Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Woodson, JacquelineEach Kindness.  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012.  $16.99, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Chloe misses out on an opportunity to show kindness to a classmate.

Summary:

Maya is a new girl to Chloe’s class.  Each day she smiles at Chloe, Chloe turns away.  Each day she shows Chloe a toy or something from home and invites her to play, and each day Chloe rebuffs her.  Maya is different from the other students.  Her clothing looks funny, her lunch is weird, and she doesn’t have proper shoes for the winter snow.  The other children, including Chloe and her friends, whisper about Maya and call her Never New.  Eventually Maya stops approaching them, smiling at them, and asking them to play.  Ms. Albert, Chloe’s teacher, has a lesson about kindness.  Dropping a pebble into a bowl, she explains that each kind thing that someone does ripples out in the world like the pebble.  When Chloe cannot think of a kind thing she has done, she decides that she will smile back at Maya.  Except Maya never returns to school, and Ms. Albert tells the class that Maya’s family had to move away.

Evaluation:

Each Kindness is a simple story, but holds a powerful message.  Maya’s situation is never fully explained because Chloe never gets to know her, but there are clues that Maya and her family may be poor.  The story portrayed is unfortunately one that probably occurs in schools throughout the country throughout time.  The characters were realistically drawn, children reluctant to befriend the different, making up hurtful nicknames, ostracizing and excluding those that do not fit.  My heart went out to Maya, who reached out day after day, only to be rejected again and again.  In true to life fashion, Chloe misses out on the opportunity to show kindness to Maya when her family moves away.  Chloe is then left with regret and Maya was never shown any kindness.  Woodson leaves Chloe contemplating kindness shown and not shown and leaves the reader determined to avoid Chloe’s experience.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: illustrations, real life situations, friendship, kindness

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
  • Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams
  • Hope by Adam Einsenson

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Coretta Scott King Honor
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of Maya
  • Maya’s nickname as Never New
  • The Kindness lesson

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Will Maya experience kindness at her new school?
  • How can Chloe show kindness to others now that she missed her chance to show Maya kindness?
  • What does the author want you to do about kindness in the world?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of its lesson in kindness.  It also won the Jane Addam’s Award for peace.  It would be a great book to use with students to teach and talk about kindness and compassion.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

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Myers, Walter Dean.  Monster.  Harper Collins Books, 1999. $14.95, 240 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://walterdeanmyers.net/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Steve Harmon’s future hangs in the balance as he is put on trial to determine if he is a monster.

Summary:

Steve Harmon is on trial for his part in a drug store robbery that ended with the owner being killed.  To distance himself from the horrific events of the trial and the time he spends in jail, Steve writes about it as a screenplay, something he learned about in his classes at the high school.  The prosecutor accuses him of being a monster, and Steve spends the remainder of the trial examining his motivations and his person to determine if he really is a monster.  He writes his thoughts in a diary, and describes the trial as if he were directing a show.  Besides the time spent in court, Steve also spends time with his lawyer, who is trying her best to fight overwhelming odds, and spends time in his jail cell, with bored and cynical prison guards looking on.  Will the jury find him guilty of being a monster and sentence him to life in prison?

Evaluation:

Walter Dean Myers writes about the realistic situation of young black males in Monster.  Through Steve’s eyes, the reader views the things that have lead up to the robbery and to the trial and to who he is today.  The series of events are bleak and unpromising, creating a dark and hopeless atmosphere that hangs over the entire story.  The presence of gangs and the realities of these hard lives are brought into the spotlight as the story continues.  Another dark theme in the novel has to do with race and the legal system.  Steve’s accounts are terrifying, as he seems to be considered guilty until proven innocent.    It is a horrendous feeling of hopelessness and despair.  In the end, although the trial is done, Steve still questions who he is and if he is a monster.  The writing style is innovative with the use of both the screenplay and the diary.  This does make it more complex for readers to understand.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: realistic problems, screenplay writing style, drama, suspense

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Life in Prison by Stanley Williams
  • Durango Street by Frank Bonham
  • When I was Joe by Keren David

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award nominee
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Printz Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of the crime
  • Screenplay of Steve’s verdict coming in
  • Steve’s lawyer doubting Steve’s innocence

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does the screenplay format affect the way the story is told?
  • Would you believe that Steve was innocent based on the evidence and witness testimony?
  • What does the book say about the state of the justice system?  Do you agree or disagree with what it says?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it dealt with an African American youth in prison.  It also appealed because of the writing style used in this novel.