A lesson in good manners

neighbors

Couple hopes book will help children discover the lost art of etiquette

March 08, 2009|By Janene Holzberg | Janene Holzberg,Special to The Baltimore Sun

As she watched the author of Choosing Civility turn the pages of a children's book on etiquette, Boi Carpenter-Mellady almost had to pinch herself.

For Boi and her husband, Matthew Mellady, first-time authors and fans of P.M. Forni, awaiting his verdict on their almost-finished book seemed a bit surreal.

After all, it was Forni's book that inspired the ubiquitous "Choose Civility in Howard County" car magnets.

And his 208-page volume containing 25 rules of considerate conduct is used by many as a handbook for living a kinder and gentler life.

"I felt like I was watching my favorite teacher grade my paper," said Boi (pronounced BOH-ee).

The Woodstock couple, both 40, had decided to write their book on kids' manners in spring 2007, initially inspired by the unmistakable cadence of Dr. Seuss.

"I think I was reading Green Eggs and Ham aloud to our daughter, Brynne, who was 18 months old at the time," said Matthew, an attorney with the Justice Department.

When he finished, he riffed aloud in Seuss' distinct rhythm, "What do you say when you meet someone new? You smile, shake hands and say how do you do."

The couple exchanged glances, and the idea to collaborate on a kids' book on manners sprang to life. Within a month, they had a working outline for What Do You Say As You Go Through Your Day?

Passionate about parenting, the pair are equally ardent about etiquette. Their book is dedicated to their only child, now 3, who is depicted in the book's illustrations.

"We had already been discussing how we wanted to raise Brynne to be a citizen of the world," said Boi, a fundraising manager at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Writing the book was a natural extension of that desire, she said.

"We see etiquette as a way to teach children to be responsible and caring individuals," she said. "There has been a decline in civility, we believe, so this book is a return to basics."

Matthew recalled Forni concurring with that notion when the couple met with him last summer.

"He said we were helping to rediscover a lost art and our book was powerful in its simplicity," Matthew said.

Forni, the civility champion who is a native of Italy and a literature professor at the Johns Hopkins University, wrote a favorable review that is printed on the back of the book. He calls the book "a gem ... that delivers powerful messages with a quiet charm."

Obviously pleased with their effort, Forni said the mere existence of the couple's book reinforces that idea that we are in a "period of rediscovery" of manners.

"Etiquette wasn't a priority a decade ago," Forni said last week in a telephone interview. "And now it is on the national agenda, as our new president seems to embody civil behavior to a remarkable extent."

Forni, who also directs the Civility Initiative at Hopkins, said the Melladys are "the right people for this project." The author said he gets the sense they are "profoundly decent, as well as very smart and very serious" about their book.

Children must realize that their actions have consequences for others, Forni added, and the couple's picture book stresses that concept in a delightful way.

"We must teach self-restraint along with self-esteem," he said. "Good manners are the training wheels of altruism."

The Melladys, who said they moved to Howard County five years ago for its public school system, set their book on the day of a birthday party, using that occasion as a springboard for demonstrating proper etiquette from waking to bedtime.

"Proper" could be the very adjective that puts some people off, though.

"Etiquette is one of the most misunderstood words," said Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute.

"It is not just a rigid set of formal rules for where a fork goes in a place setting, or a prissy way of talking," said Post, who continues the work of her husband's famous great-grandmother whose name is synonymous with manners.

"Etiquette is value-based and encompasses being respectful, considerate, honest and ethical," she said in a telephone interview.

"Times are frenzied, and manners make life run smoothly," she said. "It's never too early to start teaching etiquette."

Boi said that etiquette enhances interpersonal relationships, which are the basis for navigating our fast-paced, highly technological world.

Matthew conceded that finding the time for their pet project isn't always easy.

"We take turns writing, usually on weekend mornings or when Brynne is napping," he said.

There is definitely more to self-publishing than initially meets the eye, though, both acknowledged.

Advertising for an illustrator at the Maryland Institute College of Art, deciding on Trafford Publishing in Canada, getting their title on bookshelves in independent bookstores - all these steps have forced them to cram on marketing principles.

Nonetheless, the subject remains so close to their hearts that they envision a series of nine books, each one modeling the correct responses to different encounters.

Their second picture book, which they plan to self-publish this summer, will focus on table manners and teach proper etiquette of sharing a meal.

"Manners are the building blocks of interpersonal relationships," Boi said. "They help us get along in daily life."

neighbors

Is there a noteworthy person or event in your neighborhood? Contact Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg at jholzberg76@msn.com or 410-461-4150.

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