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Tale and Feathers

Lisbeth Boutang

Cloquet Public Library

Sometimes when children become extra lively during story times, I’ll ask a question in a solemn manner. I say, “Why do we have two ears and only one mouth?” The strange query settles the dust, and a few brave hands rise. Occasionally someone is spot on, and I wonder if they have heard my admonishment before or are genuinely discerning. I will stand by my belief that children are the wisest, most genuine, and utterly open of us all — to a certain age. Before that particular age of enlightenment, I’m the lucky recipient of their jolly innocence.

We have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we speak, I reply. Hopefully the adults heed the maxim with equal attentiveness. Who hasn’t “put their foot in it” simply because we do not think before we speak, or we do not listen closely to what other people are telling us? “Listen with the ear of the heart,” Saint Benedict advised his community nearly 1,500 years ago. The abbot’s guidance continues to make sense.

That’s why folktales are such an apt vehicle for teaching a lesson. Take, for instance, “Feathers,” a children’s picture book based on a traditional folktale from Eastern Europe, retold by Heather Forest. In this tale a gossip is brought before a wise rabbi who must teach her a suitable lesson, for her sharp and unkind tongue started a rumor soiling the victim’s good name.

The rabbi instructed the woman to take his feather pillow to the market square, cut it open, and let the feathers fly through the air. “When the task is done, bring back the feathers, every one,” he asked.

Reluctantly the woman agreed. She cut open the pillow and feathers filled the air. She tried to collect each one, but the task could not be done. “I cannot bring them back. They have scattered over the land. I suppose they are like the words I can’t take back from the rumors I spread,” she sighed. Now for the hard part: to stay taught. Of course we will fail, but we must strive to do the benevolent thing. To paraphrase a great woman, “It is by little and by little we behave.”

May all your words be kind, my friends. It is a daily challenge for us all.

And speaking of challenges, I’d like you to consider taking a pledge during Screen-Free Week, May 5-11. People around the country (and world!) will turn OFF television, video and mobile games, and other screens they use for entertainment, and turn ON the world around them! For more information, drop by the Cloquet Public Library for pledge cards, activity suggestions, steps to screen-proof your home, and Certificates of Achievement. Go to — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website — for all the details.