On a crowded New York City bus, a man reads aloud a newspaper story about a female gorilla who saved an endangered toddler in the zoo. One teenage girl is so moved by the story that she immediately offers her bus seat to an elderly lady. In "The Kindness of Children," educator Vivian Gussin Paley recounts stories such as these to demonstrate the power of story in shaping children's morality. The brief book mostly tells of Paley's experiences in visiting classrooms and hearing students' responses to various tales of compassion. Interspersed throughout the classroom episodes are conversations with her mother, a nonagenarian Jewish immigrant who draws parallels between Paley's stories and the Hasidic tales of her youth. Hasidic rabbis, Paley discovers, believed that "the moral universe rests on the breath of schoolchildren." While Paley sometimes overstates the case for the innate goodness of children, she powerfully reveals how such goodness can be molded through story and playacting.
In "Growing Strong Daughters," Wheaton College sociology professor Lisa Graham McMinn offers a focused, theologically nuanced guide to girls' development. Here, the social conscience of "Reviving Ophelia" meets the Christian church, which often subtly discourages girls from becoming all that they can. In tackling the longstanding nature/nurture debate, McMinn wisely points out that it is longstanding precisely because it is complex and does not lend itself to pat answers. She notes that Christians too often adopt our culture's pattern of devaluing anything associated with womanhood. McMinn speaks from her professional expertise as well as her personal experiences as the mother of three daughters. This thoughtful and perceptive guide should be on the bookshelves of parents, educators, and pastor.