BOOKS: Virtue Rediscovered

Moral tales for parents and children.
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"The Moral Compass: A Companion to 'The Book of Virtues,' " edited by William J. Bennett (Simon & Schuster, 824 pp.; $30, hardcover); "The Family Book of Christian Values," edited by Stuart and Jill Briscoe (Chariot, 512 pp.; $24.99, hardcover); "The Christian's Treasury," edited by Lissa Roche (Crossway, 556 pp.; $25, hardcover). Reviewed by Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of "Real Choices: Offering Practical, Life-affirming Alternatives to Abortion" (Questar).

Once upon a time, a mighty Book ventured forth into the world. It was a volume of moral instruction. Many such litter bookstore shelves: slim things with wide margins, whimsical covers, and lots of curly italics.

But this book disdained such frivolity. It was 800 pages long and weighed enough to brain a medium-sized dragon. It aimed at nothing less than displaying the very best stories and poems that could be found, spanning the world and the centuries. (Best? What a quaint notion.) These stories weren't only to be heartwarming or entertaining; they were to teach enduring moral principles. And to make its anachronistic claims unmistakable, this compendium was called "The Book of Virtues," a title redolent of the Victorian Age.

A book could be written about what happened next. William Bennett had tapped a deep, public longing for goodness. Parents, in particular, felt an urgent need to protect their children from a chaotic and immoral cultural milieu, and this book offered rock-solid, timeless wisdom. "The Book of Virtues" easily ascended to the top of Bestseller Mountain and enjoyed a fine long stay.

You do not have to be a wizard, or even a marketing maven, to know what comes next. "The Book" has a little brother. As "The Moral Compass" straps cleats onto its 800-page ...

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