February 14, 2014

Random Books of Kindness

        Today is Valentine’s Day, but we’ve got a much bigger and more important holiday going on, too: Random Acts of Kindness Week, from February 10-16.  (And Random Acts of Kindness Day is February 17, at least in New Zealand.  I’m not sure about the rest of us.)  The idea is to use this week to challenge yourself to “step out of your normal routine or comfort zone and attempt a new random act of kindness each day.”  I’ve collected some fantasy picture books with a focus on kindness so you can celebrate by reading them with your kids.  And if you really want to make a splash of kindness, why not arrange to read with children in a local school or tutoring program?  When someone cares enough to come in and spend time with a child, share a story and listen to the child’s thoughts about it, and leave with a smile, that’s magic, especially for kids who don’t get much opportunity for reading aloud with their own families.

Brave Jack and the Unicorn, by Janet McNaughton (illustrated by Susan Tooke) - This is an original fairy tale based on traditional folk and fairy tale motifs, including the despised youngest son, the quest for the princess’s hand, and, of course, kindness that is repaid.  McNaughton has made sure that this story resonates well with modern audiences by tweaking her version.  For example, it’s explained that Jack is called a fool simply because he’s “too kindhearted,” and that the princess and Jack like each other, but don’t get married until some time has passed.  As for the emphasis on kindness, it takes a variety of forms and is duly repaid in a variety of ways, ending with the value placed on kindness by the princess.  I don’t find the illustrations particularly inspiring, but this is definitely a book that will appeal to fans of fairy tales - and also those who have qualms about some of the traditional fairy tales.  Its kindness quotient is a solid 5 unicorns.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau (illustrated by Gail de Marcken) - In this story a greedy king longs for a wonderful quilt made by the magical quiltmaker.  The quiltmaker’s kindness to animals is repaid by protection from the king’s punishments, and it’s the king’s eventual kindness that finally earns him a beautiful quilt - and true happiness.  This a lovely story, with lovely meticulously detailed illustrations.  I particularly enjoy the quilting connection, and the illustrations are full of quilt block references, including appropriate quilt block designs on each page, such as the bear paw block on the page where we meet a bear.  I rate it 5 warm snuggly quilts of kindness.

Please Share That Peanut!, by Sesyle Joslin and Simms Taback - This is not a standard picture book with a single story plot.  It’s rather a series of funny vignettes illustrating the importance of sharing.  I say “illustrating” pun intended, because the charming pen-sketch illustrations are vital to showing the plot, and provide plenty of humor to go with the delightfully melodramatic narration.  Several of the vignettes have fantasy themes, such as the Danish trolls who plunder a mead-hall (but share the golden goblet they find there) and the prince and princess who are confronted with a fiery dragon (and end up inviting the whole court to roast marshmallows in its flames).  Alas, this gem is out of print, but get hold of a copy if you possibly can for its 4-peanut kindness rating.

Kate and Sam to the Rescue, by AEGN (illustrated by AEGN, TPN, and PGN) - Although it’s a chapter book, I’m including this because it is meant to be read aloud, and because one of its primary themes is the importance of kindness.  The first part of the plot takes the form of a chain story, in which each act of kindness is repaid with a gift that makes the next act of kindness possible.  Kate and Sam themselves are determined to be kind to everyone, even when they know it may be dangerous, and it’s their kindness that earns them the friends who help conquer the dangers.  I rate its kindness level at 5 purring ginger cats.

        Finally, just a couple bonus  classic books about kindness.  These are somewhat less fantastical, but do include talking animals or sentient technology and should be easy to get your hands on.
Tawny Scrawny Lion, by Kathryn Jackson - A hungry lion is disarmed by the kindness of the rabbits he plans to eat.
Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton - A heroic snow plow responds to every cry for help even after she’s tired from her long day.

        There - are you inspired?  Now, let’s see some acts of kindness!

[Pictures: A Pair of Quails (Heart), rubber block print over watercolor by AEGN, 2010;
Our Dragon!, illustration by Simms Taback from Please Share That Peanut!, 1965.]

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