Thursday, November 14, 2019
The Kindness Book
First sentence: What is kindness?
Premise/plot: This picture book seeks to define or illustrate kindness for a young or very young audience. Every spread seeks to encourage or inspire acts of kindness. The book concludes that it is easy to be kind.
My thoughts: Didactic books are trendy these days—for the past few years actually. There was a time when virtue-driven teaching books would be frowned upon—at least by some groups. Books shouldn’t moralize. Books shouldn’t be teaching a moral, a lesson. That’s actually what I learned in college classes teaching children’s literature. But now things seem to have shifted. Many picture books now present quite clearly and openly a worldview, now want to teach little ones how to be good humans. Picture books communicate messages; that is finally being acknowledged. Authors and illustrators are teaching generation(s) of children how to interact with others, what to believe, who they are, who they might be, what is right, what is wrong.
For the record, I am pro-kindness. I don’t have a problem with this specific worldview. But I would challenge the conclusion. If kindness was “easy” why wouldn’t everyone be kind all the time. Kindness requires effort. It does. Kindness can become a habit—something the book is essentially pushing—and once a habit, it becomes easier. But kindness often requires a little extra, something that we are often too selfish, too busy, too scared to do. Certain acts of kindness require bravery: when you’re going against the crowd, standing up for what is right. If it was easy for kids to speak up when they see someone being bullied, then we’d live in a different world. Kindness is definitely more complex than the book presents. Also sometimes it is a kindness to speak up with an uncomfortable truth. Hey, you’ve got spinach in your teeth. Hey, you’ve got toilet paper on your shoe. Hey, your dress is tucked inside your underwear. Hey, your shirt is on backwards.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Young Readers