Everyday Graces: A Child’s Book of Good Manners, edited, with Commentary by Karen Santorum (ISI Books, US$25, 407 pages)

True politeness, says Karen Santorum, “is the mirror of a person’s heart and soul – it is an outward expression of inner virtue.” How can such an important virtue so often be taken for granted? We know that children learn best by example and repetition and that modeling desired behavior instead of simply listing the do’s and don’ts is the most effective way of instilling proper behaviour for life. Yet, with all of this knowledge it is incredibly difficult to find child friendly resources to assist families in this journey.

There are some parenting books that outline ways parents can tackle teaching manners and a plethora of etiquette books and classes that will gladly list what is right and wrong. But there are very few books that invite children into the learning process. Much less speak to them not at them, is suitable for a wide age range and interesting enough to refer to over and over again.

Everyday Graces: A Child’s Book of Good Manners edited with commentary by Karen Santorum, the wife of stalwartly pro-life Senator Rick Santorum (R, Penn.) has proven to be such a tool.

This book, as the publishers tells us, is a “collection of stories and poems that will develop and enrich moral imagination. Some are well known and others are forgotten gems that deserve a new hearing.” It is composed of 13 sections, 10 of the sections containing subsections. There are some illustrations scattered throughout the book, but it is the strength of the written message that is so inviting. The overall look and feel of the book is as if it was written in another era, an era in which children supposedly always demonstrated good manners – as though the appearance and texture of the pages themselves demand respect making this a book one which will be cherished for years to come.

Accompanying every story and poem is a short reflection or commentary from Santorum. (The format reminds one of William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues.) She uses these stories – poems from Robert Frost, excerpts from Tom Sawyer and Anne of Green Gables, stories from A. A. Milne, C. S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott – as an opportunity to provide deeper insight into various aspects of manners, to relate a personal story or to offer some advice. These short pieces make the book more personal and provides a further jumping off point for discussion.

In order to teach children the importance of using everyday manners, parents can model such behavior at home and in public. Observing this behavior and having it’s importance reinforced will make it second nature to children. However, special or infrequent situations can leave parents in a quandary as to how to teach and not simply instruct their children on proper etiquette specific to each situation. Santorum deals with this issue by providing examples such as using “Good manners at home” and goes as far as providing examples of “Good ways to lose friends” to proper conduct at “Church, weddings and funerals.”

Although the stories and poems in the book differ greatly from one another both in style and presentation, at 407 pages this book could prove too much for any family to read straight through. As a reference or a book that you visit periodically with your children this book is a valuable resource. Santorum has done an amazing job at providing parents an excellent resource that illustrates and teaches the importance of truly appreciating and treating our many everyday graces with respect.

Christina Tuns, a wife and mother of three, is an Interim columnist.