The Kindness of Children

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Overview

Visiting a London nursery school, Vivian Paley observes the schoolchildren's reception of another visitor, a handicapped boy named Teddy, who is strapped into a wheelchair, wearing a helmet, and barely able to speak. A predicament arises, and the children's response--simple and immediate--offers Paley the purest evidence of kindness she has ever seen.

In subsequent encounters, "the Teddy story" draws forth other tales of impulsive goodness from Paley's listeners. Just so, it resonates through this book as one story leads to another--taking surprising turns, intersecting with the narrative unfolding before us, and illuminating the moral meanings that children may be learning to create among themselves.

Paley's journey takes us into the different worlds of urban London, Chicago, Oakland, and New York City, and to a close-knit small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her own story connects those of children from nursery school to high school, and circles back to her elderly mother, whose experiences as a frightened immigrant girl, helped through a strange school and a new language by another child, reappear in the story of a young Mexican American girl. Thus the book quietly brings together the moral life of the very young and the very old. With her characteristic unpretentious charm, Paley lets her listeners and storytellers take us down unexpected paths, where the meeting of story and real life make us wonder: Are children wiser about the nature of kindness than we think they are?

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review - Susan Salter Reynolds
In this book about the kindness of children, witnessed by Paley in classrooms from a remote rural community on Lake Superior to London, she captures the urgency and precision in the stories they tell in her program...Paley tells these stories to her 97-year-old mother, who likens them to Hasidic storytelling, in which the author recounts stories of holy men doing mitzvoth or good deeds. "Children are eager," Paley writes, "to take part in another's stories so that they may fill in the empty spaces." Paley is a fine writer who has learned in her life of observation how to let the subject drive the story and how to be a vulnerable player as well. It's hard to live up to the sheer nobility of children, but Paley is its scholar.
New York Times Book Review - Ann Hulbert
Paley's method is to weave intimate stories about her story-filled classroom. The vignettes that result are ideally suited to her subject. Her classroom scenes, by capturing with precision the 3-foot-high child's-eye view, bring down to earth what risks sounding like a romantically sweeping credo about salvation through narration. Actual kindergartners swapping tales makes for more interesting and credible confusion than that. In Paley's pages, the familiar chatter of childhood becomes a quilt, scrappy but well sewn together, of journeys into a world that bewilders but also beckons children to join it...In The Kindness of Children, Paley...showcases a collection of...polished gems about children's "spontaneous acts of goodness," which she has gathered and retold as she goes about her emeritus career of lecturing and visiting schools. The tales in themselves are often quite moving--the paraplegic boy radiant at being included in a pretend game of "store"; the tough boy who whispers saving advice to a child on the brink of collapse; the girl who is suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of generosity on a crowded bus.
Chicago Tribune - Barbara Mahany
Vivian Paley, an author and former kindergarten teacher whose latest book, The Kindness of Children, is an exploration of children's impulsive goodness, contends that although each child comes into the world with an instinct for kindness, it is a lesson that must be reinforced at every turn.
L. A. Parent - Susan K. Perry
Paley, the author of numerous popular books and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, tells stories about children that will make you see kids in a new light. This book is filled with evidence of the surprising goodness of little boys and girls. A delightful read.
Times Educational Supplement - Gerald Haigh
Vivian Gussin Paley's The Kindness of Children is the kind of book that once occupied a place on student teachers' shelves, where now you find only textbooks about the mechanics of the craft. It starts with an encounter in a London nursery between the children and a visiting child who has a severe disability. They display astonishing kindness, not to say inventiveness, in the way they include him in their play. Through the rest of the book the author tells how she went from town to town in Britain and the US, telling the story and receiving a host of interesting and moving reactions. This is one for half-term, a recharger of spiritual batteries.
Robert Coles
This is an extraordinarily suggestive book, written for all of us who are interested in children and their educational lives. The author is an American treasure.
Los Angeles Times Book Review

In this book about the kindness of children, witnessed by Paley in classrooms from a remote rural community on Lake Superior to London, she captures the urgency and precision in the stories they tell in her program...Paley tells these stories to her 97-year-old mother, who likens them to Hasidic storytelling, in which the author recounts stories of holy men doing mitzvoth or good deeds. "Children are eager," Paley writes, "to take part in another's stories so that they may fill in the empty spaces." Paley is a fine writer who has learned in her life of observation how to let the subject drive the story and how to be a vulnerable player as well. It's hard to live up to the sheer nobility of children, but Paley is its scholar.
— Susan Salter Reynolds

New York Times Book Review

Paley's method is to weave intimate stories about her story-filled classroom. The vignettes that result are ideally suited to her subject. Her classroom scenes, by capturing with precision the 3-foot-high child's-eye view, bring down to earth what risks sounding like a romantically sweeping credo about salvation through narration. Actual kindergartners swapping tales makes for more interesting and credible confusion than that. In Paley's pages, the familiar chatter of childhood becomes a quilt, scrappy but well sewn together, of journeys into a world that bewilders but also beckons children to join it...In The Kindness of Children, Paley...showcases a collection of...polished gems about children's "spontaneous acts of goodness," which she has gathered and retold as she goes about her emeritus career of lecturing and visiting schools. The tales in themselves are often quite moving—the paraplegic boy radiant at being included in a pretend game of "store"; the tough boy who whispers saving advice to a child on the brink of collapse; the girl who is suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of generosity on a crowded bus.
— Ann Hulbert

Chicago Tribune

Vivian Paley, an author and former kindergarten teacher whose latest book, The Kindness of Children, is an exploration of children's impulsive goodness, contends that although each child comes into the world with an instinct for kindness, it is a lesson that must be reinforced at every turn.
— Barbara Mahany

L. A. Parent

Paley, the author of numerous popular books and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, tells stories about children that will make you see kids in a new light. This book is filled with evidence of the surprising goodness of little boys and girls. A delightful read.
— Susan K. Perry

Times Educational Supplement

Vivian Gussin Paley's The Kindness of Children is the kind of book that once occupied a place on student teachers' shelves, where now you find only textbooks about the mechanics of the craft. It starts with an encounter in a London nursery between the children and a visiting child who has a severe disability. They display astonishing kindness, not to say inventiveness, in the way they include him in their play. Through the rest of the book the author tells how she went from town to town in Britain and the US, telling the story and receiving a host of interesting and moving reactions. This is one for half-term, a recharger of spiritual batteries.
— Gerald Haigh

Harvard Educational Review
This book will appeal to those who have followed Paley's writing throughout the years, and to teachers and professionals who work with young children. It reveals the important ways in which children can have an impact on our lives. It is also an important reminder, to all of us, of the power of mitzvot, good deeds, and the wonderful things that can happen with an act of kindness.
Mercury News
Whether she's reflecting on a rural Michigan boy who pretends for an entire year to be a truck or talking with her mother, who delights in making a new friend at the retirement home, Paley is a thoughtful reporter and commentator on human interaction and its inevitable sidekick, emotional growth.
hipMama.com
[Paley] is surely one of our best teachers, one who has never stopped learning.
Spirituality and Health Online
In this enchanting and edifying book, [Paley] revels in what she has seen happen in schools when she has given children the chance to make up stories and have their classmates dramatize them. Paley observes: "these spontaneous storytellers create little homes for one another where everyone can imagine playing a role and no one is left out." Using a variety of the children's tales as examples, the author celebrates the ability of kids to create moments of happiness and hopefulness for each other.
L.A. Parent
Paley, the author of numerous popular books and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, tells stories about children that will make you see kids in a new light. This book is filled with evidence of the surprising goodness of little boys and girls. A delightful read.
Susan Salter Reynolds
In this book about the kindness of children, witnessed by Paley in classrooms from a remote rural community on Lake Superior to London, she captures the urgency and precision in the stories they tell in her program...[She] is a fine writer who has learned in her life of observation how to let the subject drive the story and how to be a vulnerable player as well. It's hard to live up to the sheer nobility of children, but Paley is its scholar. —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Ann Hulbert
...Paley...showcases a collection of ...polished gems about children's 'spontaneous acts of goodness,' which she has gathered and retold as she goes about her emeritus career of lecturing and visiting schools. The tales in themselves are often quite moving — the paraplegic boy radiant at being included in a pretend game of 'store'; the tough boy who whispers saving advice to a child on the brink of collapse; the girl who is suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of generosity on a crowded bus.
The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
The author of such inspirational books as The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter and You Can't Say You Can't Play, focuses here on the power of stories to transform children's lives. Paley, a MacArthur Award-winning teacher, presents a series of intertwined tales. The first is Teddy's. On a visit to a British kindergarten, a profoundly disabled child named Teddy is offered a starring role in a classroom drama. "Pretend you're the puppy and you didn't learn to walk yet," Teddy's playmates urge. While the teachers focus on Teddy's disability, his classmates home in on his ability to participate in acting out their story. Back home in Chicago, and still moved by Teddy and his classmates, Paley repeats the story to her frail, 97-year-old mother, who lives in a nursing home. Paley's mother says the actions of Teddy's classmates remind her of the "mitzvah," or good deed, so honored in Judaism. She, in turn, shares Teddy's story with another nursing home resident, a retired teacher. They, too, connect through Teddy's story and begin their own friendship. Paley urges those who work with children to help them create and act out stories. In a classroom, "spontaneous storytellers create little homes for one another where everyone can imagine playing a role and no one is left out." Paley argues that when children listen to, act in, and record their stories, these actions transcend isolation and heal. "If... in the process of pretending to be someone or something else, children learn, even for a moment, to walk in another person's footsteps, could this be the supreme mitzvah of all?" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Ann Hulbert
...Paley...showcases a collection of ...polished gems about children's 'spontaneous acts of goodness,' which she has gathered and retold as she goes about her emeritus career of lecturing and visiting schools. The tales in themselves are often quite moving -- the paraplegic boy radiant at being included in a pretend game of 'store'; the tough boy who whispers saving advice to a child on the brink of collapse; the girl who is suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of generosity on a crowded bus.
The New York Times Book Review
Susan Salter Reynolds
In this book about the kindness of children, witnessed by Paley in classrooms from a remote rural community on Lake Superior to London, she captures the urgency and precision in the stories they tell in her program...[She] is a fine writer who has learned in her life of observation how to let the subject drive the story and how to be a vulnerable player as well. It's hard to live up to the sheer nobility of children, but Paley is its scholar.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
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 herpeers 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." .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674003903
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2000
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 686,701
  • Product dimensions: 4.77 (w) x 7.35 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Gussin Paley, a former kindergarten teacher, is the winner of a MacArthur Award and of the 1998 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the Before Columbus Foundation.
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