Since the now-infamous awards show last week that, unfortunately, probably far too many young people saw, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness. I saw very little of that broadcast, admittedly—the abundance of “gibes” and “roasts” and physical gags (long before the most talked-about moment) had me turning away early on. It made me wonder if that show/“joke”-fest might be one representation of a lack of general goodwill between people these days stemming from societal stress. Society seems a bit besieged right now with supercharged tensions (the years-long weight of the pandemic, increased political polarity, harmful social media, images of war, economic concerns…) that sometimes eclipse kindness in words and deeds.
Despite parents’ and teachers’ best efforts, kids may struggle to find kindness in the midst of those confusing stressors, especially if they don’t understand them. Counterbalancing our increased societal tension with some extra promotion of kindness seems more and more crucial.
Luckily, there’s at least one way to push a kindness agenda that’s easy for us as writers, teachers, parents, and librarians: Offer good books that show what kindness can do. Many, many middle grade books offer a dose of kindness, as we all know that books for this age range have great potential for character education; parents and teachers see the merits of sharing and teaching books to middle graders in which virtues like kindness are rewarded. And some middle grade reads promote kindness as the very root of the plot, theme, or main character’s arc.
These middle grade choices count under the kindness column, including some newer titles on the scene as well as older favorites worthy of a fresh read with compassion in mind. Eager to hear your personal picks for kindness in the comments.
Like Auggie said, choose kind.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – Fourteen-year-old Hanna is not surprised by the mostly unwelcoming attitudes of townspeople in the new railroad town of LaForge, Dakota Territory in 1880, where she and father settle to open a dress goods shop; she is half-Chinese, and others have made their prejudiced views clear all her life. In the midst of unfriendliness and harassment, Hanna must find the courage to draw on the kindness of one genuine friend to save her father’s shop and their future in LaForge.
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros – Seventh grader Efrén embodies kindness towards his family and friends, even when his mother’s deportation requires him to take on the care and supervision duties for his kindergarten-aged twin siblings, making his own homework difficult to complete and his free time disappear. A rocky friendship that heals through empathy and Efrén’s goals to extend his kindness beyond his family’s needs solidify the goodwill theme.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Annabelle, going on 12, learns perseverance and resiliency in her attempts to show kindness to a misunderstood local WWI veteran who becomes the victim of a malicious harasser. Look for the sequel to Wolf Hollow, My Own Lightning, due out next month.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – In this graphic novel, main character Snap befriends a local older woman whom many in town consider a witch. Snap learns some unexpected things about her own family—as well as a little magic—through this kindness.
Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross – Twelve-year-old Jacques makes an unexpected friend through kindness: Kiki, a Somalian refugee new to his small Maine town. On a larger scale, the book invites a look at how towns can change for the better through acceptance and generosity toward others in need.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein – A group of middle schoolers try to beat Mr. Lemoncello’s “escape room”-like game with kindness in mind; those who are unkind or play unfairly break the rules and face ejection from the competition.
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Eighth grader Carley Conners feels bitter, betrayed, and fearful after an episode of abuse involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now in foster care, Carley is initially mistrustful of the kindness shown to her by foster parent Mrs. Murphy, a mom of three boys. Soon, Carley learns that the kindness you accept can be practiced toward others.
A Long Way from Home by Alice Walsh – Reflecting the true story of kindness extended by the town of Gander, Newfoundland to thousands of diverted plane passengers on 9/11, this novel’s main character is a young Muslim refugee on her way to America. A boy, Colin, initially sees only differences between Rabia and himself, but the charity of Gander’s citizens soon leads to a change in perceptions.
Wonder by RJ Palacio – To borrow the author’s phrase, this “meditation on kindness” has certainly impacted millions of readers. Readers new to Wonder will explore the struggle behind individuals’ difficulty in accepting a boy just because his appearance is different from theirs.