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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?
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
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
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
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
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