Don’t Put Peas Up Your Nose! Teaching Children Manners

by Jodi Forschmeidt

When I began teaching in the 1990s, I was surprised by the rude and inconsiderate behavior I saw some children display at school. I expected the middle-school students to be ill-mannered; it goes with early adolesence. But even elementary-school children talked back or outright ignored adults. They threw food at one another, poured milk on the floor, and disobeyed the lunchroom monitors. On the playground, scuffles often broke out when two children wanted a single toy and neither would make the gracious gesture of allowing the other to use it first. In the classroom, students interrupted each other and the teacher. They did not request but rudely demanded assistance, materials, and attention. Clearly these children needed to learn some manne rs.

Recent studies have demonstrated that one-third of career success or failure can be attributed to social skills or the lack thereof. With the current focus on making school relevant to the workplace, teachers must address the need for students to learn how to get along with others. At the elementary-school level, that means starting with the basics: nice manners.

Parents and teachers have relied on literature to gently instruct their charges in the ways of polite society for many years. In 1900, Gelett Burgess penned Goops and How to BeThem: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants, with 90 Drawings. Each page contains a verse about proper behavior, and a charming illustration of an ill-mannered “goop.”    Munro Leaf created Four-and-Twenty Watchbirds in 1939. He describes two dozen types of unpleasant children, such as “the borrower,” “the plotter,” and “the bathroom wrecker.” Each one is observed by a chagrined watchbird, who shames the transgressor into improving. Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, first published in 1947, is still widely read and beloved by children today. The ever-resourceful Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cures all of the neighborhood children of their rude and obnoxious behaviors. Young readers cannot fail to recognize a little bit of themselves in the clever vignettes. Below are some more recent additions to the canon of literature on manners and etiquette for children. These fun introductions to the topic may impress children far more than any number of nagging adult reminders.

Books for Younger Readers

Aliki. Manners. 1990. 40p. Greenwillow, $16.99 (0-688-09198-9); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.99 (0-688-04579-0).

Preschool–Gr. 2. The incomparable Aliki demonstrates good manners and kind habits through well-designed cartoon segments. The bright illustrations invite young children to learn and enjoy.

Allen, Kathryn Madeline. This Little Piggy’s Book of Manners. Illus. by Nancy Wolff. 2003. 32p. Holt, $15.95 (0-8050-6769-8).

Preschool–Gr. 2. This clever tale of etiquette is based on the rhyme “This Little Piggy,” and compares the boorish attitude of one pig to the polite demeanor of another. From the sharing of toys to sloppy table manners, the book draws upon situations that will be very familiar to youngsters, and Wolff’s vibrant gouaches lend a festive air.

Amos, Janine. I’m Sorry. Illus. by Annabel Spenceley. 2001. 32p. Gareth Stevens, $16.95 (0-8368-2804-6).

Preschool–Gr. 2. This title from the Courteous Kids series presents several situations in which one child owes another an apology. Each segment asks the reader how the slighted character might feel and offers a simple apology, as well as ways to make it right. The book clearly illustrates for young children the value of empathy and makes an effective discussion starter.

Badt, Karin Luisa. Greetings! 1994. 32p. Children’s Press, o.p.

Gr. 2–5. Badt discusses greeting customs around the world and clearly explains their importance in this entry in the World of Difference series. She also provides some interesting tidbits about the origins of some customs, such as the business handshake. (It demonstrated to each that neither carried a weapon!)

Bloom, Suzanne. Piggy Monday: A Tale about Manners. 2001. 32p. Whitman, $15.95 (0-8075-6529-6).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Mrs. Hubbub’s ill-mannered students turn into pigs in this rhyming tale. A specialist called in by the principal reverses the process by reminding the youngsters to improve their social graces. Bright, attractive illustrations make this simple book effective. For a humorous story about a slovenly family turning into pigs, see Anthony Browne’s Piggybook (Random, 1986).

Brown, Laurie Krasny, and Marc Brown. How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them. 1998. 32p. Little, Brown, $14 (0-316-10913-4); paper, $5.95 (0-316-11153-8).

Gr. 2–5. Anthropomorphic dinosaurs demonstrate how to get along with other kids in these engaging cartoons. Topics include ways not to be a friend, talking out an argument, and feeling shy.

Brown, Marc, and Stephen Krensky. Perfect Pigs: An Introduction to Manners. 1983. 32p. Little, Brown, paper, $6.95 (0-316-11080-9).

Preschool–Gr. 2. A sanctimonious pig explains the rules of polite society in this guide, illustrated with lively cartoons. Good manners are covered for a variety of situations in a humorous fashion.

Buehner, Caralyn. It’s a Spoon, Not a Shovel. Illus. by Mark Buehner. 40p. 1995. Puffin, paper, $6.99 (0-14-056427-6).

Preschool–Gr. 2. A menagerie of critters quizzes children on the right things to say and do. Each social quandary comes with three choices: one correct one and two ridiculous ones. Kids will giggle at the silly answers.

Carle, Eric. The Grouchy Ladybug. 1977. 48p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-06-027087-X); HarperTrophy, paper, $7.99 (0-06-443450-8).

Preschool–Gr. 3. A grouchy ladybug would rather fight than share and so goes looking for a suitable opponent. By the end of the day, the belligerent bug has learned a lesson about being
gracious.

Carlson, Nancy. How to Lose All Your Friends. 1999. 32p. Viking, $15.99 (0-670-84906-5); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-055862-4).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Carlson humorously gathers common home and school behaviors children know about and are told to avoid: “If you are eating cookies, hide them when your friends come over.” Pushing in the lunch line, whining, tattling, and sibling teasing are illustrated with zippy pictures that strongly contrast having fun and being mean.

Cuyler, Margery. Please Say Please! Penguin’s Guide to Manners. Illus. by Will Hillenbrand. April
2004. 32p. Scholastic, $15.95 (0-590-29224-2).

Preschool–Gr. 1. In this lighthearted manners guide starring penguin and friends, alternating pages outline various etiquette situations, such as “When a hippo sits down for dinner, she should put her napkin on her head. . . . Is that right?” The following pages enlighten listeners on correct behavior. Hillenbrand’s graphic, oversize illustrations are perfect for sharing with groups.

Friedman, Ina R. How My Parents Learned to Eat. 1984. 32p. Houghton, $15 (0-395-35379-3); paper, $5.95 (0-395-44235-4).

Gr. 1–4. A little girl tells the story of her parents’ first dinner date. Her American sailor father had learned to use chopsticks so they could eat at a Japanese restaurant, while her Japanese mother had learned to use a fork and knife, so she could eat Western style. They decided to do both. This is a lovely tale about adapting one’s manners to another culture.

Hazen, Barbara Shook. Hello Gnu, How Do You Do? A Beginning Guide to Positively Polite Behavior. Illus. by Dara Goldman. 1990. 64p. Doubleday, o.p.

Preschool–Gr. 2. Perfect Nicky Gnu demonstrates exemplary manners at home and in public. As a result, he is happy and popular. Iggy Ape is unkempt, rude, and friendless.   Sanctimonious for adult tastes, but the black-and-white, cause-and-effect message might be just the ticket for some youngsters.

Hutchins, Pat. The Doorbell Rang. 1986. 24p. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-688-05251-7); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.99 (0-688-09234-9).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Ma makes a plate of cookies for the kids. When two friends arrive, they are happy to share. Then more friends arrive, and then more. When each child has only one cookie, the doorbell rings again. Should they answer it?

Katz, Karen. No Biting! 2002. 14p. Grosset & Dunlap, $5.99 (0-448-42584-X).

Preschool. This lift-the-flap book features rules for toddlers. Each page lists a prohibition, such as “no spitting at your brother!” Lifting the flap reveals when it is all right to spit, such as “when you are brushing your teeth.” Toddlers will also enjoy Katz’s Excuse Me! (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002). The same format is used to teach children the magic words of manners.

Kotzwinkle, William, and Glen Murray. Walter the Farting Dog. Illus. by Audrey Colman. 2001. 32p. Frog, $15.95 (1-58394-053-7).

Preschool–Gr. 2. A dog with a chronic case of flatulence is about to be sent back to the pound when his farting foils a burglary and makes him a hero. Young children will howl at this story about a bodily function.

Marciano, John Bemelmans. Madeline Says Merci: The Always Be Polite Book. 2001. 48p. Viking, $11.99 (0-670-03505-X).

K–Gr. 3. The irrepressible Madeline demonstrates virtuous behavior in all sorts of circumstances. Entries such as “But when you meet the queen for tea / The proper thing is to curtsy” keep the tone light and fun. The grandson of the original Madeline author, Marciano re-creates the look and feel of the pint-sized Parisian heroine in this charming book.

Morgan, Richard. Oops, Sorry! A First Book of Manners. 2002. 24p. Barron’s Educational, paper, $6.95 (0-7641-2287-8).

Preschool–Gr. 2. In this cute, basic primer on manners for the preschool set, a little boy tells us what to say in various situations.

Radunsky, Vladimir, and Chris Raschka. Table Manners. 2001. 32p. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-
1453-X).

Gr. 1–4. Dubbing themselves, respectively, Chester and Dudunya, free-spirited illustrators Raschka and Radunsky concoct a decidedly postmodern guide to proper behavior at the table, scattering lines of type in a wide array of sizes through collaborative illustrations featuring geometric forms, broadly brushed cartoon figures, and an occasional clipped photo.

Sendak, Maurice. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue. 1962. 48p. HarperTrophy, paper, $5.95 (0-06-443252-1).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Young Pierre will only say, “I don’t care,” no matter what his parents ask of him. Then a lion shows up and gives him a reason to communicate more politely. Pierre is a funny rhyming story featuring Sendak’s trademark illustrations. Also see Sendak and Sesyle Joslin’s Caldecott Honor–winning What Do You Say, Dear? (HarperCollins, 1958), a humorous etiquette handbook.

Shaughnessy, Diane. Let’s Talk about Good Manners. 1997. 24p. Rosen/Powerkids, $18.75 (0-8239-5045-X).

Gr. 1–5. An entry in the Let’s Talk Library, this textbook-style treatise on manners makes its points in a no-nonsense tone. Each one-page chapter, illustrated by a photograph, explains a concept. Topics such as “good manners at school” and “getting along with others” are explored. The volume ends with a glossary and an index.

Wood, Audrey. Elbert’s Bad Word. 1988. 40p. Harcourt, $15 (0-15-225320-3); Voyager, paper, $6
(0-15-201367-9).

Gr. 1–4. Young Elbert hears a bad word at a party, then utters it himself when a croquet mallet hits his toe. Elbert can’t get rid of the word, which takes the form of a hairy monster, until a local wizard teaches him some strong but acceptable language to use instead. Perfect for “potty-talking” elementary-school kids.

Books for Older Readers

Carlson, Dale. Manners That Matter for People under 21. Photos by Dan Fitzgibbon. 1983. 144p. Dutton, o.p.  

Gr. 8–up. This handbook of social skills gives clear and simple advice to teens dealing with the complexities of dating as well as the usual issues of thank-you notes and wedding behavior. Some of the suggestions may make today’s ultracasual kids sneer, but they may read it with interest when no one is looking.

Holyoke, Nancy. Oops! The Manners Guide for Girls. Illus. by Debbie Tilley. 1997. 96p. Pleasant, paper, $7.95 (1-56247-530-4).

Gr. 4–8. Don’t miss this guide to advanced manners for intermediate kids. Oops! goes beyond please and thank you, discussing, for example, the difference between talking to a friend and talking to an adult. Another chapter suggests ways to respond to small, unexpected, or unwanted gifts. The book even delves into Internet etiquette and safety, as well as how to be polite, but safe, with strangers. This is an excellent addition to a preteen girl’s library, and it’s not bad for boys, either.

James, Elizabeth, and Carol Barkin. Social Smarts: Manners for Today’s Kids. Illus. by Martha Weston. 1996. 112p. Clarion, paper, $6.95    (0-395-81312-3).

Gr. 3–8. Detailed discussions of common situations facing kids make up this helpful book. Each topic, such as “meeting people,” “parties,” and “on the phone,” gets its own chapter, accompanied by questions and answers by K. T. (Knows The) Answers. K. T. explains the ins and outs of social conundrums, such as how you introduce your best friend to your grandmother, and what to do when your buddy behaves obnoxiously at the movies. Straightforward and relevant.

MacGregor, Cynthia. What Do You Know about Manners? A Funny Quiz for Kids. 2000. 208p. Meadowbrook, paper, $6.99 (0-88166-354-9).

Gr. 3–8. Learn what’s okay and what’s a faux pas in a fun multiple-choice, question-and-answer format. Chapters include “Family Matters,” “Social Graces,” and “Euuww, Gross!” The three wrong answers to each question will have kids laughing out loud.

Ré, Judith. Social Savvy: A Teenager’s Guide to Feeling Confident in Any Situation. 1992. 208p. Simon & Schuster/Fireside, paper, $14
(0-671-74198-5).

Gr. 7–up. The owner of an etiquette academy, Ré knows her stuff and gives teens the lowdown on restaurant manners, party preparations, having or being an overnight guest, and generally behaving in a civilized manner. This book will be useful to any young adult who needs to know (or who will need to know in the future) which fork to use when.

Jodi Forschmiedt, a former teacher, is a freelance writer and the mother of two girls. She lives in Seattle, Washington.