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Short Stories for Children
for Spoken English
Programme
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Short Stories for Children
LEVEL 1: STORIES FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN .................................................. 5
THE WIND AND THE SUN ................................................................................................ 5
THE VILLAGER AND THE SPECTACLES ........................................................................ 5
AS YOU SOW, SO SHALL YOU REAP ............................................................................. 6
THE FARMER AND HIS SONS ......................................................................................... 6
BIRBAL THE WISE ........................................................................................................... 7
THE WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING ................................................................................ 7
HARE AND THE TORTOISE ............................................................................................. 7
NOBODY BELIEVES A LIAR............................................................................................. 8
WORK IS WORSHIP ......................................................................................................... 9
NEVER BE UNGRATEFUL ............................................................................................... 9
KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN .............................................................................................. 10
LIVE AND LET LIVE ........................................................................................................ 10
TIME IS VALUABLE ........................................................................................................ 11
HAVE FAITH IN GOD ...................................................................................................... 11
BLIND IMITATION IS BAD .............................................................................................. 11
A FOX AND A CRANE .................................................................................................... 12
LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE ............................................................................ 13
THE STORY OF LORD GANESHA ................................................................................. 13
EAGLES IN A STORM .................................................................................................... 14
THE ANT AND THE GRASSHOPPER ............................................................................ 14
MOTHER’S DAY ............................................................................................................. 15
MOUNTAIN ..................................................................................................................... 15
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THE MISER ..................................................................................................................... 16
TWO FROGS .................................................................................................................. 16
SAND AND STONE ......................................................................................................... 17
LEVEL 2: STORIES FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN .......................................... 18
A BOX FULL OF KISSES ................................................................................................ 18
THE PRAYING HANDS ................................................................................................... 18
THE FOUR WIVES .......................................................................................................... 20
WAIT FOR THE BRICK ................................................................................................... 21
PUPPIES FOR SALE ...................................................................................................... 22
THE MAN, THE BOY AND THE DONKEY ...................................................................... 23
THE WOODEN BOWL .................................................................................................... 24
TREES THAT WOOD ...................................................................................................... 25
PENCIL ........................................................................................................................... 27
DAD’S BLESSINGS ........................................................................................................ 28
THE GREEDY CLOUD .................................................................................................... 29
A MAD MAN IN THE CITY .............................................................................................. 29
NEVER MAKE FUN OF A RHINO ................................................................................... 31
THE MATH DUNCE ........................................................................................................ 32
THE WHITE ROSE .......................................................................................................... 33
THE RUBY THIEF ........................................................................................................... 34
THE DRAWING THAT TALKED ...................................................................................... 35
THE SINGING HIPPO ..................................................................................................... 37
THE INCREDIBLE BLACK RAIN ..................................................................................... 38
MY LITTLE WORLD HAS BROKEN ................................................................................ 39
THE UNFRIENDLY RIVER .............................................................................................. 40
THE TICKLING SCALES ................................................................................................. 41
A DAY WITH PIGS .......................................................................................................... 41
THE WARM WHALE ....................................................................................................... 42
THE MAGIC WINDOW .................................................................................................... 43
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LEVEL 1: STORIES FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL
CHILDREN
THE WIND AND THE SUN
Once the Wind and the Sun had an argument. “I am stronger than you,” said the
Wind. “No, you are not,” said the Sun. Just at that moment they saw a traveler
walking across the road. He was wrapped in a shawl. The Sun and the Wind agreed
that whoever could separate the traveller from his shawl was stronger.
The Wind took the first turn. He blew with all his might to tear the traveller’s shawl
from his shoulders. But the harder he blew, the tighter the traveller gripped the
shawl to his body.
The struggle went on till the Wind’s turn was over.
Now it was the Sun’s turn. The Sun smiled warmly. The traveller felt the warmth of
the smiling Sun. Soon he let the shawl fall open. The Sun’s smile grew warmer and
warmer... hotter and hotter. Now the traveller no longer needed his shawl. He took it
off and dropped it on the ground. The Sun was declared stronger than the Wind.
Moral: Brute force can’t achieve what a gentle smile can.
THE VILLAGER AND THE SPECTACLES
There was a villager. He was illiterate. He did not know how to read and write. He
often saw people wearing spectacles for reading books or papers. He thought, “If I
have spectacles, I can also read like these people. I must go to town and buy a pair
of spectacles for myself.” So one day he went to a town. He entered a spectacles
shop He asked the shopkeeper for a pair of spectacles for reading. The shopkeeper
gave him various pairs of spectacles and a book. The villager tried all the spectacles
one by one. But he could not read anything. He told the shopkeeper that all those
spectacles were useless for him. The shopkeeper gave him a doubtful look. Then he
looked at the book. It was upside down! The shopkeeper said, “Perhaps you don’t
know how to read.”
The villager said, “No, I don’t. I want to buy spectacles so that I can read like
others. But I can’t read with any of these spectacles.” The shopkeeper controlled
his laughter with great difficulty when he learnt the real problem of his illiterate
customer.
He explained to the villager, “My dear friend, you are very ignorant. Spectacles don’t
help to read or write. They only help you to see better. First of all you must learn to
read and
write.”
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Moral: Ignorance is blindness.
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AS YOU SOW, SO SHALL YOU REAP
One night, three thieves stole a lot of money from a rich man’s house. They put the
money in a bag and went to the forest. They felt very hungry. So, one of them went
to a nearby village to buy food. The other two remained in the forest to take care of
the bag of money. The thief that went for food had an evil idea. He ate his food at a
hotel. Then he bought food for his two mates in the forest. He mixed a strong
poison with the food. He thought, “Those two will eat this poisoned food and die.
Then I will get all the money for myself.” Meanwhile, the two wicked men in the
forest decided to kill their mate on return. They thought that they would divide the
money between the two of them. All the three wicked men carried out their cruel
plans. The thief who wanted all the money for himself came to the forest with the
poisoned food. The two men in the forest hit him and killed him. Then they ate the
poisoned food and died.
Thus, these evil people met with an evil end.
Moral: Evil begets evil
THE FARMER AND HIS SONS
A farmer had five sons. They were strong and hardworking. But they always
quarrelled with one another. Sometimes, they even fought. The farmer wanted his
sons to stop quarrelling and fighting. He wanted them to live in peace. Plain words of
advice or scolding did not have much effect on these young people.
The farmer always thought what to do to keep his sons united. One day he found an
answer to the problem. So he called all his sons together. He showed them a bundle
of sticks and said, “I want any of you to break these sticks without separating them
from the bundle.” Each of the five sons tried one by one. They used their full
strength and skill. But none of them could break the sticks. Then the old man
separated the sticks and gave each of them just a single stick to break. They broke
the sticks easily.
The farmer said, “A single stick by itself is weak. It is strong as long as it is tied up
in a bundle. Likewise, you will be strong if you are united. You will be weak if you
are divided.”
Moral: United we stand, Divided we fall.
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BIRBAL THE WISE
One day, a rich merchant came to Birbal. He said to Birbal, “I have seven
servants in my house. One of them has stolen my bag of precious pearls.
Please find out the thief.”
So Birbal went to the rich man’s house. He called all the seven servants in a room.
He gave a stick to each one of them. Then he said, “These are magic sticks. Just
now all these sticks are equal in length. Keep them with you and return tomorrow. If
there is a thief in the house,
his stick will grow an inch longer by tomorrow.”
The servant who had stolen the bag of pearls was scared. He thought, “If I cut a
piece of one inch from my stick, I won’t be caught.” So he cut the stick and made it
shorter by one inch. The next day Birbal collected the sticks from the servants. He
found that one servant’s stick was short by an inch. Birbal pointed his finger at him
and said, “Here is the thief.” The servant confessed to his crime. He returned the bag
of pearls. He was sent to jail.
THE WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
One day a wolf found a sheepskin. He covered himself with the sheepskin and got
into a flock of sheep grazing in a field. He thought, “The shepherd will shut the sheep
in the pen after sunset. At night I will run away with a fat sheep and eat it.
All went well till the shepherd shut the sheep in the pen and left. The wolf waited
patiently for the night to advance and grow darker. But then an unexpected thing
happened. One of the servants of the shepherd entered the pen. His master had
sent him to bring a fat sheep for supper. As luck would have it, the servant picked
up the wolf dressed in the sheepskin. That night the shepherd and his guests had
the wolf for supper.
Moral: An evil design has an evil end.
HARE AND THE TORTOISE
Once a hare was roaming near a lake in a forest. Suddenly he saw a tortoise and
mocked at him saying - "Hurry up, you slow coach! Don't you find life very dull
taking so long to cover a few yards? I could have run to the other side of the lake by
now."
The tortoise felt teased and dared the hare to a race. The race was to be through
the wood to a fixed goal.
The hare agreed laughingly. In a few minutes he was away and out of sight.
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"What a funny race it is!" he said to himself , "I am already half -way through. But it
is too- too cold; why not have a nap in the warm sunshine?"
The tortoise walked steadily on and on. In a short time, he passed by the sleeping
hare.
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The hare slept far longer then he had intended.When he woke up at last, he looked
around in surprise and said to himself," Not even a sigh of the poor tortoise
anywhere so far; I had better trot along and finish the race."
The hare ran to the goal. He was amazed to see all the animals cheering the
tortoise who had arrived just a minute earlier. how ashamed he felt indeed!
Moral: Slow and steady wins the race
NOBODY BELIEVES A LIAR
Once a mischievous boy lived in a village that stood in the feet of a hill. One day he
thought of having fun at the cost of his fellow-villagers.
Standing on a high rock, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Lion! Lion! Come, save
me."
The villagers heard the shout and ran to help him. But when they reached there,
they could see no lion and the boy was perfectly all right. The boy laughed at the
villagers saying, "No Lion ; I did it only for fun."
The villagers got highly annoyed and came back with an air of anger.
Few days later the boy repeated the whole act. Again the villagers went to his
rescue but were duped again. Now they decided not to be fooled by him
anymore.
Unfortunately, one day, the lion really came there. Now the boy shouted, "Lion!
Lion! as loud as he could". But nobody came to help him out.
The lion attacked the boy. The boy struggled hard to save himself but within few
minutes, the beast killed him.
So, once a liar, always a liar.
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WORK IS WORSHIP
One fine sunny day in winter, a grasshopper was basking in the warm sun. But he
was very hungry, as he had not eaten anything since last night.
So, he looked about to find something to soothe his hunger. Suddenly, he saw
few ants carrying grains into their hole.
He went up to the ants and asked humbly, "Can you, please, spare few grains
for me. I haven't eaten anything since yesterday. So, I am almost starving to
death."
One of the ants asked the grasshopper, "What were you doing the whole
summer? Why didn't you store up the food for the winter season?"
The grasshopper replied, "Truly speaking, I spent all the summer singing songs
and that's why I couldn't store anything."
The ant chucked out a smile and remarked, "Then dance the winter away." The
grasshopper pulled a long face and walked away.
So we say "Work is real worship".
NEVER BE UNGRATEFUL
It was high summer. The sun was extremely hot. Two travelers were going along a
dusty road that had no trees along its sides. Looking for some shelter from the hot
sun, they saw a tree with big leaves and branches spread like an umbrella.
They placed their belongings on the ground and sat in the cool thick shade of the
tree. After taking some rest, one traveler said to the other, "What a useless tree it is!
It bears no fruits at all."
Hearing this, the tree felt pinched and burst out, "You ungrateful soul! On one hand,
you are taking shelter in my cool shade from the burning heat of the sun and on the
other hand, you are calling me useless. Get up and leave the place immediately to
be scorched again."
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KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN
Once upon a time there was a lion that grew so old that he was unable to kill any
prey for his food. So, he said to himself, "I must do something to stay my stomach
else I will die of starvation."
He kept thinking and thinking and at last an idea clicked him. He decided to lie down
in the cave pretending to be ill and then who-so-ever will come to enquire about his
health, will become his prey. The old lion put his wicked plan into practice and it
started working. Many of his well-wishers got killed. But evil is short lived.
One day, a fox came to visit the ailing lion. As foxes are clever by nature, the fox
stood at the mouth of the cave and looked about. His sixth sense worked and he
came to know the reality. So, he called out to the lion from outside and said, "How
are you, sir?"
The lion replied, "I am not feeling well at all. But why don't you come inside?"
Then the fox replied, "I would love to come in, sir! But on seeing, all foot prints going
to your cave and none coming out, I would be foolish enough to come in."
Saying so, the fox went to alert the other animals.
LIVE AND LET LIVE
Once there was a big pool near a village. The villagers used the water of the
pool for drinking and for other purposes also. The pool was abounded with
fish.
Once a fisherman went fishing to the pool. He cast his net into the pool and sat
down. But he was very impatient. So, he tied a long string to a small stone. Then
putting it into the pool, he began to stir the water to drive more fish into his net.
A villager saw him do so and asked him not to make the water muddy. But the
fisherman didn't listen to him and went on beating the water and making it dirty. So,
the villagers brought some companions armed with weapons. Seeing them, the
fisherman got scared. He drew out his stone and apologized."
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TIME IS VALUABLE
Anthony was a very lazy boy and always used to postpone things. One day his
father called him and made him understand the value of time that one should
always do things on time. Anthony promised his father that he would never
postpone things.
One day, he came to know that he had won the first prize in a singing competition
that was held the previous month. He was asked to collect the prize the same day.
He didn't care and went to collect the prize the next day. But the prize became
useless for him, as it was a ticket to a circus show, which was held the previous day.
Anthony learnt a lesson from this incident.
HAVE FAITH IN GOD
Once a teacher had a disciple who used to live in a hermitage. One day, the disciple
was going somewhere. He hadn't gone too far when suddenly it started raining cats
and dogs. He returned and told this problem to his teacher. The teacher said, "You
should have faith in god. He will save you from all problems."
The disciple obeyed and resumed his journey. He kept reciting the name of god and
cleared all the hurdles.
Next day, the teacher had to go on the same route. When he reached a deep
drain, he doubted whether god would save him or not. The teacher got
drowned.
Thus, doubt drowns you and faith saves you.
BLIND IMITATION IS BAD
One day, a saint while going somewhere with his disciples saw a pond full of
fishes, on the way. He stopped there and started filling his mouth with fish. The
disciples followed their guru. The saint said nothing to them and after some time
moved ahead.
Then they reached another pond, where there were no fishes. The saint stood at its
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shore and started taking out the fishes he had swallowed. When the disciples saw
this, they were
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amazed and also tried to vomit out the fishes, but after many attempts, they could
only take out some dead fishes.
At this, the saint said, "Fools, when you didn't know how to keep the fishes
alive in the stomach, then why did you imitate me?"
Its truly said that never imitate anyone.
A FOX AND A CRANE
Once a fox and a crane became friends. So, the fox invited the crane to dinner.
The crane accepted the invitation and reached the fox's place at sunset.
The fox had prepared soup for his mate. But as we all know that foxes are cunning
by nature, he served the soup in flat dishes. So, he himself lapped the crane's
share with his tongue enjoying its relish a lot. But the crane could not enjoy it at all
with his long beak and had to get back home hungry. The shrewd fox felt extremely
amused.
After few days, the crane invited the fox to dine in with him. The fox reached his
place well in time. The crane gave him a warm welcome and served the soup in a
jug with a long and narrow neck.
So, the crane enjoyed the soup with great relish using his long beak. The fox's
mouth couldn't reach the soup through the narrow neck of the jug. He had to return
home hungry. Now he realized that he had been repaid for his behaviour with the
crane.
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LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
Once there lived a grumpy king. He never used to laugh nor allow anyone in the
kingdom to laugh.
One day, a small boy couldn't control his laughter. Later, scared of the
punishment, he thought of a plan. He wrote a funny story and converted it into
a drama.
Then he went to the palace and asked the king, "May I present my drama to you?"
the king let him do it. Then the boy started the play. In the end, he came to the
funniest part of the story which made the king laugh.
All people present in the court were amazed. The king then allowed everybody to
laugh. Everyone then lived happily thereafter.
THE STORY OF LORD GANESHA
One day, Goddess Parvathi, the wife of Lord Shiva, was getting ready for her bath
and needed someone to guard her chamber. Therefore she made a beautiful,
young boy from the sandalwood from her body. She gave him life by sprinkling the
Holy Ganges water on him and entrusted him with guarding the door.
While she was away, Lord Shiva returned and was surprised to find a little boy
standing at the entrance to his wife’s chamber. When he tried to enter, the boy
blocked his path. “Who are you and why are you blocking my path?” demanded
Lord Shiva. “No one enters my
mother’s chamber”, declared the boy boldly. Taken aback, Lord Shiva replied, “Step
away; I have the right to enter my wife’s chamber.” But the young and courageous
boy did not move but stood his ground. Not knowing that this was his own son, Lord
Shiva who was quick to anger grew enraged. Not used to be disobeyed he cut off
the boy’s head.
Goddess Parvathi on returning from her bath saw her son lying dead and was
overcome with grief. She was filled with both anger and sorrow. Seeing this Lord
Shiva sent his soldiers to fetch the head of the first beast that they saw. The men
rushed and finally came upon an elephant. They immediately took the head to Lord
Shiva, who quickly attached it onto the body of the slain boy and gave him life once
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again.
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To further appease his grief-stricken wife he promised that her son would be
worshipped first, before all other Gods.
Even today at the entrance of all temples one would find the idol of the elephant-
headed God, Lord Ganesha.
EAGLES IN A STORM
Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it
breaks? The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When
the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the
storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it.The eagle does
not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds
that bring the storm.When the storms of life come upon us and all of us will
experience them we can rise above them by setting our minds and our belief
toward God. The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow
God’s power to lift us above them.God enables us to ride the winds of the storm
that bring sickness, tragedy, failure and disappointment in our lives. We can soar
above the storm.
THE ANT AND THE GRASSHOPPER
One summer's day, a merry Grasshopper was dancing, singing and playing his violin
with all his heart. He saw an Ant passing by, bearing along with great toil a wheatear
to store for the winter.
“Come and sing with me instead of working so hard”, said the Grasshopper “Let’s
have fun together.”
“I must store food for the winter”, said the Ant, “and I advise you to do the same.”
“Don’t worry about winter, it’s still very far away”, said the Grasshopper, laughing
at him. But the Ant wouldn’t listen and continued his toil.
When the winter came, the starving Grasshopper went to the Ant’s house and
humbly begged for something to eat.
“If you had listened to my advice in the summer you would not now be in need,”
said the Ant. “I’m afraid you will have to go supperless to bed,” and he closed the
door.
It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
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MOTHER’S DAY
A man stopped at a flower shop to order some flowers to be wired to his mother who
lived two hundred miles away.As he got out of his car he noticed a young girl sitting
on the curb sobbing.He asked her what was wrong and she replied, “I wanted to buy
a red rose for my mother.But I only have seventy-five cents, and a rose costs two
dollars.”The man smiled and said, “Come on in with me. I’ll buy you a rose.”He
bought the little girl her rose and ordered his own mother’s flowers.As they were
leaving he offered the girl a ride home.She said,
“Yes, please! You can take me to my mother.”She directed him to a cemetery,
where she placed the rose on a freshly dug grave.The man returned to the flower
shop, canceled the wire order, picked up a bouquet and drove the two hundred
miles to his mother’s house.
MOUNTAIN
"A son and his father were walking on the mountains.
Suddenly, his son falls, hurts himself and screams:
"AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" To his surprise, he hears the voice repeating,
somewhere in the mountain: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!"
Curious, he yells: "Who are you?"
He receives the answer: "Who are you?"
And then he screams to the mountain: "I admire
you!" The voice answers: "I admire you!"
Angered at the response, he screams:
"Coward!" He receives the answer:
"Coward!"
He looks to his father and asks: "What's going
on?" The father smiles and says: "My son, pay
attention." Again the man screams: "You are a
champion!"
The voice answers: "You are a champion!"
The boy is surprised, but does not understand.
Then the father explains: "People call this ECHO, but really this
is LIFE. It gives you back everything you say or do.
Our life is simply a reflection of our actions.
If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.
If you want more competence in your team, improve your
competence. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects
of life;
Life will give you back everything you have given to it."
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YOUR LIFE IS NOT A COINCIDENCE. IT'S A REFLECTION OF YOU!"
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THE MISER
A miser sold all that he had and bought a lump of gold, which he buried in a hole in
the ground by the side of an old wall and went to look at daily. One of his workmen
observed his frequent visits to the spot and decided to watch his movements. He
soon discovered the secret of the hidden treasure, and digging down, came to the
lump of gold, and stole it. The Miser, on his next visit, found the hole empty and
began to tear his hair and to make loud lamentations. A neighbor, seeing him
overcome with grief and learning the cause, said, "Pray do not grieve so; but go and
take a stone, and place it in the hole, and fancy that the gold is still lying there. It will
do you quite the same service; for when the gold was there, you had it not, as you
did not make the slightest use of it."
TWO FROGS
A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep
pit. When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they
were as good as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up
out of the pit with all their might. The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they
were as good as dead.
Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and gave up.
He fell down and died.The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once
again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He jumped even
harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs said, “Did you not
hear us?” The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were
encouraging him the entire time.
This story teaches two lessons:
1. There is power of life and death in the tongue. An encouraging word to someone
who is down can lift them up and help them make it through the day.
2. A destructive word to someone who is down can be what it takes to kill them.
Be careful of what you say. Speak life to those who cross your path. The power of
words… it is sometimes hard to understand that an encouraging word can go such a
long way. Anyone can speak words that tend to rob another of the spirit to continue
in difficult times. Special is the individual who will take the time to encourage
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another.
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SAND AND STONE
A story tells that two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of
the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face.
The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand:
“TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.”They kept on walking
until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one, who had been
slapped, got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After
the friend recovered from the near
drowning, he wrote on a stone: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY
LIFE.”The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, “After I
hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?
The other friend replied: “When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand
where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something
good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
LEARN TO WRITE YOUR HURTS IN THE SAND, AND TO CARVE YOUR
BENEFITS IN STONE
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LEVEL 2: STORIES FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL
CHILDREN
A BOX FULL OF KISSES
The story goes that some time ago, a man punished his 3-year-old daughter for
wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight and he became infuriated
when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless,
the little girl brought the
gift to her father the next morning and said, “This is for you, Daddy.”The man was
embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, but his anger flared again when he found
out the box was empty. He yelled at her, stating, “Don’t you know, when you give
someone a present, there is supposed to be something inside? The little girl looked
up at him with tears in her eyes and cried, “Oh, Daddy, it’s not empty at all. I blew
kisses into the box. They’re all for you, Daddy.”The father was crushed. He put his
arms around his little girl, and he begged for her forgiveness.Only a short time later,
an accident took the life of the child. It is also told that her father kept that gold box
by his bed for many years and, whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an
imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.In a very real
sense, each one of us, as humans beings have been given a
gold container filled with unconditional love and kisses… from our children, family
members, friends, and God. There is simply no other possession, anyone could hold,
more precious than this.
THE PRAYING HANDS
Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with
eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food on the table for this mob,
the father and head of the household, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost
eighteen hours a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the
neighborhood. Despite their
seemingly hopeless condition, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder’s children had a
dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that
their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to
study at the Academy.After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the
two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down
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into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended
the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in
four years, he would support the other
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brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by
laboring in the mines.They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church.
Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg. Albert went down into the
dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at
the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts,
and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he
graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned
works.When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive
dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant homecoming. After a long
and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his
honored position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for
the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfill his ambition. His closing
words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you
can go to
Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”All heads turned in
eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down
his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and
repeated, over and over, “No …no …no …no.”
Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long
table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he
said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look …
looks what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every
finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from
arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast,
much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No,
brother … for me it is too late.”
More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer’s hundreds of masterful
portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, watercolors, charcoals, woodcuts, and
copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great
that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer’s works. More
than merely being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in
your home or office.
One day, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer
painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together and thin fingers
stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply “Hands,” but the entire
world almost immediately
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