Share the following tips with parents to help them use books and stories to investigate valuable life lessons with children.

Decide which virtues are essential

Families are understandably different in the particular virtues they emphasize, the extent that character trait is valued, and their ways of supporting character development in children. In a family that values self-reliance, a child's struggle to figure something out may be viewed very positively, while in another family that emphasizes interdependence, stepping in to help might occur rather quickly. Consider first your child's unique characteristics, then the ways of being in the world that you value most, and the intersection of the two. The book Character Matters: How To Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues, by Thomas Lickona (Simon & Schuster, 2004), will deepen an understanding of children's character development.

Create family traditions that build human bonds

Simple gestures of caring are often fondly remembered by children well into adulthood. Consider using an affectionate countdown-to-bedtime poem such as Counting Kisses, by Karen Katz (Little Simon, 2001), or Animal Kisses, by Barney Saltzberg (Harcourt Brace, 2000). Stories can show children how to reciprocate in expressions of caring, such as helping out a working mom by tidying up in Mama's Coming Home, by Kate Banks (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003).

Share family stories

Every family has stories to tell that are a source of fascination for young children. Let children know that they were eagerly anticipated by watching the video of Debra Frazier's picture book, On the DayYou Were Born (Harcourt, 2001), a celebration of life. Tell them about all of the preparation for their arrival and how carefully their names were chosen using The First Thing My Mama Told Me, by Susan Marie Swanson (Harcourt, 2002), to start the discussion. Select stories that get to the heart of the matter. Make a book of promises inspired by Elizabeth Laird's Promises (DK Publishing, 2000). The book is filled with promises that parents make to children, including the greatest promise of all: to love the child unconditionally. Refer to Creating a Family StorytellingTradition: Awakening the Hidden Storyteller, by Robin Moore (August House, 1999), for more family story ideas.

Initiate discussions about life's lessons with a book

Suppose you were tied up at work and your child was the last one to be picked up at school. Share the joyful reunion in My Somebody Special, by Sarah Weeks (Gulliver/Harcourt, 2002), as a way to apologize and reassure. Locate many more titles on various topics in Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, by William Kilpatrick (Touchstone, 1994).