The last week of each January brings news of the winners of two of children’s literature’s most highly coveted awards: the Newbery (for writing — almost always given to middle-grade or young-adult novels) and the Caldecott (for illustrations — given to picture books). While these honors lead us to an array of wonderful children’s books, they do not highlight picture books distinguished by spectacular writing. That’s exactly what the Charlotte Zolotow Award does, though.
Awarded by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the 2013 prize goes to Each Kindness, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Since Woodson has written so many exceptional picture books, it’s not surprising that, once again, she has created a story that is unusually thoughtful and memorable.
Opening with a wintry scene of an elementary school, the plot introduces a new girl named Maya: “Maya looked down at the floor./ I think I heard her whisper/ Hello. We all stared at her./ Her coat was open and the clothes beneath it looked/ old and ragged.”
Reminiscent of the classic Newbery-winning novella The Hundred Dresses, Woodson’s story features a narrator who chooses to exclude the newcomer. Both the realistic watercolor paintings and the simple, touching prose show how others reject Maya’s offer of friendship: “When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared out at the snow.” The protagonist has no particular reason for ignoring Maya; she’s simply thoughtless and follows the friends she already has. “Whenever she asked us to play, we said no.”
As the days warm, one of those friends makes up a new name for Maya: Never New: “Everything she has came from a secondhand store.” The friends all laugh at this, while Maya goes off to jump rope alone. The girl no longer tries to reach out to anyone: “She jumped around the whole school yard/ without stopping. She didn’t look up once.”
Then, suddenly, Maya moves away. The teacher leads a discussion on kindness by putting out a big bowl of water and dropping a pebble into it. “This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said./ Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple,/ into the world.”
When Ms. Albert asks each student to drop in a stone and tell of some kind thing he or she has done, our protagonist faces the sad truth about her heartless behavior. She ponders the results of that girl, like anyone, holding “a small gift out to someone/ and that someone turning away from it.” She is left grasping a sense of lost opportunities … .
Don’t miss the opportunity to share this beautiful story with your young ones. Each and every child needs to hear Each Kindness.
And see my previous post on Jacqueline Woodson and these fine books (the first two for older children, the third for ages 5 and 6:
- Top 2012 Picture Books to Wake Your Brain Cells (wakingbraincells.com)