In Time for the Easter season comes an offering from Scholastic that should delight the literary palates of young readers everywhere.
What is the meaning of true friendship? How can we overcome prejudice? What is the nature of love and of beauty? What should we do when we find something that doesn't belong to us? How do our perceptions of others change? Why is it important to share?
This is just a sampling of the moral issues that Arthur Dobrin raises in his attractive book, Love Your Neighbour: Stories of Values and Virtues. Dobrin is the Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, and his ethical stance is front and centre in the telling of thirteen animal fables. Handling a variety of themes such as tolerance, prejudice, love, and freedom, these stories feature a true menagerie of animal characters: selfless squirrels, honest koala bears, prejudging rabbits, self-centred elks, stubborn camels, and helpful spiders. Each fable ends with a moral judgment that summarizes the tale, and a question that is designed to facilitate discussion between child and parent about the values and virtues presented.
Dobrin's intentions are commendable, and Jacqueline Rogers' delicate watercolour character sketches of the animals will surely enchant young followers-along. The fables are told in an engaging, tried-and-true manner. Inevitably, there are echoes with this genre's centuries-old fount, and I did find myself wishing for a bit more originality in the presentation of these "original fables"; but this is a minor quibble. Of greater concern is that, as the potential adult reader to a child, I couldn't help but be annoyed by the moral direction that the author feels compelled to provide "today's thinking parents", for whom the book is explicitly targeted. Providing the ethical "nut" is one thing, and certainly an expected and accepted convention of the genre; yet, I feel that he should leave the leading questions up to the adult co-reader to formulate. As it stands, his manner is somewhat heavy-handed and potentially off-putting, and the questions may limit discussion rather than opening it up.
Sophia Schweitzer is an artist who lives in Abbotsford, B.C.