Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: Schools are spending a lot of time on the issue of bullying recently. I hope for good results as such “programs” come and go in schools with varying success. Bullying IS a serious problem and as a school librarian I know how many of our lunch-time customers were escaping that misery. I don’t know if scripted programs will help but I do know that Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis’ new picture book, Each Kindness (Penguin 2012) is a book that could open minds and hearts.
Chloe and her “best friends that year” are queens of the playground. When a new girl, Maya, arrives she tries hard to make friends. But Maya’s clothes are old and ragged and the little clique dub her “Never New.” Maya keeps on trying despite Chloe’s rebuffs until the day she comes to school wearing something very special – and clearly second hand. When the girls laugh, Maya turns away, unwinds her jump rope and jumps and jumps and jumps. (Is your heart breaking yet?)
In school the next day, Maya is absent and the teacher starts a lesson on kindness. Each child drops a stone in the water, watches the ripples and relates a kind act. Chloe can not think of one kind act and hands the stone on. She vows to smile back at Maya the next day but Maya never returns to school. Chloe realizes that sometimes second chances never happen and the book ends with Chloe thinking about her actions and the ripple effect of both kindness and unkindness.
Woodson’s text and Lewis’s luminous watercolor illustrations combine to deliver a tale that goes straight to the heart with a lesson that is unmistakable yet not heavy-handed. An ideal classroom read-aloud, this beautiful book may do more to make children think than any “program” currently being inflicted on them!
Cindy: We already had this book in our schedule for today but we learned yesterday that Jacqueline Woodson won the 16th annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for Each Kindness, an award for the year’s best picture book text. Congratulations! My heart did break a little bit with each page turn, including the final ones as Chloe realizes the consequences of her actions. The teacher does not admonish her but lets her come to the conclusion herself and it makes it all the more powerful. Self punishment is always the worst…and the most effective.
The watercolor illustrations are perfect. The varying perspectives…looking up at a principal arriving with the new kid, looking down at reflected faces watching the water ripples. The cover scene of a contemplative Chloe tossing stones in the pond. The playground scenes…these are kids we know, gestures and stances that make these children look like hundreds of others we’ve seen, and we know that there is some of each of us in this book’s pages. Each kindness, indeed. What have you done today that is kind? “Even small things count.”