The Book of Virtues. William Bennett, ed., Simon & Schuster, 1993. 830 pp., $30. The fact that a collection of moral stories has been on the best seller list for so long is a hopeful sign. As Secretary of Education under President Reagan, William Bennett was disturbed by the gross decline in the moral literacy of America's children-and of society at large. Digging through a wealth of literary classics, he amassed a choice collection of poems, fables, stories and essays to form a textbook, as it were, of character development.
Each of the book's ten chapters is dedicated to a particular virtue: self-discipline, compassion, courage, faith, friendship. In each chapter, the related readings begin at an elementary level suitable for young children, and progress to levels of adult comprehension. Among the selections illustrating the chapter on work, for example, we find: "The Little Red Hen," Aesop's "The Ant and the Grasshopper," "The Shoemaker and the Elves" from the Brothers Grimm, an episode from Robinson Crusoe and another from the life of Thomas Edison, an essay by Francis Bacon and a short story by John Galsworthy. The readings cover a wide spectrum, from simple and humorous poems to stories about saints and soldiers, to selections from the great philosophers. There are Biblical stories, stories from classical mythology, from history. Plato, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Dickens, Longfellow and other literary greats are represented, as well as lesser known authors from our cultural heritage. Many of these selections are jewels of wisdom and experience, which will surely inspire a desire to read the originals in their entirety.
The book gives children a wonderful acquaintance with the world of great literature, which has so much to offer in forming the soul. All of us, children and adults, need appropriate meats to feed our souls, rather than the bland and amoral junk food which so abounds today. The Book of Virtues is a worthwhile investment-the perfect gift for a child or godchild, and a valuable addition to the family bookshelf.
Matushka Genevieve Shell
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