I have to be honest with you: I have mixed feelings about Did You Hear? A Story About Gossip by Frank J. Sileo. Dr. Sileo is a psychologist in New Jersey who works with children, teens, and families and who writes picture books on topics such as Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, homesickness, and self-confidence.

Dr. Sileo’s picture books all have the same sort of title. This one is Did You Hear? A Story About Gossip. The one about lactose intolerance is Hold the Cheese Please: A Story for Children About Lactose Intolerance. But the books aren’t stories. They’re lessons. And when you’re dealing with medical conditions, like Crohn’s disease, or like deafness, lessons are important. You need to understand the facts.

For emotional, social, and moral issues, like homesickness and self-confidence, I prefer stories. I think that children learn the lessons more deeply and profoundly from a story than they do from an explanation. Adults do, too, for that matter. When we draw inferences from a story, the lessons get embedded in our hearts. That’s why our Lord Jesus told so many stories. That’s the best way to teach.

At least, it usually is. But sometimes our Lord’s disciples struggled to infer the lessons from the stories he told. When that happened, he explained what he meant. Because, even with emotional, social, and moral issues, sometimes you need to understand the facts.

The facts about gossip

Did You Hear? explains what gossip is, and provides a lot of examples. It’s all told in rhyming couplets, like this:

Gossip can spread online, by text, or from ear to ear.
You might be interested in what you read or hear.
Did you hear Julia’s afraid to swim?
Did you hear Joshua tripped during gym?
Did you hear Jason cheated on his test?
Did you hear Sarah’s brother is a little pest?

Unfortunately, the quality of the rhyming is variable. In some places it’s so awkward that lines are hard to read out loud.

But the information is clear. Dr. Sileo provides clear factual statements about gossip:

  • Gossip can be false or true.
  • Anyone can be a victim of gossip.
  • Gossip can be spread many ways.
  • You might find the gossip interesting or amusing.
  • The stories being told by gossip can change as they get passed along.
  • Gossip can make others angry or sad, even if you don’t mean any harm by it.
  • Gossip can be a form of bullying.

He also explains what a child can do when they hear gossip.

  • Don’t listen to gossip.
  • Don’t repeat the gossip.
  • Tell the person that gossiping is unkind.
  • Tell an adult.

I can’t help thinking these lessons would be more powerful if Dr. Sileo had decided to “show, don’t tell.” By wrapping them in stories, the lessons would grab a child’s heart.

But the stories don’t have to come from Dr. Sileo. If you read this book with your child, you can tell your child stories from your own life, from the lives of friends and family, from the news. Your stories can help them see the damage that gossip can do. And your stories can help them feel how powerful and good it is to resist sharing gossip.

A visually appealing book

Everything Dr. Sileo says about gossip is supported by absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Jennifer Zivoin. The people in the book are drawn fully rounded and richly colored. Gossip is illustrated with spare, almost ghostly line drawings. The contrast is lovely and effective.

The two children on the front of the book, a young Black boy and a slightly older Black girl, appear throughout the book. Their mother is also Black, and their father is white. Other people in the book appear to be of a variety of races and ethnic groups.

Gossip 101 for grownups

The best part of the book, in my mind, is the two and a half pages at the end where Dr. Sileo addresses parents and caregivers.

In this extended note, Dr. Sileo explains what gossip is and why children (and adults) gossip. He talks about gossip as a form of bullying, and he explains ways to prevent hurtful gossip. Dr. Sileo is clear and straightforward. He warns about the impact of accepting gossip as normal behavior when we see it on television or online.

And he reminds us of the power of our examples. If we want our children to avoid gossip, we have to show them the way. If we read a story on Facebook that makes someone else look bad, we can choose not to comment, and choose not to share. If someone is sharing “news” that can hurt someone, whether it’s true or not, we need to walk away.

This is not a religious book, so Dr. Sileo doesn’t cover what the Scriptures say about gossip. And he doesn’t talk about what the Fathers say about it, either. But the Scriptures and the Fathers alike teach us that it is a serious sin.

It’s one that we need to root out of the garden of our own heart. And it’s one that we should prevent from taking root in the hearts of our children.

And Dr. Sileo’s book, Did You Hear? can help.

Read More

How to love strangers: Lessons in philoxenia: Cultivating the virtue of philoxenia will help children (and adults) fight the vice of gossip.

Teaching children with children’s books: Angela Isaacs, author of Goodnight Jesus and When I Pray, explains how she uses picture books to deal with behavioral issues and to help form her children’s faith and morals.

When Jesus was the guest of Zacchaeus the Publican: A story about what happens when you love instead of judge.

Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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