In A Small Kindness, Stacy McAnulty (The World Ends in April) and Wendy Leach (Runaway Words) offer a sincere, joyous and child-centered take on what it means to pay it forward.
A diverse group of young students anxiously queue up in front of their brown-skinned teacher, Ms. Jones. All except one child are illustrated in a sepia palette and the text hints at what's to come: "It was like a game of tag." Upon entering the building, Alice--shown in mustard-yellow sneakers, a green shirt and a bright purple backpack--smiles at Lucas, who uses a walker. Lucas--now in a bright red shirt featuring a boldly yellow lion--shares happiness by greeting a nervous-looking Jasmine. As the day continues, each act of kindness begets another. One child offers assistance to Mr. Freeman the custodian, who in turn encourages Rhea during gym class: "You'll get it next time!" With each act of kindness, a ribbon of color and light streams from one person to the next, gently linking the two and doubling the joy. Leach cleverly captures each moment of transformation by depicting the person with two separate halves: one side dull, the other in bright splendor. One by one, children and adults trapped in the sepia color palette morph into colorful brilliance.
McAnulty's text is sparse, warm and approachable--"Henry complimented Cora. Cora offered a seat to Mateo"--and Leach's illustrations of children with a variety of skin tones and abilities are delightful. The two narratives ebb and flow seamlessly, filling in the details of the story until the children become links in a friendly chain, awash in a sea of color. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher and co-creator, Gender Inclusive Classrooms