Written and Illustrated by Munro Leaf
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1946
This is really a book about how to have the most fun in living, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman – the rules are all the same.
The plot in a nutshell: See above.
The book opens with the idea that ‘behaving’ is all about doing the best that we can to get along with others and take care of ourselves by being honest, fair, strong and wise. These four basic tenets are then broken down in detail. Honesty is all about telling the truth, keeping promises and being worthy of the trust of others. You can’t be an honest person if you steal, cheat or let bad people take advantage of others. Fairness is recognizing that everyone else has the same right that you have to live and be happy. It’s about making friends, sharing, being a good sport and taking your share of responsibility. Strength comes from doing the right thing, having good life habits and listening to doctors and parents’ advice about taking care of ourselves. Wisdom is about manners and kindness, following basic rules of courtesy and respecting the opinions of others. If you can be all of these things, then you have learned how to behave and you know why.
This is one of several books on manners and behavior written by the wonderful Munro Leaf, who is best known as the author of Ferdinand (which is in my top five favorite picture books). This book grabbed me at that opening line, which makes some pretty big promises. Fortunately, it lives up to its promise and does, indeed, share a lot of insight into how to have a wonderful life by basically following the rules for being a good person. What really makes it work is that, as he states, these rules don’t follow any religious guideline or belief system that may or may not apply to you. No matter who or where you are, you’ll find that being honest, fair, strong and wise will improve your life in the long run.
The artwork is done in his characteristic stick figures, which he also used in his very popular Watchbirds cartoon series for Ladies Home Journal. The stick figures work perfectly for this type of book, reminding you of the universality of the guidelines that you’re reading. There are so many awesome takeaways from this book. From remembering that you can’t always be right to taking care of yourself, this is all good stuff. It would be a very pleasant world if everyone followed the advice offered here.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that some wisdom is basic, universal and timeless and it never ever ever goes out of style.