None of us are perfect. We've all done something or other that we are not so proud of. And nothing brings this point home better than author Jacqueline Woodson's 2012 picture book for ages 5 to 8, Each Kindness.
In the book, Chloe is the beloved and accepted member of a very small, very clique-ish elementary school group. She and her friends wear the right clothes, share fun secrets, and always have each other's back.
But one day, a new girl named Maya enrolls in the class, and the teacher seats her right next to Chloe. For reasons even Chloe can't understand, she doesn't "accept" Maya. She won't speak to her, won't return her smile, and certainly won't make room for her at the lunch table.
As the days pass, Maya keeps reaching out for at least one kindness--no matter how small--but she just keeps getting rejected. Maya finally accepts her plight and becomes content with sitting alone, eating alone, and playing alone.
Then one day, Maya is absent from class. This happens to be the same day the teacher delivers a lesson on how each kindness--no matter how small--is important in this life. Suddenly, it all comes together for Chloe. She finally understands that it doesn’t take much to return Maya's smile or make room for her at the lunch table, and she plans to do just that. Only...Maya has moved away and the opportunity to show a kindness is lost.
Each Kindness is a moving book that, though it may not bring you to tears, will surely whisk you back to those days in your young life when being accepted by others was the sum of your existence. In this day and age when the masses focus on the evils of bullying, this little picture book reveals that even if you aren't being physically or verbally cruel, withholding a kindness for no reason at all can be equally as devastating.
Ms. Woodson's prose is clear, even-paced and age-appropriate for early elementary students. It is written in a way that seems innocent on the surface, but as events unfold, it becomes easier and easier for the reader to hear the cruelty in all the things Chloe and her friends don't say to or do with Maya. It's no wonder this book won the Jane Addams Award.
Artist E.B. Lewis' illustrations are lovely, albeit haunting. There are fun scenes of carefree days on the elementary playground where many lifelong friendships are formed...if you are accepted as part of the group, that is. But there are also scenes of isolation (Maya's), and deep disappointment (Chloe's, who can't reconcile the fact that she never showed a kindness).
This book should do well in elementary classrooms, especially when the discussions center around friendship, acceptance, and each small kindness.