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Story's moral lasts a lifetime

Of all the books I've read, my favorite is a children's book called Miss Rumphius.

I write about this now for two reasons: it's National Library Week, which seems an appropriate time to share my favorite titles; and tradition has it that when a new life is born into my circle of family and friends (in this case, a niece) it is time for me to make a trek to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Miss Rumphius and send it off to the little one and her parents.

I happened upon this treasure quite by accident some 12 years ago. My eldest was then in preschool and came home with one of those book-order forms that offer soft-cover selections for reasonable prices.

I chose Miss Rumphius for no other reason than that it had won the American Book Award for children's literature.

The book, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, was a pleasant surprise.

The illustrations, done with acrylic paint and colored pencils, were breathtaking. But it was the moral of the story that captured my heart.

Miss Rumphius starts out as a story about a little girl named Alice Rumphius who likes to spend her days helping out her grandfather, an artist and craftsman in a busy seaport.

But what she likes best of all is the evening hours spent sitting on her grandfather's knee and listening to stories about his exotic travels.

When she grows up, she tells her grandfather, she will be like him. She too will go to faraway places and come to live by the sea.

But her grandfather tells her there is one more thing she must do. She must do something to make the world more beautiful.

What a wonderful message.

Imagine what a great world this would be if every one of us set out to make it a little better than the way we found it.

There are other books like Miss Rumphius (she does, by the way, do that one thing to make the world more beautiful) that can somehow introduce or reinforce the morals and values we would like our children to absorb.

In a time when those values, along with the concept of common courtesy, seem to be at a minimum, I'll take all the help I can get.

The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, is a story about a beautiful fish who learns that the easiest way to be happy is by giving away the best part of himself. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, teaches the concept of unconditional love. A newly found favorite of mine, God Bless the Gargoyles, tells us that even the most different and reviled among us are deserving of God's love and acceptance.

There are countless other books out there that we as parents and teachers can use as tools to guide our children along a more honorable path. I urge you to share those books with others, young and old.

Perhaps then we'll all be doing a little something to make the world more beautiful.