I have vivid memories from my early childhood of my dad laying in the hallway between my brothers’ room and the room I shared with my sisters. He’d either tell us stories he made up or read to us. When he would read to us, he’d read from The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. If I had to choose a single book (other than scripture) that has most influenced my life, it would be this one.
The Book of Virtues is a collection of moral tales and poems, which sounds much more boring than it actually is. The morals are normal characteristics that are good for anyone to develop - things like courage, responsibility, perseverance, and honesty. Many of the stories are retellings of common folk and fairy tales, some even by recognizable names like Hans Christian Andersen. Poems come from familiar artists like Robert Louis Stevenson and William Shakespeare. It even includes the Gettysburg Address and a speech by Winston Churchill. If you’d prefer, you could even consider it an anthology of classic writings.
When I was little, my favorite story in the book was The Velveteen Rabbit. (Which, by the way, I read it to my children recently and was reminded how sad the story is. Don’t ask why it was my favorite.) When I needed poetry for any oral presentations as a teenager, The Book of Virtues was the first place I looked. In its pages I found my all-time favorite poem: Carry On by Robert Service. My dad’s favorite was one called The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. There really is something for everyone in this book.
Full disclaimer: I haven’t actually read every story and every poem in this book. There are literally hundreds of pages, but I have read many of them. I love picking a topic and finding new gems. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to those who have children.