As a parent I am frequently asked to allocate temporary roles to young children in order to resolve minor conflicts between them. Who should have a turn first? Who needs to apologise? Who needs special consideration? So I try to remain on alert for role models in this field and I love to discover them in stories.
Recently my family and I enjoyed learning from a few Sikh Gurus in The Milk and the Jasmine Flower and Other Stories, and we are now learning from Buddhist teachers and stories in The Sound the Hare Heard and Other Stories.
The wise man in Siddhartha and the Swan makes an admirable decision between two boys who want possession of an injured swan and we get to see its consequences played out (but I won’t tell you and spoil it).
The story of The Generous Prince, Vessantara, shows us his acts of generosity resulting in a removal of his Prince’s rights, followed by a deliberate test – by Lord Indra – of his continued generosity (over a lengthy time frame) which cause him to be gifted with the return of his Prince’s rights, but in excess; his character is rewarded rather than his lineage.
The Prince’s acts of generosity are indeed difficult to accept, and readers can understand people’s reactions to him – at first, I reacted badly to a particular act – but, by the end of the story, I had been guided to reconsider my position. I do love being provoked to think beyond the surface by children’s stories, not merely to speculate upon and predict logical cause and effect.
For my family, as strivers for Paradise in the afterlife, the reminder that people of the world don’t always understand good deeds, and that the best rewards for generosity come long after the deeds, is a welcome one. I can’t say I like the story but I love its effect on me.
The title story in the book is also a great thought-provoker, and is very similar to renditions you may have heard of Chicken Licken, who feared the sky was falling down – the hare in this story is convinced that the world is breaking up. However, since the story is part of a short collection, it has been simplified and reduced to a few pages.
Thanks to a book suggestion by member of the Kids of Color group, we have a longer, more complex telling of the story in a copy of The Rumor: A Jataka Tale From India. I highly recommend it. The story is highly engaging and the illustrations depict numerous, numerous animals uniquely … and there is even a page at the back including a few animal facts.
I would love to hear your recommendations of Buddhist stories and any children’s stories that role model conflict resolutions, whether you’ve used them as a parent, experienced them as a child, or valued them simply, yet importantly, for your personal reflection and mediation.
Elizabeth Lymer is the author of Religious Rhyme Time, an Abrahamic children’s interfaith book, as well as Islamic Nursery Rhymes. She loves eating chocolate while she writes, and, with strictly chocolate-free fingers, she also creates Muslim and interfaith children’s gifts for book people at her Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK.