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Posted by Tom, December 18, 2012

Books about giving

A little while ago we wrote a blog about some of our favourite Christmas books. Today’s post is on a sort-of related topic: books about giving. This has been prompted by a couple of things: Ola suggested the theme with a couple of immediate nominations from our own list. And over the weekend, I read a short and very intriguing blog by Chris Blattman, a professor at Columbia University, about teaching children to share. Blattman writes about the policy of his child’s nursery:

Amara’s daycare (which, as you would expect, is the caricature of the overachieving and neurotic Manhattan nursery) doesn’t believe in sharing.

If Amara has a toy and Billy wants it, Amara is taught not to give it to Billy. Rather, Billy is told that it is Amara’s toy, and that he can have it when she’s done, whenever that may be. Amara is taught to say “mine” and fend off foul Billy.

The idea, they say, is to help a child (especially quieter ones like Amara) feel more secure, and thus share more confidently later in life.

My first thought: this is crazy.

My second thought: this is brilliant. This is the history of property rights in early human society: a set of norms that evolve to solve zero sum games, and thus promote harmony and cooperation in the absence of a coercive state.

Like Blattman, I can’t decide if this is crazy or brilliant, but it certainly made me think. Sharing and giving are very different emotional tasks for anyone to perform (I love giving books as gifts, but am very reluctant to share my own books, for instance…), although in children’s books the two activities are often treated interchangeably: celebrated as ways of teaching generosity, kindness and empathy (no bad thing).

Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, by Axel Scheffler, is a book very much about sharing. Posy snatches Pip’s scooter and Pip is very unhappy about it. But when Posy has a nasty fall, Pip looks after her, and they learn to share together (and, in Posy’s case, say ‘sorry’) by the end.

That distinction – between sharing and giving – is probably the subject for a different blogpost, though, and for the purposes of this one, I’d like to concentrate just on giving, and on stories actually about giving – not just ones in which it features (so, no The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, which does have a great gift-giving scene, but really only as a plot device in service to a larger narrative). There is some crossover between this list and that of our favourite Christmas books, but not as much as I expected there to be, depending on how generously you interpret the idea of “giving”.

There are some lovely books about giving things other than objects, like Hug by Jez Alborough and Hugless Douglas by David Melling.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley uses gift-giving as a means of tackling another, more difficult subject – dealing with loss – and does it superbly.

A Christmas Carol by Dickens uses giving as a way of providing redemption for Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White both explore giving through acts of great sacrifice.

And Christmassy picture books like Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black and Ros Beardshaw (and, indeed, our instant picture book The Snowman’s Journey, based on the John Lewis Christmas television advert) celebrate the joy of the act of giving itself.

What are your favourite books about giving (…or sharing)? And have you used them to teach any of these things yourself?

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