Jacqueline Woodson's Each Kindness
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Book review by Anita Lock
An opportunity for compassion missed
The day that Maya came to school, Chloe knew right away she was different. It wasn’t because Maya was pretty, or had a special hairdo. It wasn’t because she wore a cool outfit, either. In fact, quite the opposite: Maya wore tattered clothes and out-of-season shoes.
Maya was different for sure, but that was no excuse for Chloe to ignore her, yet that's just what Chloe did - not just that day, but for many days thereafter.
Because she was different, Maya was rejected. And not just by Chloe.
Each Kindness -
A children's book about rejection
Without once using the word, "rejection," Woodson spins a simple story about exactly that, which will likely seem familiar to many schoolchildren. In fact, I’m sure that each of us, at one time or other, has experienced rejection, or remember a child who sat all alone in the lunchroom, or stood by the schoolyard fence observing the other children engaged in a hearty game of kickball during recess.
And, yet, we did nothing about it.
Maya is the child who is rejected, but it is Chloe who tells her story (because it is Chloe who is haunted by it), which began that one winter day when the school principal introduced Maya to the class.
"This is Maya."
Maya looked down at the floor.
I think I heard her whisper
Lewis exquisitely captures the downcast expression on Maya’s face, which speaks loudly that this child is no stranger to rejection. The reader can only wonder what Maya is thinking, and whether (and how) she is gearing herself up for a fresh, but familiar, onslaught.
Once Maya has made her way to her new seat, she turns to Chloe next to her and smiles. Chloe, in response, edges her desk away.
On the playground, Maya shows her new jacks and ball set to Chloe and her friends. But since they didn’t want to play with her, “Maya played a game against herself.”
Because Maya had said something to Chloe, another classmate bullies Chloe about her having a new friend. “She’s not my friend,” Chloe insists.
As the weeks pass, it doesn’t matter what Maya wears, or eats at lunch, or what games she wants to share. Maya is different, and Chloe doesn’t want to have anything to do with her.
One day, Maya fails to show up for school. That same day, Chloe’s teacher talks to the class about kindness.
Using a big bowl filled with water, she drops a pebble into it. As the tiny waves ripple out, she says, “This is what kindness does. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson
What happens next catches Chloe by surprise: the teacher asks each child to drop a stone in the bowl and detail an act of kindness they have done. When it comes to Chloe’s turn, all she can do is stand there and stare at the stone, alone with her own guilt.
Each kindness, Ms. Albert had said, makes the whole world a little bit better.
Again, Lewis’ portrayal of Chloe standing in complete solitude and staring at a tiny pebble is gripping. Young readers will have no trouble identifying that, for the first time, Chloe is realizing that she missed her opportunity to show kindness to the one person who needed it most: Maya. Now, when it is too late, she wishes that she had the opportunity for a do-over.
Young readers will have plenty to ponder when they read how the story ends.
Multi-award winning author Woodson teams up with multi-award winning Lewis to create a story that is thought provoking and evokes compassion. Told through the eyes of a child, Each Kindness is the type of book that begs discussion, both at home and in the classroom, about an issue that often goes ignored or undetected by teachers and counselors, and is a precursor to bullying.
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