Tag Archives: summary

Each Kindness

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).

Each KindnessRipples in the water are a familiar metaphor for cause and effect, used here by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson to teach young Chloe the impact of small acts of kindness.

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.

The Hundred DressesIn 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?
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Filed under Picture Books

I Swear: Thoughts about Bullying, Lane Davis’ novel, and a New Year’s Resolution

In the past I have posted a booklist on the topic of bullying, reviewed The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso, and shared my thoughts on how books can help to open up dialogue on this sensitive topic.

This year, with No Name Calling Week coming quickly (January 21-25), I am thinking yet more deeply about why the issue of bullying is something I take so seriously as an educator, a parent, and as a human being.  Some life lessons came hard and fast over the past couple months and I think I’m still reeling.   Between the experiences I’ve had and the reading I’ve done, cyberbullying, slut shaming and the limits of free speech are all on my mind.

Particularly when verbal bullying is involved—as I have learned firsthand—too many people, including teachers, school administrators and parents, are uncomfortable with the word “bullying.”  They are reluctant to identify problematic behaviors for what they are, downplaying the victims’ feelings, giving the perpetrators the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the victims are crying “wolf.”  In a culture in which people are so quick to defend their right to free speech, what happens to the rights of others to be free from verbal violence?

Last fall, I read I Swear, the debut novel from writer/actor Lane Davis.  Narrated alternately by four friends, the novel explores the fallout of a bullycide tragedy:  Leslie Gatlin, after enduring years of relentless bullying and systematic humiliation, kills herself in her parents’ garage.  Jake, perhaps Leslie’s only friend, is the last person to see her alive.  Jillian, Jake’s twin sister, is best friends with Macie Merrick, the mastermind behind the schemes, pranks, and cyberbullying that targeted Leslie. Katherine and Beth, Leslie’s classmates, each played her own part as well.  With Leslie’s parents pursuing a wrongful death suit, everyone is forced to confront an uncomfortable reality:  even if the truth comes to light, will it bring justice?

While all the expected characters round out the cast—the queen bee and her sidekicks, the wannabes, the love interest, and the bystander-turned-heroine—Davis does a remarkable job developing the standard players and in the right hands this fascinating novel could become a powerful screenplay.  As the events unfold, the narrators reflect on their reasons for going along with Macie’s cruelty to Leslie—what is it about Macie that compels both girls and guys to crave her approval?  How can any teenager be expected to find his or her own voice when so many others—peers’ and adults’—are quick to speak for them?

Unfortunately, some of the Macie Merricks we knew in high school are now adults who continue their vicious, brutal behavior in the workplace or other communities, always managing to come out on top because they’ve crushed the people in their way.  Recognizing this, Davis ends the story with all the complexity and ambiguity that suicide demands—and the novel is all the more successful for it.

As a teacher and parent, I swear, I will be vigilant in raising awareness of the realities of bullying.  To this end I’ve decided to study—concurrently with my library science work—character development.  I hope to integrate my background in morality and social justice and my extensive reading of young adult literature with strategies for teaching character and values.  I am excited to see what comes of it all.  My official New Year’s resolution is inspired by One, presented here by author Kathryn Otoshi:  I am only one educator, but one student, one classroom, one school at a time, I will help build communities that foster compassion and respect.

Upcoming:  a few more recommended titles on bullying.

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Filed under YA Literature

A Cricket in Times Square

Written by George Selden.  Illustrated by Garth Williams.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960.  132 pages.  Tr. $17.00.  ISBN 10:  0-374-31650-3/ISBN 13:  978-0-374-31650-1.

While tending his family’s newspaper stand in the Times Square subway station, a young boy named Mario hears an unusual sound—the chirping of a cricket!  Mario rescues the cricket from a dirty corner of the station, elated to have a pet at last.  The cricket quickly becomes a fixture at the newspaper stand, though Mario and his parents disagree over whether it is lucky or not.  Meanwhile, the cricket—whose name is Chester—befriends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, who also live in the station.  As Chester adapts to his new life, far from his country home, his talent for music is revealed and suddenly throngs of people are marveling at the rarity of a cricket in Times Square.

Enhanced with drawings by Garth Williams, this charming story will leave a lasting impression on readers of all ages.  A perfect read-aloud for younger children eager for more complex stories and a good selection for confident readers ready for chapter books.

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Selden, G.  (2008). The cricket in Times Square [unabridged CD].  New York: Macmillan Audio.

Awards won by this item

Author biographies

Illustrator biography

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • New York
  • Subway
  • Friendship
  • Home

Series Information:  The original story spawned sequels and a prequel featuring Chester Cricket and his friends:  Tucker’s Countryside, Chester Cricket’s New Home, Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride, The Old Meadow, and Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse.

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

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Filed under Chapter Books, Middle Grade Books

Are You Ready to Play Outside?

Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems.

Hyperion Press, 2008.  64 pages.  Tr.  $8.99.  ISBN 978-1-4231-1347-8.

Mo Willems’ beloved Piggie and Gerald are back and eager to play outside.  Except that it is raining.  Disappointed, Piggie frets about what to do.  When Gerald timidly suggests a way that they can still have fun, the day is saved, proving “elephants make the best friends!”

This Elephant and Piggie Book is perfect for beginning readers who are building confidence in their new skills.  The pair is delightfully expressive in the tradition of emergent reader texts from Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman.

Other Information:

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biography and interviews

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Friendship
  • Rainy day
  • Emergent reader titles

Series Information

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

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Filed under Picture Books, Reading Aloud

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Written and Illustrated by Simms Taback.

Viking Juvenile, 1999.  32 pages.  Tr. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-670-87855-0.

Using the die cut technique he popularized in his book There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Simms Taback presents another award winning story, this one about a Jewish farmer named Joseph whose resourcefulness allows him to continually remake his overcoat into something new.  Taback’s inspiration for the story comes from a Yiddish folksong which is included at the end of the book.  Young readers will enjoy the predictable pattern of the text, and older readers will find numerous interesting bits of Jewish culture sprinkled throughout the richly textured illustrations.  A joyful story with a moral readers of all cultures can take to heart.

Cited in Essentials of Children’s Literature 6th Edition pages 94, 97, 113, 224, 311 and the 2000 Caldecott Medal winner:

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gagne, P.R. & Reilly, M. (Producers) & Ivanick, D. (Director).  (2001).  Joseph had a

little overcoat .  Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Jewish culture
  • Reusing Resources
  • Folk songs

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

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Filed under Picture Books

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Roaring Book Press, 2003.  40 pages.  Tr. $17.95.  ISBN 978-0-7613-1791-3.

Philippe Petit is a street performer who loves to entertain crowds with his juggling tricks and his unicycle.  His favorite trick is walking on a tightrope high above the ground.  Once, in his hometown of Paris, France, Philippe walked (and even danced!) on a wire between the steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Now living in New York, Philippe spots twin towers, each 1,340 feet tall.  And he has an idea…

Mordicai Gerstein recounts the remarkable story of Philippe Petit who, on August 7, 1974, walked on a wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Gerstein’s ink and oil illustrations capture Petit’s charisma and daring, as well as the astonishing height of the towers.  The post-9/11 perspective of this story preserves the memory of Petit’s amazing feat and the magnificence of the World Trade Center.  This book may serve as an introduction to 9/11 history for children born after 2001.

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gerstein, M.  The man who walked between the towers [compact disc]. (2005).  Pine Plains, NY:  Live Oak Media.
  • Sporn, M. (Director). (2005). The man who walked between the towers [DVD]. Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods Studios, Incorporated.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Tight rope walker
  • Street Performer
  • 9/11

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

Gallery of Mordicai Gerstein’s art:  http://www.rmichelson.com/Artist_Pages/Gerstein/Mordicai_Gerstein_Gallery.html

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Filed under Picture Books

Chinese Handcuffs

by Chris Crutcher, 1989

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Suicide, high school sports, friendship, family

Reader’s Annotation:  Dillon Hemingway’s world is changed forever when he witnesses his brother’s suicide.

Main Characters:  Dillon Hemingway, a triathlete who aspires to be an Ironman
Preston Hemingway, Dillon’s brother who has committed suicide
Stacy Ryder, Preston’s girlfriend, friend of Dillon’s
Caulder Hemingway, Dillon & Preston’s father
Jen Lawless (aka J. Maddy), star basketball player, friend of Dillon’s
T.B. Martin, Jen’s stepfather
Coach Kathy Sherman, women’s basketball coach, teacher & mentor to Dillon

Summary:  Only a short while ago, Dillon Hemingway was dreaming of competing in a triathlon.  Now, in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide, Dillon is coping with his own grief and confusion, his parents’ separation, and his friends’ secrets.  Dillon begins writing letters to his brother Preston as a way of sorting out his feelings and he relies on the steady support of Coach Kathy Sherman.  As more and more secrets are revealed, Dillon is faced with difficult decisions involving safety, trust and the law.  Between a sinister biker gang and an unscrupulous lawyer, Dillon must think clearly and act fast to help those he cares about.

Controversial content:  violence, sexual abuse, killing of an animal, gang rape

Also by Chris Crutcher:  The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes, Stotan!

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Filed under YA Literature