Regrets: A Review of Each Kindness

EachKindness102412Most picture books have happy endings. The main character experiences a challenge or problem, resolves it on her own with some guidance from a wise elder, and grows in the process. Jacqueline Woodson’s haunting new picture book, Each Kindness (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012) does not have this happy ending. This is a cautionary tale that explores how our actions affect other people.

Chloe is one of the cool kids in her elementary school class. She has many good friends among the girls and boys, although “mean” Andrew, who sits behind her sometimes bothers her. One day, a new girl, Maya, appears in the class, and the teacher assigns Maya to sit next to Chloe. Chloe notices immediately that Maya’s clothes are shabby, she eats strange food, and she brings junky toys to school. Chloe rejects Maya’s invitations to play and turns away whenever Maya speaks to her. Chloe’s friend Kendra starts calling Maya “Never New” because of her obvious poverty, and the name catches on. Maya plays alone, and one day she stops coming to school.

The kids don’t seem to notice or care, but the teacher asks all of them to drop a stone in the water and describe something they did to help someone else. She says, “This is what kindness does… Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” Chloe cannot think of anything. All she can think of is how unkind she was to Maya.

E. B. Lewis’s expressive illustrations show the girls’ disdain toward Maya and convey the emotional power of this story of an opportunity lost, a kindness not performed that makes the world a meaner place. In terms understandable to children in the early elementary years, Woodson portrays class prejudice, bullying, and the subtle ways that children isolate and exclude others. Although written for younger children, this book can be used to help older ones identify prejudices and confront them to build a stronger community.

4 comments for “Regrets: A Review of Each Kindness

  1. January 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful review of a book that reminds each of us how words can hurt or heal. Nancy Bo Flood

  2. Sheila Welch
    January 9, 2013 at 4:41 am

    I’ve heard about this book, and your review has convinced me that I need to buy copies for my granddaughters. Thanks!

    • January 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      A very good choice for the granddaughters, Sheila, even if they’re older than the characters in the story. I teach seventh graders in a Sunday school program for Jewish students, and community-building (the “sacred community”) is an important part of our curriculum, so I’m planning to introduce and discuss the book with them.

  3. January 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Just an update to let people know that the Cooperative Children’s Book Center has announced Each Kindness as the winner of the 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award, given each year to outstanding writing in a picture book.

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