Friday has finally arrived in a week that has seemed extremely long and exhausting emotionally. Kindness is something our family talks about on a daily basis, but these past few days, it has become an even stronger topic. Defining it. Giving examples. Complimenting on kind actions. And gently pointing out missed chances to show kindness. It is not a surprise that this book has been weighing heavily on my thoughts. When I pulled it off the shelf again this morning, a lump began to form in my throat. This is a heavy book, but not in size. It is a hard book. It does not have a tidy ending. It is deep and challenging. And it is beautiful in story and in pictures. Please come talk about Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, 2012.
Winter has begun when a new girl arrives at Chloe’s school. The class immediately notices her clothes, looking old and shoes that are broken and for the wrong season. The teacher encourages greeting her, but no one responds. When the new girl, Maya, is seated next to Chloe in class, she turns to smile at Chloe. But without really knowing why, Chloe turns away.
Chloe already has two best friends that year. They spend every recess together sharing secrets. Every day, the new girl smiles at her. Every day she brings different toys or things to show the girls. But every day Chloe turns away from Maya and they leave her to play alone.
As time passes, the class continues to ignore Maya, and often whispers about her clothes or the things she brings with her. Nothing ever looks new. As spring arrives, they have named her “Never New.” One day Maya doesn’t try to play with them, but instead jumps with a rope all around the play yard, never looking up once.
And then Maya doesn’t come to school. Her seat is empty. As their teacher talks about kindness in their morning lesson, they all examine dropping a pebble into water and the ripple effect it creates. Each one drops a pebble in and tells something kind that they have done. They watch the ripples.
“This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said.
Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
Chloe passes on putting a pebble in. She cannot think of anything kind she has done, even something small. Maya doesn’t come to school again. Every day Chloe hopes she’ll be there and determines that that will be the day she will smile back at Maya. Finally, the teacher shares that Maya has had to move away. Chloe walks home alone and passes the pond. She throws pebbles in, watching the ripples, and ponders her lost chances – the things she wished she had done and said.
“Like each kindness—done and not done.
Like every girl somewhere—
holding a small gift out to someone
and that someone turning away from it.”
It is rare to find a picture book that doesn’t have a hopeful ending within it. This book ends on pondering. It ends with Chloe grieving her actions, or lack thereof. This is a really hard book to read, especially aloud. It is uncomfortable and sad. But we need this book. Every heart, young and old, needs to hear this book. Each kindness truly does change the world. And lack of kindness, even in inaction, hurts everyone.
There is not much more to add to this book in a review. It speaks loudly for itself. The story Woodson has written is almost poetic in its telling, as most of her works tend to be. And the illustrations by E. B. Lewis are positively lovely. The almost realistic paintings keep the book from being a distancing cartoon, and yet the slight blurred affect of the oils gives the hard message a softer edge. This book is full of heart and pain. I love it. I love that it doesn’t give me a happily ever after in the story, but with the close of the book, I feel emboldened to make it be a happy ending in real life. Books have power. Just like every ripple of kindness.