Review: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

each kindness

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

During a snowy winter, a new girl came to class.  Maya wore ragged clothes and a broken shoe that wouldn’t keep her foot dry in winter snow.  The new girl was put next to Chloe, who refused to even look at her, moving far away in her seat and looking out the window.  Day after day, Chloe never smiled or looked back.  Maya kept trying, offering her new jacks she got for her birthday, but the girls all refused to play.  Maya ended up playing alone.  Then Maya was gone, her seat empty.  That day, the class learned about kindness, about the way it ripples like a pebble dropped into water.  The children were each given a small stone to drop in and tell the class about a kindness they had done.  Chloe couldn’t think of any, her mind filled with the way she had treated Maya.  As the days went by, Chloe hoped that Maya would return so that she could smile back.  But then they heard that Maya had moved away.  Chloe would not be able to return that smile.

Woodson does not pull back on her message here.  She speaks directly to the sort of bullying that groups of girls are best at, ignoring and dismissing.  Readers will immediately feel for Maya, who has done nothing at all to earn the scorn of the girls, except wear the wrong clothes.  But Woodson also makes sure that we feel for Chloe too, using her as the narrator for the story.  This works particularly well in the latter part of the book, where she is hopeful she will be able to right the wrong she has done. 

Lewis’ art is realistic and quite simply amazing.  He shows us through his images Maya’s side of the story, starting with her refusal to look at the class when introduced, her hopeful smile before Chloe turns away, and her isolation as the seasons change.  After Maya leaves, Chloe is shown as the isolated one, alone on a blank white page, solitary in nature. 

The power of this book is in the ending, where it does not wrap up happily with Maya returning and being embraced by the Chloe and her friends. Instead, it ends realistically with deep regrets and hope that Chloe will respond differently next time. This is a book sure to trigger discussions when shared with a class. I can see talking about bullying, kindness and differences.

Highly recommended, this is a powerful book that is worth sharing and discussing.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

Review: Pinned by Sharon G. Flake


Pinned by Sharon G. Flake

Autumn is the only female wrestler at school, but that doesn’t stop her from excelling.  Her physical strength and her mental agility are formidable.  However, she can’t seem to apply that same effort to her school work.  She is several grades behind in reading and failing math.  Adonis, on the other hand, loves school and is known as one of the smartest kids in their 9th grade class.  In a wheelchair because of birth defects that left him without legs, Adonis survived a bullying attack that almost killed him.  These two people, both struggling with big issues in their lives, tell their stories in alternating chapters.  Neither character is perfect.  Despite her strength, Autumn is needy and pushy.  Adonis is proud and disdainful of those who will not try to excel.  They aren’t really even friends, but Autumn wishes they were so much more. 

Flake has refused here to make the book you think you are reading.  She has a heroine who is strong physically and mentally, yet will make readers cringe with her headlong flirtation with Adonis.  Adonis could have been that saintlike disabled character that everyone would have recognized.  Instead here he is prickly and judgmental not only of Autumn but of everyone around him.  He lives in a life of certainty where he can peg people easily into categories.  Flake beautifully ties these characters into their families where Autumn’s parents have GEDs and also have issues with reading.  On the other hand, Adonis’ mother is educated and making sure that Adonis will have a bright future academically.  They are studies in contrasts, and yet also studies in similarities as they both struggle with disabilities.

The writing here is strong and forthright, speaking directly to the reader.  The book rests on the heads of its two narrators, both of whom see the world in a specific way that is their own.  As their relationship slowly turns into something more serious, readers will be surprised to find that not all of the loose ends are tied up neatly.  Adonis remains aloof and hyperaware of the opinions of those around him.  Autumn stays flirtatious and continues to struggle with school.  There is nothing magical here.  This is life, and it continues clearly after the book ends.

This should be very popular with middle school readers who will enjoy the complex and surprising characters as well as the thread of romance.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.