Storytime: Kindness

I recently had a friend text me asking if I had any suggestions for books on kindness. Her boy and some friends were excluding some kids at school and she wanted to address it now, tenderize his heart. I have so much admiration for her vulnerability, and her acknowledgement that a powerful way to impact our kids is through story. I found myself exploding with suggestions as I went to my shelves, and I’ll share a few below.

Also, I just want to say thank you for all your many, many kindnesses, from personal messages, to pictures posted and reviews written and the 100+ people showing up for the launch party for my most recent middle grade release, The Minor Miracle.

It has truly been a miracle to see how this book came to be published, and how it is now going forth into this world. It’s all about a kid who finds out he has superpowers, and how we all are super powerful. Whether it’s choosing not to eat your classmates, sharing, sticking up for a friend or making time to visit a lonely owl, these books are filled with superheroes who choose kindness.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

If you haven’t met Penelope Rex yet, you’re in for a treat. And if you have (there are four books about her), you’re probably smiling right now. This book makes me laugh so hard. The set up: Penelope Rex is nervous about starting school. She wonders and worries and gets a new backpack with ponies on it, which are her favorite. Because ponies are delicious.

There are great page-turn-surprises, like when Penelope opens the door to her classroom and finds out her classmates are CHILDREN! So she ate them. Because children are delicious. Crack. Me. Up. The illustrations are equally hilarious.

And it’s all rooted in a very relevant issue kids (and adults) face. How do you make friends? Hint: it’s not by eating them, or doing what you want with no regard for the people around you. Then one day the class goldfish bites Penelope’s finger. She realizes it’s not fun to be someone’s snack and becomes empathetic, sharing and playing and being kind instead of carnivorous. Kindness may be hard sometimes, but it’s worth it!

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

I love Kadir Nelson’s art, so expressive, and I love how this book does so much with so few words. In just eighty words, to be exact. What you sow is what you reap. Carrot, tomato, and cabbage seeds, with time and love and care, bring forth carrots, tomatoes and cabbage. The rabbit and mouse rejoice, and munch, and then along come the birds. They stare at rabbit and mouse. We know what they want, but in a brilliant wordless double page spread, they break the fourth wall and we see their intense gaze from the perspective of rabbit and mouse. They want some of those veggies . . .

Then a brilliant transition to a great truth. If you plant a seed of selfishness, in a very short time, it will grow, and grow, and grow into a heap of trouble. There is fighting, and the food is ruined. Nobody wins. But if you plant a seed of kindness . . . we see mouse give one of the birds a tomato. Then all the birds take flight, and return holding bags filled with seeds which drop from the sky like confetti. The middle schooler in me wonders if the seeds falling from the birds are a symbol for bird poop, which really does sow lots of seed. Whether it’s a symbol or not, what’s certain is the powerful message that kindness bears much fruit. Sharing doesn’t deplete. It multiplies, and the result is very, very sweet.

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

This is another super short book with a powerful message told in simple rhyme. Stick and stone start off lonely and alone. But when pinecone comes along and makes fun of stone, stick stands up for stone (a great kindness). Pinecone walks off in a huff and a new friendship blossoms as stick and stone hang out. Is there anything cuter than a rock with eyes closed tight, tiny mouth puckered to blow bubbles with his friend? But then a storm comes and the wind blows stick (and pinecone) away. Stone is alone again. He searches day and night, and finally finds his friend stuck in the middle of a large puddle. So stone launches himself and with a KER-SPLASH! rescues his friend.

There’s a great little grace note at the end as the two friends walk off with a third new friend. It’s pinecone, who says, in the tiniest of text, “Sorry I needled you so much.” Humor and sweetness all packed into a brilliant picture book you could read to the most wiggly toddler, or gift to a beloved adult. Our copy is inscribed to our son who was eighteen at the time, with the words You are a good friend to many, loyal and kind, one of the many reasons “you rock!”

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This book speaks to my heart, makes me tear up, and cheer, YES!! Christian Robinson creates great art, again and again, and with clever rhyme Justin Roberts introduces us to Sally McCabe, the smallest girl in the smallest grade. She goes through the school day unnoticed, but she’s paying super extra special attention. Who would think of that as a superpower? It is. She notices an abandoned kite with a tangled string and keys on a janitor’s ring, things that come back as clever metaphors later in the story. She also notices kids who get bullied, and one day, she’s had enough.

On a particular day (February 3rd), at a particular time (11:29) she steps out of the lunchroom line, raises her hand and says she’s tired of seeing kids hurt each other. A few laugh, but then something super extra special happened. Other kids raise their hands in the air, then the lunch lady, and a new teacher, until soon the lunchroom is filled with fingers pointing to the sky, saying, “I agree. Enough. Stop being unkind.” I get chill bumps reading how this small girl makes people take notice of injustice, which leads to new acts of kindness. The world could transform and a change could be made by the smallest girl in the smallest grade.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

I am in love with the dynamic duo of Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, and I’m in love with Amos McGee and the menagerie of animals we meet in this book. Amos gets up early each morning, puts on his uniform and thanks his sugar bowl for the spoonfuls he puts on his oatmeal and in his tea. Right off the bat, we know he’s kind. He’s also peaceful. He doesn’t rush off to work. He ambles out the door. He affirms the bus driver, who arrives at 6 a.m., saying he’s right on time. What a great way to go through life.

Amos had a lot to do at the zoo, but he always made time to visit his good friends. It is a kindness we can all do, small, and yet powerful. Amos plays chess with the elephant, runs races with the tortoise (who never loses, in the illustration a mouse and bird are cheering him on, soooo much kindness in this book). He sits quietly with penguin, gives rhino a hankie when his nose runs, and reads stories to the owl, who was afraid of the dark.

Then one day Amos wakes up feeling sick, so he doesn’t go to work. The animals are lonely, so they leave the zoo, wait for the bus, and go for a visit. They tend to their friend, playing chess, sitting quietly by his side, wiping his nose and as night falls, cuddling up around his bed as the owl reads a story and they all fall asleep. When we are kind to others, we receive kindness in return. It is true, it is good, and it is beautiful.

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