Fiona Nelson reading "Do We Care"

Summer Reading: Fiona Nelson Shares Her Top Three Books

Charlotte Morgan


“Kindergarten teachers know they are starting from scratch, that the children are going to have to be brought along toward some common goals. The best politicians do the same thing. They bring people along and bring them together in the best interests of society as a whole.”

While the lazy, hazy days of summer are spreading gloriously in front of us, some thoughts may be turning to a few good books to enjoy in the back yard, the camp site or the cottage. To help make the choice a little easier, I asked Fiona Nelson to name her three favourite books. Here’s what she had to say: “In these times when greed and individualism seem to be the rule, reading these books will help teachers defend their work. The writers offer a rationale for maintaining a holistic society that cares for its most vulnerable citizens.

“Did you know that in Toronto, more than 200 teenage moms are raising their babies in strollers in doorways?” she asks. “Some of our homeless families are packed into cheap motel rooms, when they could be properly housed for a fraction of the cost. It just makes me so angry.”

While these comments may seem to be off on a tangent, in fact Nelson’s vision of a healthy society breaks through whatever she is discussing. It is also the tie that binds her three top books together. “In The Needs of Strangers Michael Ignatieff discusses the ways in which we have to operate if we want to live in a healthy society. ‘It is because money cannot buy the human gestures which confer respect, nor rights guarantee them as entitlements, that any decent society requires a public discourse about the needs of the human person,’ Ignatieff writes. I couldn’t agree more with the ideas he expresses in this little book.”

Nelson’s next pick is John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Good Society. “Galbraith says There is no test of the good society so clear, so decisive, as its willingness to tax - to forgo private income, expenditure and the expensively cultivated superfluities of private consumption - in order to develop and sustain a strong educational system for all its citizens.’ And as the flyleaf says, ‘...Galbraith presents the blueprint for a society that compassionate to the less fortunate and economically feasible for all.’”

Finally, Nelson pulls Do We Care? Renewing Canada's Commitment to Health from her well-stocked bookshelf. “Everything editor Margaret A. Somerville and her six co-authors say about what I term the sickness care system, can equally be applied to education. I particularly recommend Dr. Nuala P. Kenny’s essay Ethical Dilemmas in the Current Health Care Environment. Other authors included here are Richard Cruess, Raisa Deber, Bernard Dickens, Bob Rae and John Ralston Saul.”

This kind of summer reading might not be the lightest fare available. However, if you enjoy short, well-written books that restore your faith in human nature, these may well be the books for you. They are probably all available from your local public library. If all three would be too much, pick your favourite and enjoy it.

While the books recommended are all non-fiction, Nelson’s favourite fiction authors include Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findlay, Doris Lessing, Rohinton Mistry and Vikram Seth.
“These authors have all left indelible images in my mind,” she says.

Fiona Nelson taught kindergarten in Toronto for 10 years throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She also taught Early Childhood Education at George Brown College and served as a school trustee (including Chair of the Toronto Board of Education) for 23 years. She is currently a member of the City of Toronto's. Children's Action Committee and the Toronto Board of Health's Food Policy Council.
Charlotte Morgan is the Editor of the ETFO Voice.


Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Good Society: The Humane Agenda. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1996. 152 pages includes index,
Ignatieff, Michael. The Needs of Strangers: An Essay on Privacy, Solidarity and the Polities of Being Human, Penguin Books Ltd. 1984. 156 pages includes notes and index.
Somerville, Margaret A., Editor. Do We Care? Renewing Canada's Commitment to Health Proceedings of the First Directions for Canadian Health Care conference. McGilLQueen's University Press. Merck Frosst Canada Sc Co. 1999. 166 pages.