Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012
By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Maya is a new student who arrives at school during the winter wearing spring shoes and old, ragged clothes. The other students immediately notice that Maya is different and reject her attempts to play cards, jacks, or pickup sticks with them. Chloe, who’s seated next to Maya, refuses to even return the new girl’s smile. Then one day, when Maya doesn’t show up for class, the teacher leads a discussion about kindness—and Chloe learns an important lesson about missed opportunities and the consequences of withholding compassion.
Chloe narrates a powerful story for the reader about a more subtle form of bullying—social rejection—which can be as emotionally searing as verbal taunts and threats. From day one, Chloe and her classmates distance themselves from the new student. When Maya whispers something to Chloe in class, another student teases, “Chloe’s got a new friend,” to which Chloe responds, “She’s not my friend.” In the spring, when Maya shows up wearing a pretty secondhand dress and fancy shoes, instead of complimenting her, her classmates call her “Never New” behind her back. As readers, we wish Chloe would have the courage to break the silence.
The day Maya’s seat goes empty, the teacher, Ms. Albert, brings a large bowl to class. As students gather round, she fills it with water and drops a small stone into the bowl. “This is what kindness does,” Ms. Albert says, referring to the tiny waves rippling out. “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
Moved by this lesson, Chloe hopes Maya will return to class so that she can smile back and say all the things she wishes she’d said. But Maya’s family has moved away, and Chloe is left pondering each kindness she withheld from Maya, each of the lonely girl’s gifts she rebuffed.
Although this book does not have a happy ending, it provides an opening for rich discussions about social bullying and rejection, the equally harmful role of being a bystander, and the difference that small acts of kindness can make in a person’s life. As parents and educators, we must teach our children that words and actions have consequences that cannot always be undone. Students must learn to put themselves in one another person’s shoes, accept their differences, and celebrate their common ground.
We must also be sensitive as adults not to isolate one another. Whether we are communicating parent to parent, teacher to parent, or parent to teacher, we must all take care to be inclusive and respectful while honoring our diversity. In the end, it is far better to show kindness than to be burdened by a life of regrets.
Let us all take Ms. Albert’s lesson to heart and commit to creating positive ripples in the world.