Cover image for The kindness of children
The kindness of children
Paley, Vivian Gussin, 1929-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
129 pages ; 20 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BJ1533.K5 P34 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



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?

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

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?" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.