The Granite Steps is a short book, but one big on wisdom. Best of all, it is an enticing parable about a young boy without a father who is trying to make some extra money selling newspapers to help his mother and sisters. Kempton has the desire to succeed, but he doesn’t have the know-how. Fortunately, one day he meets a man, Sir Granite, who takes him under his wing and guides him. Sir Granite doesn’t seem to do much except sit around the park all day. However, Kempton soon learns his new friend has a fascinating past, having had many adventures and even having been knighted by a queen. In his travels, Sir Granite has also gained a lot of wisdom and advice to offer Kempton.
The book’s title refers to the wisdom Sir Granite imparts to Kempton. The advice begins with tips on salesmanship that help Kempton become the best paperboy at the newspaper. From there, Sir Granite guides Kempton in his career choices as he outgrows selling papers and begins thinking about his future. Kempton eventually becomes interested in education and in helping children. He also falls in love, goes off to college, and begins to make the difficult life decisions that can make or break a person.
While the book begins as an innocent enough fable, by the time Kempton reaches early manhood, he starts to think he knows better than Sir Granite, and he makes some decisions that cost him dearly. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s sufficient to say the book teaches good lessons while always keeping the reader interested in the storyline.
The lessons the book offers are sprinkled throughout, each being a success principle. The first one appears when Kempton is involved in a contest to get newspaper subscriptions so he can win the prize Thanksgiving turkey for his family. Beginning to feel he will fail, Kempton receives the following advice from Sir Granite:
“Son, you have just hit upon the first principle of success, and you must never forget it. The first principle of success is to have a purpose. Repeat that to me, son. Say ‘a purpose.’”
“A purpose,” I repeated back. I didn’t know why or what he was talking about, really, but he seemed to feel that my needing to—having to—win this turkey for my family was some kind of principle. He called it my purpose. I was still enthralled.
“Good boy. Now listen to me. I noticed that the man who lives in this green house in front of us wasn’t home when you knocked on his door earlier. Now he is. He drove up while we were talking earlier. Run over to that house and knock on the door, but this time do exactly what I tell you to do, okay?”
“Go up to the door and ring the doorbell,” he said. “You’ll have a moment before he answers the door. While you are waiting, say these words to yourself: ‘Mama, this sale is for you and my sisters, and I am going to get you that turkey for Thanksgiving.’ Repeat this over to yourself as many times as you can before the door opens. Then, when the door is open, ask for the guy to subscribe. Now you go do it, boy, and then hurry back here. Go on now.”
This passage is a good example of Allen’s comfortable, down-to-earth style. The small town setting, the characters, and the book’s overall tone reminded me a bit of The Andy Griffith Show. The reader feels like he’s being guided along by an omniscient narrator who is assuring us everything will turn out all right, although the narrator is actually Kempton as an older man looking back on his life.
The book can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, but I think it would actually be the perfect gift for the young reader first engaging in business, perhaps getting his or her first job, like a paper route or flipping burgers, or the person ready to go off to college or making a career choice or change. Allen puts a lot of wisdom into a nutshell with each of the principles that Sir Granite offers, and the principles are easy to remember so the reader is more likely to apply them. Every reader will find something thoughtful to learn from and act upon in this book. It’s a great granite foundation to build upon.
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