THE KINDNESS OF CHILDREN by Vivian Gussin Paley

THE KINDNESS OF CHILDREN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite its vague, somewhat saccharine title, this short book is a subtle, psychologically and imaginatively rich guide to one of the important ways in which children learn how to be more fully human: namely, kindness. Paley, a former kindergarten teacher, a MacArthur Award recipient, and the prolific author of many books about children and education (The Girl with the Brown Crayon, 1997, etc.), describes how very young students transform themselves and one another by taking in, narrating, and sometimes dramatically acting out tales of kindness and other acts of goodness. “The infant returns a smile; the schoolchild returns a story,” she observes. Beginning with the true account of Teddy, a multi-handicapped boy in a London school who wears a padded helmet and is treated sensitively by a “normal” student, she delves into the matter of how children, at their best, find ways of reaching out to those in need, thus allowing themselves and their peers to grow morally. Yet her book is less about “the kindness of children” than about the imaginative and ethical power of narratives about goodness for young minds. Her writing’s allusive—e.g., she makes reference to traditional Jewish teachings about kindness—and sometimes poetic. On occasion, the book suffers from hyperbole, as when Paley writes about children’s acts of goodness that “rock the [moral] universe.” Perhaps because she believes that children are “often more kind to each other than unkind,” Paley doesn—t delve enough into the interplay between children’s propensities for kindness and for cruelty. This is unfortunate, especially since the single time she writes about a child who reports being hated and shunned by her peers is the volume’s most interesting section. But in general, Paley instructively illustrates how the children with whom she interacts so well are “making sense of all the unspoken messages” articulated to them while they—re also creating “little homes for one another where everyone can imagine playing and no one is left out.”

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-50358-9
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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