As Aesop said, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Two picture books contain memorable messages for kids learning to be kind in ways both big and small. Both feature a diverse cast of characters, showing young readers how to reach out to the vast world around them.
KIND ACTS MULTIPLYING
A simple incident of classroom embarrassment becomes occasion for an exquisite treatise on the subject of kindheartedness in Be Kind (ages 3 to 6). Tanisha, a young black girl, spills grape juice all over her new dress, causing her multiracial class to burst into laughter. The white narrator tries to help by announcing, “Purple is my favorite color.” The plan backfires, however, as Tanisha runs into the hallway, seemingly in tears.
While painting a picture for Tanisha in art class, the narrator ponders, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?” Many things, this student muses, such as making cookies for a lonely old neighbor, asking a new girl to be a partner, or saying hi to Omar or Rabbi Mandelbaum in the park. Pat Zietlow Miller―author of the marvelous Sophie’s Squash books―allows the narrator’s thoughts to meander from local (“Maybe I can only do small things.”) to global, as small acts “spill out of our school” and ”go all the way around the world.”
Jen Hill’s lively illustrations soulfully portray Tanisha’s mortification amid classroom giggles as the narrator looks on with concern. Subsequent pages reveal an array of characters whose kindnesses reach around the world to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. On its final pages, Be Kind returns to Tanisha’s dilemma, reaching a subtle, satisfying conclusion.
COME ONE, COME ALL
Open your heart and umbrella wide―that’s the message of this seemingly simple tale for preschoolers, The Big Umbrella (ages 4 to 8). A raincoat-clad child of indeterminate sex grabs an umbrella and heads out into the city streets. This anthropomorphized “big, friendly umbrella” that “likes to help” wears a big grin as it stretches wider and wider to shelter an increasingly diverse group: a runner, a ballerina, a huge duck, a hairy (but friendly) monster, a dog, and more. The final spread (“There is always room”) reveals a bustling, sun-filled street chockfull of diversity, including a woman in a hijab, a young man in a wheelchair and a dad sporting a Mohawk.
Author-illustrator Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache and pencil scenes provide the perfect backdrop for this heartwarming tale, co-written with her seventh-grade daughter, Juniper. Minimal text drives their message home, allowing the illustrations to become the focal point of this celebration of inclusion and generosity.