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Read-Aloud Ideas: Gifts of Character
With slightly older children you can expand the idea of community to include people beyond our own neighborhoods and country. Use the books below as a centerpiece for discussion about how the individual characters saw beyond their own corner of the world, and gave freely to the greater community—sometimes because of war or disease, but sometimes for the simple joy of giving and of spreading warmth or beauty.
Before reading, discuss the meaning of generosity. List ways people show their generosity. Does being generous have to involve money? People are often generous during the holiday season; are there needs that continue beyond the months of November and December? What are some ways that children can show a generous spirit? Who in the school community has been generous (with time, talent, or friendship) to the students in your class? Is there something your class could do to show appreciation?
After reading, decide as a class if you’d like reach out in some way in the local community or beyond to practice generosity. Brainstorm some possibilities for your area. Children at this age enjoy Reader’s Theater; after reading the books listed, visit Aaron Shepherd’s Reader’s Theatre page (reviewed here), specifically under the free script theme “Gifts and Giving” for additional stories to enjoy together and perform for others. A few other suggestions are listed for several titles below.
Brumbeau, Jeff. The Quiltmaker’s Gift. ISBN: 0-439-30910-7 Lexile: 640
In this book a greedy king finds true happiness only when he learns to give away his possessions to those in need. There is a lot to look at, ponder, and discuss particularly in the intricate illustrations, done with quilting motifs.
Call attention to the note at the end of the book which explains that a portion of the money generated through sales of the book is generously donated by the author, illustrator, and publisher to several organizations that help families and children around the world--ABC Quilts, SOS Children’s Villages USA, the Heifer Project International, Doctors Without Borders, and New York Cares. Visit their websites for more information.
There are many other books with a theme of quilts and quilting available as companions to this story as well.
Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. ISBN: 978-06704-79580 Lexile: 680
Miss Rumphius believes it is up to each of us to make the world more beautiful. Discuss how she goes about accomplishing that. Does it require a lot of money, or something else? Are there things your class could do to make their corner of the world more beautiful? Dream and write about what they might do as an adult if they were to follow in Miss Rumphius’s footsteps.
Fleming, Candace. Boxes for Katje. ISBN: 0-374-30922-1 Lexile: 460
Based on the experiences of the author’s mother, this lovely story shows the generosity of the members of a small town in Indiana in the aftermath of World War II. Boxes of badly needed food and personal care items were sent to children and families in a small village in Holland during the bitter winter of 1945. Friendships developed through letters that went back and forth with the boxes, and in the spring there’s a wonderful surprise box from Holland for those who gave so freely that others might survive.
Consider putting together holiday boxes or birthday boxes for children in hospitals or shelters. Your students will know what children would like to receive! Have students make cheerful cards by hand or on the computer to put in the boxes. Include in the box materials for the recipient to make a card for someone else and “pay it forward.”
Make a Chile Smile (reviewed here) offers another alternative. Students can make cards for other children with life-threatening illnesses.
Polacco, Patricia. The Trees of the Dancing Goats. ISBN: 0-689-80862-3 Lexile: 630
Like most of Polacco’s books, this story comes from her own childhood. When a scarlet fever epidemic takes its toll on most of the neighbors in Trisha’s town during Hanukkah and Christmas, she and her family find a way to spread joy.
Winter, Jeannette. The Librarian of Basra. ISBN: 0-15-205445-6 Lexile: 640
Though spare in text, this book serves as an excellent reminder that one person can make a difference to the greater community. Generous with her time and with the space in her home, the librarian of Basra (at great personal risk) hides thousands of Basra’s books for the future, when Iraq is no longer at war.
Additional stories to illustrate the concept of generosity can be found at: World of Tales, reviewed here. Search by genre, continent, and keyword.