The Ripples of Kindness

The last week of each January brings news of the winners of two of Each Kindnesschildren’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 DressesWoodson’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:

Other Side by Jacqueline WoodsonForgiveness GardenYoko's World of Kindness by Rosemary Wells


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie@The Secret DMS Files of Fairday Morrow
    Jan 26, 2013 @ 19:22:59

    Claudine told me about this blog post so I had to come and visit. My school and my 5th grade students are working on 2013 acts of kindness by the end of the school year. This sounds like a great book for me to share with my class (we have a new student, who is having trouble fitting in, too). I read The Hundred Dresses and I can see the similarities. I look forward to reading this and thank you for the review and recommendation!


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:24:36

      Stephanie, this would be a great picture book to read aloud and to discuss. It’s so hard sometimes to get children to understand the consequences of their actions, and this picture book is unusual because the protagonist has no second chance to make amends — as it is so often in life. That’s something fifth graders, about to move into that often-heartless world of middle school, need to consider.
      I hope you’ll appreciate this thoughtful book as much as I did — and that you enjoy sharing it with your students!
      Thanks for writing, and I hope you’ll visit my site again.


  2. Claudine Gueh
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 21:04:36

    I was just blogging about another PB on Kindness last week, and Each Kindness sounds precious. Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard of Jacqueline Woodson, but wasn’t able to find a copy of ‘The Other Side’ from my library. I shall definitely try again today or tomorrow.


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jan 24, 2013 @ 11:25:31

      Thanks for writing, Claudine. The picture book Fly Free! sounds lovely, too. Do read more of Jacqueline Woodson’s work, especially The Other Side. It’s a remarkable little picture book, beautifully illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
      I enjoyed checking out your site, and I hope you’ll visit again.


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