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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

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ShopTalks: Random Acts of Kindness

Happy Random Acts of Kindness Day! Hannah and Allie from The Carle Bookshop got on Zoom to talk about four of their favorite picture books about being kind and helping others be kinder. They also ask each other what random acts of kindness they can do today to help spread some much-needed joy. This is the latest in a series of videos called Bookshop Talks where members of the Carle Bookshop team discuss their favorite titles in a variety of subjects.  This is a transctiption of that video, which you can find in full on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages @CarleMuseum. 

Allie: Hello everyone, this is Allie and Hannah from the Carle Bookshop and we are here for Random Acts of Kindness Day to talk about some of our favorite books about kindness, acts of kindness, and ways to be kinder to each other. We each brought two books, so as not to talk forever [laughs]. What did you bring first, Hannah?

Hannah: Okay, so my first pick for books about kindness is Each Kindness, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. So, this is a story about how a moment of kindness can make a world of difference. This girl Chloe turns away the new girl Maya when she introduces herself and ignores her when she asks if she can play with Chloe and the [other] girls, until Maya eventually leaves.  

Cover of book Each Kindness show a black child standing by the water looking at their reflection

Then, their teacher gives a lesson in small acts of kindness, Chloe realizes the mistake she made and that she’s not going to get a chance to repair it. This book is a couple years old; Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis have worked together a lot, they worked together on The Other Side, and you can see a lot of the similarities in the illustration style.

Allie: The cover reminds me a lot of The Other Side, with that soft green.

Hannah: Mhm. Each time I read this book I have to sit in silence for a few minutes after, and I really think that’s the point of it. It’s really hard to capture melancholy in children’s books in a way that children can process and understand especially when it’s such a visceral moment. It’s the classic moment on the playground when you say, “can I play?” and they say “no”. And I know I’ve been there, and it doesn’t feel good, and I’ve probably also been on the other side of it. And reading this, it makes me think of those moments when I was a child and think, “oh, could I have been kinder?”.  

I think that this story worked very well because it was from Chloe’s perspective- it wasn’t quite bullying but it was a slight- and it’s from her perspective and you see how minute these interactions are to her, which just makes how much it hurts Maya that much more heart wrenching. And also, E.B. Lewis does such a good job at illustrating facial features, and showing facial expressions, and you just see this girl throughout the story is just entirely dejected and trying so hard, and none of these kids give her the time of day. It hurts so much but it was so good, and it’s a really important story to tell because- so, the teacher describes kindness as dropping a pebble in a pond and how the ripples of kindness will ripple out and affect everything else on the surface of the water. And she makes this comparison after Maya has already left. So then Chloe has this realization that she messed it up and she’s not going to be able to fix it. I really liked that choice because, even though it makes for a sad ending, it also feels very real.  

You don’t always get to go back and make your happy ending. Sometimes you just have to recognize you made a mistake, and do better in the future. And that’s what this story left us with, and that’s what Chloe came away understanding. I think it really illustrated how you may never get the chance to come back from a small bit of meanness, and that bit of kindness could take you so much farther. A heavy story, a sad story, it got a Coretta Scott King honor so it’s a representational story—it checks a good number of boxes.

Allie: Did you have [the book] The Hundred Dresses as a kid?  

Hannah: I did not, I don’t know that story.

Allie: It’s an older book, and this story reminds me of it a lot, I think some people watching probably still have their copy. It’s a middle grade novel but it’s the same [premise]. A group of kids on the playground make fun of a girl who has a very Polish last name that’s hard to pronounce, and they refuse to befriend her. In the end they realize they messed up, and in the end they actually do end up being able to make it better.  

But I like what you were saying [about The Other Side] where you just have to sit with it, because some people don’t want to forgive you. They don’t need to forgive you because you’ve hurt them. That’s the important lesson too, to say to yourself that it’s okay if this person is upset with me because I did make a mistake, and all I can do is be better next time.  

Hannah: And Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis did a good job of making that message accessible to a younger audience.    

Allie: Awesome. I’ll have to read that one.

Hannah: So, what was one of your picks?

Allie: Mine is also a little melancholy; you and I were looking through our picture books yesterday and there are so many picture books that are happy and bubbly, but I think we both appreciate picture books about kindness that leave you with that feeling of, “Okay, how do I apply this to my own life?” So I grabbed a graphic novel, of course [laughs] and it’s one I actually read in quarantine which was interesting because the main character Harriet— This is Sincerely Harriet by Sarah W. Searle—the main character Harriet is actually stuck inside, and you’re not quite sure why- it’s slowly revealed to you. But one thing I can tell you is one of the themes is living with chronic illness.

Cover image for Sincerely Harriet shows a teen in overalls sitting in and open window.

It was interesting, as someone who’s stuck inside, reading about someone else who was stuck inside under much different circumstances. I was looking up Sarah W. Searle and she’s actually from New England, and she has an awesome YouTube channel where she does her art and everything. Harriet is this wonderful, sensitive, thoughtful person, she’s very creative, she’s always making up stories about people and that gets her in trouble a couple times- she’s stuck inside with her imagination thinking what’s the mailman doing, what are my neighbors doing, is this a secret society where they’re all spies, or they’re doing nefarious things, and her parents try to explain to her that she can maybe channel this creative energy somewhere else, because just making up stories is just spreading rumors, whereas storytelling is really an art form that you work with.

And the one person who encourages Harriet is the one person she wants least to talk to, which an older woman, old enough to be her grandmother, who lives in her apartment building whose name is Pearl. Pearl is a former librarian  (shoutout!), very calm and private, but she’s always trying to be Harriet’s friend and Harriet, as a young child, assumes she’s not very interesting, she’s probably doing something diabolical downstairs, I want nothing to do with it. But she’s also very lonely, her parents are always telling her to go downstairs [to Pearl’s apartment]. But sometimes you need intergeneration support, sometimes the person you need the most is outside of your family. Sometimes the people closest to you cant relate to you no matter how hard they try. Even though they support you, they cant understand what you’re going through. When Pearl, who’s been through so much more but still remembers how it feels to be Harriet, stuck inside, incredibly creative…Harriet makes a couple movie references and Pearl just gets them and Harriet’s like, “Oh! Interesting.” And so they become friends and Pearl becomes someone who Harriet can talk to.

It’s not a story that’s teaching young people to be nice to their elders, it’s more about building relationships with people and chosen family. Which is so important especially when you’re stuck inside, as we have been, and the way your outside world is cut off and you have to reevaluate who do I want to stay connected with and who can I stay connected with. It’s also about being kind to people you don’t know, it’s not judging people you know especially by how they look or by their age, and being kind to yourself. Throughout the book, Harriet is not giving herself the kindness she needs to give herself in order to be well and be the best version of herself. So that’s something she has to learn from other people. I think she could have learned it earlier if she were just a little kinder to herself. It also suggests coping mechanisms throughout the whole book which, again, was super helpful. Highly recommend. It’s also pretty quick, I read it in a few hours. One of my favorite graphic novels of the year.  

Hannah: And, I think our coworker Ariel also had a favorite graphic novel, which we will show to you now!  

Ariel: This is Ariel from the Carle Bookshop. I’d like to recommend Act by Kayla Miller. In this graphic novel middle schooler Olive realizes that some students will miss the class trip due to a school policy requiring families to pay a fee, regardless of financial difficulty. Finding that policy and many others at the school unfair, Olive searches for and participates in opportunities to enact change. What starts as an instance of sympathy and indignation grows into a movement centered on kindness and fairness. I’d like to share this quote from Olive: “If this doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. I’ll just keep trying.” This is something we all can do. Act kind, be kind, kindness can make a change.

Cover of Act show a young student with braids submitting a ballot in a box marked VOTE

Hannah: Thank you so much Ariel for participating with us. So, the first book that I shared was a lot, but it honestly portrays a very important message that’s worth the read. But I promise I’ll follow it up with something more upbeat. So, my next book about kindness is The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. This tells the story of a man who lives by the ocean delivering letters in bottles that wash up on the tide. He appreciates the joy he gets by delivering these letters, but hopes one day he will find a message addressed to himself. So when he discovers a strange invitation with no name, he spends his whole day trying to solve the mystery, and finds what he had been hoping for all along.

Cover image for The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles shows a house by the ocean with a figure standing on a dock looking into the distance.

This was another story that, for me, illustrates how one moment can change your whole life. The metaphor I have in my head, is that each life is a rolling ball of yarn, where these balls of yearn can roll right past each other and some can get tangled for the rest of their lives. IN this instance, this very pensive characetrs goes to such extreme lengths to deliver these letters, and it’s his job, and I know it’s a kids book but we never get the hint about a paycheck or a boss, so at some point I’ve gotta assume he’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart. I digress.

The point is, when I read this book, I was thinking about how huge of an impact this guy has made on all of these people’s lives, which in turn affects him because he realizes they have something, physical correspondence, that he doesn’t. And by the end, he realizes that this daily task of his offers more than just a purpose, it offers a community. And I’m still trying to decide whether the townspeople planned the party for him, or that comes from him asking all of the townspeople if they wrote the letter. Because that was something that seemed vague in the end, when he says “Oh, let me see I can find the recipient tomorrow”. I really like that because it suggests, does he know he’s the recipient? And is he going to go back to have more community time with his new friends?

Allie: I hope so!

Hannah: Or is he going to go back and hang out with his new friends just hoping that maybe he’ll find the recipient of the letter. So it’s a chicken and the egg situation; did he become friends with these people by looking for it, or did the people already care about him, and he just didn’t realize it? I think I said that wrong. But yeah, I really like this, I also – you may remember from our last video I really like textures in illustrations so this is one of my favorite pages, just because there’s so little going on in the image but the cloudiness…I like that Erin E. Stead did the blue wash over this scene. You can really feel what this guy is feeling. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is very sweet.  

Allie: Highly underrated.  

Hannah: Yes. Highly underrated. And one of my favorite books about kindness. What about you, Allie? What is your other favorite?

Allie: My second book about kindness was Speak Up by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Ebony Glenn. This one, I hadn’t heard of it, but it was part of our Antiracist Reading List and I was looking for books specifically about antiracist work in the classroom. Eliza, the manager of the Carle Bookshop, brought this to my attention. The best thing about this is it’s specifically ways to be kind in the classroom- we’ve talked about being kind on the playground, at home, with your neighbors; but this one is specifically about ways to be kind at school, and to be kind to people who are different from you or come from different backgrounds than you.

Cover image for Speak Up shows five children of various races abilities standing together holding up signs and smiling.

So it begins with: “There are times you should be quiet, there are days for letting go, but when matters seem important, speak up and let others know.” And there’s all these different kinds of children, and everybody has their own clothing, their own interests, their own friend groups, they’re all in different moods, and every page has a new opportunity to be kind. Not just being nice in general, but very specific examples. The third page is, if someone is in the classroom and the teacher is mispronouncing a name, make it obvious that it’s important for the teacher to pronounce their name correctly, and for you to pronounce their name correctly: “Speak up, say your name, you are you, and you belong”.

My favorite part about the book is that it says not only to children have the power to fix things by calling over a grown up, but children have the power themselves, without any intervention, to address problems in the classroom. So one of the examples is that if someone is spreading a rumor, you have the power to not believe that rumor, stop it in its tracks, and say no thank you. Or not to pass it to someone else.

And then later, there’s one about, if  a group of students are doing something in the classroom that isn’t right – like if a group of students is making fun of another student- you don’t have to go with the group. You can stop and say I’m not going to do that, but you can also speak up and change direction. You have the power to redirect the people around you to do something kinder. So this student [in the book] realizes everyone else is doing something they may not have realized is the wrong thing to do, but instead of saying “I’m just not going to participate” or “I’m just going to ignore it” they say, “let’s read a book instead”. They redirected the whole energy of the room and now everyone is together.  

Hannah: Redirection is a highly underrated tool.

Allie: Yeah. So it covers all of these situations. The language I think is so important, one page says: “When a person wounds another, with their words or with their fist, speak up, be an ally, safety comes when we persist. When bad things happen in school, whether it’s on purpose or not on purpose, be it physical or emotional, kids have the power themselves to redirect the energy or get a grownup- there is a part where a child gets a grown up to help them- and to choose to help people be kinder. That’s the whole focus, is being kinder because things will happen that aren’t right, and the best thing for you to do is speak up and say something about it. So these were my two books; Speak Up, and Sincerely Harriet.  

Hannah: I like this direction we’re taking, where we’re thinking about all the different ways we can show kindness to the people around us. So I’m gonna ask you a question Allie, and I also hope all of you watching will think about this as I ask it. What are three things that you could do today to be kind to the people around you?

Allie: For Random Acts of Kindness Day, one thing I could do since so much communication with my friends and loved ones right now is happening digitally, I could write a quick message to say “just checking in” or “miss you” to ten people. People I haven’t talked to in a while and maybe haven’t asked them how they are. I feel like when you ask someone how they are now, you kind of already know that it’s not great, but you want to know anyway. Just ask and be genuine, tell them you do want to know.

Speaking of The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, as you were reading it was inspiring me to send someone a letter. Recently one of my friends sent me a letter for no reason, full of things that weren’t important that they could have told me through Facebook Messenger, but they chose to write it down and send it to me and it made me really happy. And a third random act of kindness…hmm…maybe share one of these books over Zoom with someone else, because I know we share books on Zoom with people all the time, and just read to them for fun.  

Hannah: If you have any kids in your life just be like “hey!”  

Allie: Yeah I can just call a kid in my life, that could be really fun. Okay. For Random Acts of Kindness Day, Hannah, what are three things you could do to be kinder today?

Hannah: I can share, save, and comment on my friends’ Artstagram posts. I have a lot of friends who are running their own small business and that’s something I can do. Another thing I can do to be kind to people around me is make my housemates tea while I’m making myself tea. And the last thing is…hmm…I like what you said about reaching out to people and asking people how they are, so I think I’m gonna steal that. I’m gonna reach out to people and say, “how are you?” and actually mean it.

Allie: Yeah.

Hannah: And each little pebble that we drop into that pond will ripple out and bring kindness to the whole world.

Allie: [Laughs] I’m excited. I might make a couple cups of tea myself, actually. I was going to make one for myself and I might as well make one for the other people I live with.  

Hannah: I like that idea. Me too. Well, I hope you have a fantastic tea time Allie.  

Allie: Thank you! You too. The [Carle] bookstore is open even if the Museum may not be right now, you can place your orders online, if you have questions or need book recommendations, if you want an art kit to go, if you’re just looking for something to do today and you’d like to, ask I said, share a book over Zoom, you can place an order online and come by for curbside pickup. Happy Random Acts of Kindness Day, everybody, have a great day!

Hannah: Bye, thanks for watching!

by Eliza Brown

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2021 at 3:07 pm and is filed under ShopTalks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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