We live in a confusing world. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a child these days with the proliferation of digital media and the constant information stream. It is hard to turn it off and focus on the right in front of us. Not only that, but there is so much hatred in the world right now and I don’t think it is possible to shield our children from it. But we do have the power to acknowledge the hate that is out there and to promote a world of kindness. To promote going high when they go low. To promote loving everyone. I’ve taken a look at books about kindness in the past, but when I was given the opportunity to check out two new books from the Peace Dragon series, I jumped at it.
Author Linda Ragsdale encourages everyone to view the world through the eyes of peace. Her Peace Dragon project started after she survived a terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008. The Peace Dragon’s mission is to set peace and love as the natural response in any situation. Her books Words and Not Opposites help show children how words can empower and encourage us, and create change in our lives and the world around us. Continue reading →
Alan Rabinowitz is an American zoologist who has spent his life studying wild cats and was called ‘The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation’ by TIME Magazine. But as a child, Rabinowitz struggled to fit in due to a very pronounced stutter. In the picture book, A Boy and A Jaguar, Rabinowitz tells his story to young children as a way to encourage those who struggle to find their own voices and for those who have found their voice, to speak up for those in need.
As a child, Rabinowitz simply couldn’t get the words out. It made it difficult for him to go to school, let alone have friends. However, when he talked to animals, he could speak without stuttering. He felt a bond with the animals. He felt that they were misunderstood and mistreated, just has he was. As a child, he promised his pets that if he ever found his voice, that he would keep them from harm. Fortunately, his father saw the bond that he had with animals and frequently took him to the Bronx Zoo.
Rabinowitz learned tricks to get him through school and finally found a program that helped him deal with his stutter. But even when speech was less of an issue, he still much preferred the company of animals over humans. His work took him to Belize to study jaguars and to ultimately fight to protect them.
This is a beautiful book that can really encourage children to think about they way that they treat others, the way that they treat and respect animals, and how one person can be a change for good. Rabinowitz was up against a lot of really challenging obstacles, and yet he persevered. The story also shows how Rabinowitz followed his passions and made good on his childhood promise to protect the animals. In a world where we are told by many different people how we should act and what we should do when we grow up, Rabinowitz listened to his inner voice and took solace in the places that gave him the most peace.
The only thing that I felt was missing from this book was any sort of author’s note to explain just who Rabinowitz is and the work that he has done. He is a very well respected animal activist and he founded the organization Panthera, a group devoted to protecting wild cats and their ecosystems. Turns out that Rabinowitz also does work advocating for stutterers as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. From a childhood where teachers considered him “disturbed,” he proved them wrong and has truly become a voice for those in need.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!
Adults are familiar with the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but in our efforts to heal our wounded world, our children need to hear his message. Fortunately, Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams have come together to write “Desmond and the Very Mean Word” about the hurt that words can cause and the power of forgiveness.The first powerful moment of this book came in the form of an introductory letter from Tutu to the child reading his book. In his book, he speaks to children urging them to consider what it would be like if someone told you that a group of people was better than another group just because they had some physical feature, which they had no control over.
The story itself is simple. Young Desmond is excited about his new bike and wants to show it to Father Trevor. On his way, however, he encounters a gang of boys. He doesn’t want to stop for fear that they will steal his bike. But as he rides through, one boy shouts out a very mean word. What that word is doesn’t matter, it just cuts Desmond to the core.
Desmond wants to get back at the boys. Father Trevor explains why that won’t solve anything – “You will get them back, and then they will get you back, and soon our whole world will be filled with nothing but ‘getting back.'”(ain’t that the truth!)
Desmond tries to get past it, but can’t, a wonderful reminder that he is a kid. When he sees the boys again, he shouts the meanest word he can think of at them. At first he feels proud for getting back at them, but then he realizes that the mean word has “left a bitter taste in his mouth.”
Desmond realizes that while he has figured out a way to hurt the boys, hurting them actually hurts him too. This is a lesson many children’s books have tried to get across, most notably, How Full is Your Bucket.
What finally frees Desmond is his ability to apologize for his own ugly words and to forgive the red-haired boy for his. In that moment, “Desmond felt a little stronger and a little braver and stood up a little taller.”
When we were children we were taught the mantra that sticks and stone may break your bones but words could never hurt you. In reality, words leave a much more lasting impact on us. It is far easier to hold on to the one negative comment than to remember ten positive ones. What Tutu learned as a child, and hopes to impart to children everywhere, is that we can only raise ourselves up and hope to raise up others by promoting a world of kind words and deeds. Hate speech has never gotten us anywhere, but love, love has the power to heal. As we enter 2017, I hope that we can all learn a little something about kindness and love to all.
“Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.” So says Stephen Sondheim in the beginning the song “Children Will Listen.”
Sometimes people forget that children are little sponges who soak it all up and they notice everything that we do. In light of everything going on in the news right now, is is especially important to show our children through our actions and deeds how to be kind to others. Showing your children kindness and being kind to others is an important first step, but sometimes it is also important to reinforce those ideas through books. Fortunately there are a wealth of them that help children see the value of being kind to others.
For the simplest stories and the youngest of readers, the best books are soothing and lighthearted. Books such as “Good People Everywhere,” “Because Amelia Smiled,” and “Stick and Stone” can warm children up to the concept very early on.
“Good People Everywhere” is a soothing book that shows how we are all interconnected. Small deeds that people do everyday reverberate with their impact. When it comes to trying to encourage children to be kinder to those around them and to their world, this is a beautiful place to start. From the mother cooking for her child, the teacher explaining a math problem, a farmer growing food, or the driver getting it to the market. We touch other people with the deeds that we do. We can also help a friend who skinned their knee or help rebuild a home damaged by a storm, it all begins with simple acts that bring us together.
Anyone familiar with Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” series is well versed in the notion that every action produces another counter-reaction. In the beautifully illustrated “Because Amelia Smiled,” because one little girl smiled while she was walking down the street, Mrs. Higgens also smiled. The little girl made Mrs. Higgens think about her grandson in Mexico and she decided to bake him some cookies. Her grandson shared his cookies with others and the smile continued to spread. Through a sweet story and beautiful illustrations, this book shows that positive outlooks and kind deeds spread joy.
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but in the book “Stick and Stone” they actually stand up for each other. When Pinecone tries to use words to hurt them, the two lonely figures learn that standing up for a friend is the best thing you can do to counter-balance a bully. It’s a comical take on the old rhyme that we all grew up hearing and perhaps better than ignoring the taunt, shows kids to stand up for others, even if they are not your friend to start with, you may make a friend in the end. As stick tells stone, “You rock.” And stone replies, “That’s just what stones do. Best friendship rocks too.”
For slightly longer stories, and children willing to listen a little more, “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” and “Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch,” are both books that shine a light on how being kind makes such a huge difference for people. “Chrysanthemum” is a long-time favorite and “The Invisible Boy” shows one perspective of what it feels like when others are unkind.
In “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed,” a chain reaction similar to the one that happened in “Because Amelia Smiled,” starts because a little girl gives her neighbor some freshly picked blueberries. From there, it isn’t just a matter of being kind, but actually paying forward the good deed by doing something else for another stranger – baking muffins, helping someone with heavy bags and even helping the homeless. What looks like an ordinary deed to you might make an extraordinary difference to someone else.
In “Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch,” children see a man go from being lonely and depressed to sharing joy with those around him because he had received a valentine. When it turns out the valentine was a mistaken gift, it crushes him so much that he goes back to his old ways. But the neighborhood was used to the happiness and love that he had spread that they go out of their way to find a way make sure that he knows that many people truly love him. A touching book that shows the impact of positive thoughts and actions.
I will admit that I am biased when it comes to “Chrystanthemum.” I love just about anything by Kevin Henkes and this is one of my favorites. The main concept of this story is how mean words can make us wilt, but kind words can make us bloom (similar notion to filling a bucket). When a few girls at school ridicule Chrysanthemum because she has a long name and was named after a flower, it is her teacher who they all love who comes to her rescue. Mean words hurt, no matter how much we try to ignore them. The best medicine is to help those being mean to stop.
In “The Invisible Boy” we are looking a little more closely at what it feels like when people are not kind. Children often only consider their own feelings in a given situation, but it is much more challenging to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Whether it be a child acting out in class because he desperately wants friends or allowing himself to become invisible so that no one will make fun of him. In this book, poor Brian feels like he is invisible – no one picks him to be on their team, he isn’t invited to parties, and he is simply lonely. Amazingly, his invisibility is highlighted in the book by having him be a pencil drawing in a world of vivid color and ink. When he made a new student feel welcomed instead of laughing at his differences, the new kid in turn helped Brian be less invisible and more included. This is a great way to open discussions about challenging topics, like which is worse, being laughed at or being invisible? A remarkable book for elementary school kids.
Once children get the notion of being kind, the goal is to set them out there to try new good deeds. Whether through the awesome story of Mrs. Ruler’s class or through Bernadette Russell’s idea for chronicling your good deeds in some way, there are a lot of great ideas floating out there to get more children spreading kindness.
The back of the book “Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler” says it all – “When Mrs. Ruler asks five of her kindergarteners to miss recess, she’s got a special plan up her sleeve. She’s about to teach a new golden rule: KINDNESS IS COOL! From clearing the table after dinner, to helping the elderly, one kindergarten class is proving that kids really can make a difference.” The five students had been acting up in class, and rather than being mean to each other, she wanted them to each go home and do 5 acts of kindness towards their families. When one little boy asks “What if I don’t want to be kind?” she responds that “good deeds fill needs.”
The kids learn that each kind act leads to more. They move from just being kind at home to being kind in school. When that one little boy still doesn’t fully buy in to the concept, his classmates intervene and help him see the benefits. By the end of the book, the children have done 100 fabulous and fabulously simple acts of kindness at home, school and throughout their community. A great way to show kids that being kind doesn’t mean anything outrageous, it can mean simply setting the table without being asked.
Bernadette Russell created two books that showcase good deeds – “Do Nice. Be Kind. Spread Happy,” and “Be the Change. Make it Happen.” In these books, Russell encourages children to be special agents of kindness and change. Each book offers over 80 ideas of good deeds towards others and the planet. Whether sending a hug through the mail, passing on a favorite book to a stranger, or organizing a clothing drive, these are amazing ways to get children involved in the act of being kind. A seemingly small act to us, like sitting and talking with someone in a retirement home, makes a big impact to the other person. These books are full of lessons we could all learn from.
So now let your children learn from you, and perhaps we can learn from them, to make this world a better place.
Yesterday a friend posted in her Facebook feed about creating a calendar for her kids with a month of random acts of kindness. I immediately jumped on the bandwagon because, as she said, there is nothing better that we can do then work to raise up others. Also, teaching our children, the next generation, to be kind to others goes a long, long way to making them kind and thoughtful adults.
Then last night when we were getting ready for bed, E pulled a library book out of the book bin that I hadn’t read yet – “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed.” It was like kismet. This ordinary looking book is actually a beautiful explanation of how small random acts of kindness and the theory of paying it forward work together to change our world for the better.
This simple story shows how one day, an ordinary little girl picked some ordinary blueberries and secretly left them on a neighbor’s porch. This made her neighbor so happy that she baked a batch of muffins and left a plate of them for 5 people that she thought might have left her the berries. This sets off a chain reaction of good deeds from newspapers not being thrown in the bushes, to helping strangers with heavy bags, helping a poor man pay for groceries, and helping the homeless. In the end, the good deed manages to come back to Mary when an aunt surprises her with a necklace.
We can all use a little reminder that random acts of kindness bring about extraordinary change.