum, and general disrespect of the teaching profession. She said, “There are days that I wonder if it matters. What are we doing?” I reminded her of the tale of the boy walking down the beach and finding an old man throwing the stranded starfish back into the water. There were hundreds of the starfish on the beach and the boy exclaimed, “Why are you doing this? There is no way you can save them all!” The old man turned to the boy, while picking up another, and said, “It matters to this one.”

The teachers I know matter. Each and every day they focus on doing the best they can for each child in their classroom – the ones standing by their side – even in the midst of overwhelming mandates, testing and general discourtesy. It matters – to each child – each day – every day.