A new girl joins Chloe’s class. Maya’s clothes are old and ragged. Despite the fact that there’s snow on the ground, Maya’s shoes look like they’re meant for spring. The teacher seats Maya next to Chloe. Maya smiles, offers to play, and tries to make friends. Chloe and the other children in the class turn away.
Spring comes and the girls in the class call Maya names, whisper and laugh about her. Ms. Albert, their teacher, teaches a lesson on kindness. She drops a pebble in a bowl of water. The class watches ripples go out from the pebble. “This is what kindness does,” explains Ms. Albert. “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” Ms. Albert invites each student to state a kindness that he or she has done. Chloe is unable to think of a kindness.
Maya stops coming to school. Ms. Albert announces that Maya’s family has moved away. Maya’s empty desk is abandoned. Chloe sadly contemplates her kindness pebble.
Each Kindness is a stunning new picture book, beautifully written by the incomparable Jacqueline Woodson and realistically illustrated by E.B. Lewis, creators of the classic picture book, The Other Side. The story and images from Each Kindness will stay in your mind long after you’ve finished reading it. If you read this book aloud to your students, it will be a powerful reminder to them that our actions do matter, and that our kindness—or lack of it—affects everyone around us.
Each Kindness is set in a rural second grade class, but the story will ring true for most elementary school students. So many elements match what we know about bullying. All of us are capable of systematic exclusion of another, and Chloe, the child who excludes, is a sympathetic character. Maya, the child who is targeted, tries to fit in, to reach out, to be a part of the group—but her attempts are unsuccessful. The class coalesces around meanness to Maya. Bullying behaviors are potentiated by the power of the group, joining together in mean behavior. There’s no magic ending. Maya has already left the community by the time Chloe realizes the power of her excluding behavior. The teacher, however, teaches her class about the effect of their actions in a way that speaks to Chloe. We adults can have an effect on our students.
An important part of bullying prevention is teaching children what bullying is and how they themselves can support or prevent bullying. It’s not always easy for children (or adults) to look honestly at the impact of their own behaviors. In How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, I suggest using high quality, accurate children’s literature to put issues that can be hard to face head-on at a slight remove, making it possible for children to learn about and reflect on bullying behaviors. Each Kindness is such a book. If your students are excluding a classmate, or even if they’re not, I highly recommend it as a read-aloud.
Caltha Crowe’s How to Bullyproof Your Classroom includes ten lesson plans that incorporate children’s literature, plus an appendix with more suggestions for books to read with your class.
“. . . like sitting with a smart and practical teacher who knows how to bring out the kindness in people around her.”
—Martha Hanley, grade 4 teacher, Grafton, MA