Darn you, Charlotte Zolotow committee! You beat me to the punch, awarding this fine book your award last week! The CCBC website explains, “The Charlotte Zolotow Award is given annually to the author of the best picture book text published in the United States in the preceding year….The award is administered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a children’s literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each year a committee of children’s literature experts selects the winner from the books published in the preceding year. The winner is announced in January each year. A bronze medallion is formally presented to the winning author in the spring during an annual public event that honors the career of Charlotte Zolotow.” If you have never attended the Zolotow celebration, you are really missing out. First, you get to go to Madison, Wisconsin, and second, you get to be with people who love children’s books, and third, the lectures are always terrific.
So, this lovely book won an award for the text. Do the illustrations hold up as well as the words?
If you have not read Each Kindness, please do. I just gave a talk to 80 or so second graders at a local school and this (along with Island) was the book they appreciated the most. This school does a fantastic Caldecott exploration each year, and by the time I drag in with my little dog-and-pony show, they have some strong opinions about current picture books. I get to tell the story of how I got to be on the committee…blah blah…but then I get to sneak in a few questions about what they are liking and not liking. When I held up Woodson’s book, there was a collective intake of breath and a murmur of oohs and ahhs.
Second/third grade might be the perfect age for this one. Somewhere around this time, kids start to notice things like clothing and wealth and what makes kids fit in or not. These are the same grades where teachers find themselves reaching for The One Hundred Dresses, a book which deals with a similar theme.
Let’s look at the art, shall we? Lewis’s watercolors never disappoint, do they? The first spread is a lovely school shot– rural school, snow-covered. A lone child walks up the front steps. Turn the page and Lewis captures the perfect feel of a New Kid. Maya’s eyes are cast down, the teacher is holding her hand, and the perspective lets us know that she is not comfortable. Her clothes reflect the text–her clothes look a tad ragged, especially for the first day. Turn the page and we see the other main character, the narrator Chloe, looking out the window at the reader, a sour look on her face. Maya is faded in the background, but she has a little smile, a little hope on her face. The playground page is almost too painful to look at–three little girls, holding hands, while Maya walks with her hands behind her back. Lewis puts a bit of sunlight around the girls and has the rest of the group looking at Maya. No one is including her.
The art goes on, gently documenting the social strata of this classroom. Chloe rejects Maya and sets the tone for the rest of the class. The seasons change, Maya keeps trying to fit in, but Chloe and her friends do not allow it. We see her in her fancy (but used) dress and shoes or holding the wrong doll and her eyes always remind us of her pain. Even while she skips rope, she skips alone.
The story and illustrations change once the teacher (finally, I say) gets involved. Maya is absent when the teacher presents a lesson on kindness that finally gets through to Chloe. We see the faces reflected in the ripples of the bowl of water–a nice change of perspective. The art now highlights Chloe. First, her somber face stares at that stone that stands in for the idea of kindness. Then, her eyes are cast down (like Maya’s) on her way home, slowly walking how from the school with the backpack seeming to drag her down. The next page is the only dark page in the book–Maya’s empty desk which will stay empty. The last two pages let us know the truth–that Chloe will never get a chance to make it better. Chloe looks sad and sorry, her body slightly slumped as she contemplates what has happened. She becomes smaller on that final page turn, less powerful, but with a hopeful shaft of light pointing to the future.
This is a true teacher’s book–with plenty to talk about in a classroom. Will the committee find it too teacher-y or a new classic in the literature of bullying and kindness?
What say you?