By Robert Salvo

What a difference three blocks makes.

Ever since the Mercury offices moved from King Street to East Bay this past winter, I have been able to observe the subtle (and often not-so-subtle) difference in tourists between the two areas. The boutique/antiques axis upon which Lower King Street spins caters to a somewhat different caliber of turista than the land of pineapple fountains and Italian ice carts found a bit closer to the waterfront.

 

There are plenty of children floating about in this great sea of American adipose, clinging to the fanny packs and muscle shirts of their begetters, many being ornery and obstreperous in communicating their desire for ice cream or to splash in a fountain or to do something — anything — other than what Mom and Dad have them doing at the moment.Thus I am heartened to see Charlestonian Julia Pinckney’s new book, Am I Big Enough?:A Fun Little Book of Manners.

The book introduces us to Finn, a kindergarten-aged middle child in an otherwise unnamed family. As Finn witnesses mannerly and kind acts throughout the day, a central conceit emerges where the protagonist asks himself if he is “big enough” to do the same himself. He always is, of course, and young readers are encouraged to put their hands atop his handprint to see if they, too, are big enough to be mannerly. The hands of most children leaving the toddler stage should be large enough to do the trick.

A charming book, it is brief enough to hold child-sized attention spans, is pleasingly illustrated by veteran artist Timothy Young and offers a fine representative sample of politeness in action that can encourage parent-child discussion of manners not directly presented in the book.

Having recently become a parent, I’ve learned that everyone has strongly-held opinions on all aspects of parenting, and few have the strength to withhold them. While flaunting one’s opinions in public is rarely mannerly behavior, I have the extreme privilege of somehow earning a paycheck for it. So I’ll briefly share mine below.

Children are smart — much smarter than we often expect. When manners are a component of “smart behavior,” children will adopt them. But when snatching at Dad’s shirt or talking over Mom’s phone conversation gets the desired result just as easily as “please” and “thank you,” children will behave accordingly.

So what to do in a world of barbarian behavior, from loutish lookieloos on the streets of our Holy City to philistine politicos on the campaign stage?

We do what Julia Pinckney sets out to do with her charming book: We teach our youth. We hold them to the high standards that enrich any age. We expect them to share. We expect them to help out. We expect them to participate in family and social life to the extent that they’re developmentally capable. And we hold them to those expectations.

My mother, with her usual knack for phrasing such things simply, always put it this way: “Rob, I love you. That means I want other people to love you too.” Which meant I had to behave. So if there’s a young child in your life that you love — and want others to love too — then show it by picking up this fine book and adding it to your teaching tool kit.

You can do it. You’re big enough.

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.