A library colleague (who has a terrific blog over at Great Kid Books) brought Each Kindness to my attention last fall and I finally got around to reading it for myself. I am still reflecting on the book so what follows is less a review and more a reaction. (For a great review of this title, head over here).
When the principal introduces new student Maya, hardly anyone in the class bothers to greet her. Chloe does not return Maya’s smile when the girls are seated next to each other. Soon Maya is nicknamed “Never New” by her classmates because her clothes, shoes and toys all seem to have belonged to others before they belonged to Maya. On the playground, Maya plays by herself because no one will join her, despite her invitations. When she is absent no one notices. One day, the teacher gives a lesson about kindness, using a small stone dropped into a bowl of water to show the ripple effect of being nice. When it is Chloe’s turn to share an example of how she has been kind, all she can think of is how she wasn’t kind to Maya. Though Chloe makes up her mind to smile at Maya the next chance she gets, Chloe finds out that she won’t have the chance because Maya won’t be coming back to class. The story ends with Chloe’s wistful regrets.
In this way, Each Kindness is very different from the story it echoes, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Chloe does not experience the kind of closure that Peggy and Maddie find after Wanda moves away. As an adult reader I appreciate Chloe’s less-than-happy ending, but I am hesitant to say that children will enjoy this conclusion. I am not sure what to do with the first person narration from Chloe’s point of view, and I think that Maddie’s reflections on her behavior toward Wanda are much more insightful. The steps Maddie takes to set things right prove cathartic. Also, much is revealed about Wanda in the course of The Hundred Dresses, whereas Chloe learns nothing about Maya—did she have siblings? Who were her parents? What kind of strange food did she eat at lunch? Why did she go away?
Unfortunately, Maya is forgettable as a character, and while Woodson’s point may be the lesson Chloe learns, I am unsure of the lesson a young reader will take away from the story.
Yet I think Each Kindness has potential, particularly as a concise variation of The Hundred Dresses. As part of a larger character education curriculum or as a one-off lesson on kindness, this book subtly raises the issue of bullying from the bully’s perspective.
Discussion Points* for Each Kindness:
*I thought up these questions with 7-8 year olds in mind. Please share your adaptations for younger or older children and/or the highlights of your discussions of the book.
- Chloe is observant. When the principal introduces Maya, Chloe notices that Maya’s coat is open, her clothes are “old and ragged,” and she wears broken “spring shoes” in the winter. When you meet someone for the first time, what are some of the things that you notice? What would you like other people to notice about you?
- “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” What does this saying mean to you? Do you agree or disagree? How would you change the saying to be about people?
- Chloe and her friends whisper and laugh about the strange food Maya brings for lunch. What kind of food would be strange for a kid to bring to school for lunch?
- New clothes and toys seem to matter a lot to Maya’s classmates. Why do you think they prefer new things?
- Andrew seems to be taunting Chloe when he says she has a new friend and Chloe tells him that Maya is not her friend. Chloe’s best friends are Kendra and Sophie. How many friends should a person have? With your school friends, how does it work if someone makes a new friend? How does it work if someone does not want to be friends with someone else?
- What are some kind things that you have done for others?
- What emotions do you think Chloe feels…when it is her turn to drop the stone into the water? …when she decides to smile at Maya? …when she learns Maya has moved away?