George Washington's Rules to Live By by K.M. Kostyal

GeorgeLynn:  I hate how this makes me sound like some cranky curmudgeon but I have found myself watching and listening to people lately and wondering what has happened to manners and consideration!  What makes anyone think I want to listen to their private and embarrassing phone conversations as we wait to board an airplane or that I enjoy having their children kick the back of my seat the entire flight from California to Michigan?  Am I the only one who is annoyed by students who just stand and watch as I  struggle to get my loaded book cart through the library door when both of my hands are full of boxes too?  Or…OK, I am taking deep, calming breaths because help is now at hand!

K.M. Kostyal has come to my rescue with George Washington’s Rules to Live By:  A Good Manners Guide from the Father of Our Country (National Geographic 2014).  Huzzah!  Funny, chatty and unusual, this is a book that I think kids will actually read and maybe learn a thing or two.  This is not your ordinary etiquette book.  In her introduction, Kostyal explains that one of our country’s greatest leaders hand-copied a list of manners titled The Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation when he was a boy.  There are 101 rules but Kostyal and illustrator Fred Harper chose 50 of the rules to examine.  Grouping the 50 rules into 6 categories such as Table Manners, Hygiene and Courtesy, Kostyal lists the original rule, then gives a brief contemporary explanation.  She then follows with several snippets of information about Washington’s life, early American history or culture.  The facts are fascinating and often funny and relate to the rule being discussed.  It is interesting how many of these old rules are still important today although this one is happily not as necessary:

“Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks Etc. in the Sight of Others….if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately.”

I had the older members of the focus group read this and they loved it, reading aloud lots of the facts and rules to me.  We all adored the illustrations too.  Each rule has full page comic style illustration that captures the gross nature of ill-manners with perfection.

And in case readers think manners are out-of-date, be sure to read the wonderful forward by Lizzie Post, Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter where she explains that “Etiquette, manners, civility…they all boil down to how we treat one another and how we hope to be seen and understood by those around us.”  Huzzah!

Cindy: I’ll join Lynn is championing a return to some additional civility and manners, but if she reads the whole list of George’s rules (found in the back), carefully, she may want to retreat a little.

#18 states: Read no letter, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

Now, I know how much Lynn and her husband read at the breakfast and lunch table, and then there is the last one, which we bloggers might have to heed. 😉

Seriously, though, this book is a hoot, and is educational. In addition to the etiquette advice, the historical anecdotes that accompany the rules will be enlightening. And the illustrations? The whole time I was reading this book I kept thinking, where have I seen this artist? Finally I looked up Fred Harper and the light goes on. In addition to having his illustrations appear in many, many places, he illustrates for THE WEEK, a journal I subscribe to. His illustrations in this book have a MAD magazine feel to them and will appeal to the targeted middle school audience. And now, I am off for a weekend in Austin, Texas where I may struggle with George’s Rule 91: “Make no shew of taking great delight in your victuals, feed not with greediness.” I am hoping for good eats and good music. I’ll try to behave.

Common Core Connection:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.9 Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.

Ask students to locate other rules of etiquette, either online or in print.  Compare and contrast the two versions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

In the Introduction, Lizzie Post states that “Etiquette, manners, civility…they all boil down to how we treat one another…”  Ask students to discuss whether these rules do still have relevance today.  Have the new technologies created the need for new etiquette rules?  Ask the students to write a new rule of etiquette that applies to modern life and explain why it is necessary.

nonfiction-mondayBe sure to visit Nonfiction Monday for other excellent choices.





About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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