When We Are Kind
When We Are Kind
I am kind when I help my neighbor.
I feel loved when my Elders are kind to me.
When We Are Kind is an important book for our times as we seek ways to be kind to others and ourselves. Award-winning author Monique Gray Smith, who is Cree, Lakota and Scottish, distills this theme perfectly through direct language. While the text is simple (and there are only 145 words), this book evokes deep meaning by encompassing the reciprocal nature of kindness, including towards the earth.
Told from a first person point of view, with an empathetic tone, When We Are Kind begins with scenes from everyday life at home and in the community. Examples that remind us how to be kind include helping to hang up laundry on a clothesline; sharing art supplies with classmates; and walking a pet dog. The author also includes an example of how to be kind to oneself: “I am kind when I take care of myself and get a good night’s sleep.”
The storyline then transitions to examples of how it feels when one is kind towards others, and the earth; and when those others (e.g., friends, Elders, pets) return a kindness (e.g., when a friend plays nicely with you). As the book draws to a close, there’s an example of how it feels to practice self-kindness (e.g., by eating healthy food). Importantly, it ends with a multi-generational scene of children, an adult (with a hand drum) and an Elder, all sitting together in a circle, reminding us how being kind connects us to others.
When We Are Kind is the debut picture book of Victoria-based artist Nicole Neidhardt, who is originally from New Mexico and identifies as Diné (Navajo) on her mother’s side and a blend of European ancestry on her father’s side. Her artwork has a relaxed, collage-like style and is rendered digitally in a muted colour palette primarily of brown, green, and purple. The images capture Indigenous children interacting joyfully with their friends and families. A few spreads include diverse, non-white children who appear to be non-Indigenous, and one page shows a child in a wheelchair. Although the pictures are contemporary, a few present traditional activities, such as berry picking, and traditional Indigenous designs are included, such as in a bedroom scene that depicts a dreamcatcher, beaded leather moccasins, and a woven basket.
When We Are Kind is an accessible picture book that will work well as a read-aloud in a group or for quiet reading alone. Whether at home or in the classroom, its pleasing repetition of phrases. such as “I am kind when” and “I feel”, (when describing different emotions felt when acting kind) will appeal to young readers and invite re-reading. When We Are Kind is a book to enjoy that can also encourage further discussion and actions around kindness.
Anita Miettunen is a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.