Monday, November 14, 2016

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson & Illustrated by EB Lewis

There is a lot of anger and fear and unrest in the world today. So I decided to do a week of books on kindness. I saw this one at the library the other day. Lewis' illustrations are delicate and evocative and Woodson's words are straight and to the point. 

Lovely book! This book deals with the fact that we do not always have a second chance to be kind. Nothing dire happens, I promise, but sometimes, when we realize we should have been kinder, we are suddenly without anyone to be kind to. 

Grasp your chances to be kind, people! 

The book begins in winter. I am not sure where this school is situated, but it made me think of coastal Alaska, with snowy mountains rising directly behind the building. 

The principal brings in a new girl, Maya. Her clothes and shoes declared that she was poor. 

She tried to make friends, but our heroine, Chloe just looked out the window. Chloe is a black girl, and maybe she was a little too aware of the precariousness of her acceptance. She was taking no chances on associating with the "wrong" people and losing her place in her friend group. 

This makes my heart hurt. I remember being on the fringes of groups at school, and I tried to not worry about what people thought and be kind to everyone like my parents drilled into my head, but sometimes, I know I wasn't as kind as I could have been. I wanted to be a fiercely independent, strong person who wouldn't care a snap of the fingers for anyone's opinion, but I was only like that on some days, not everyday. 

I missed a lot of chances to be kind because I was so concerned with my own acceptance. 

Maya being left alone. 

Maya does her best, bring in jacks and inviting everyone to play, Chloe feels like maybe they should, but.... they don't. 

That afternoon, when we got back into the classroom, Maya whispered to me, "Bet you can't guess who the new Jacks Champion of the world is."

Behind me, Andrew whispered, "Chloe's got a new friend. Chloe's got a new friend."

"She's not my friend," I whispered back. 

Maya does her level best, even when Chloe ignores her, to make Chloe her friend, but teasing kids win out. 

A doll, obviously not new, that Maya brings in, doesn't improve anything. Chloe and her friends are not blatantly mean to Maya. They aren't calling her names or physically hurting her. But through their exclusion and resistance to any overtures of friendship, Maya is made aware of her otherness. 

In spring, Maya comes in a fancy clothes and shoes with a skipping rope. Chloe could tell that all her finery was not new, and Maya skipped alone. 

Later, their teacher teaches them about kindness by throwing a stone into a pail. 

This is what kindness does. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world. 

Each student is given a stone and asked to tell about something kind they have done before throwing the stone into the water to see the effect their kindness would have had. When it is Chloe's turn, she is so aware of her un-kindness to Maya, that she can't think of anything kind she had ever done. So she passes. 

The next day, and the next, Maya's desk is empty. Finally they ask the teacher where she was. Maya had moved to a new town. 

With Maya, went Chloe's chance to correct her mistakes. 

When I reached the pond, my throat filled with all the things I wished I had said to Maya.

 Each kindness, I had never shown. 

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.

I watched the water ripple
as the sun set through the maples
and the chance of a kindness with Maya
 becoming more and more
forever gone. 

SO POWERFUL. We don't always get a re-do. A chance missed is more and more forever gone.

Let's be kind today. 

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