About the Holiday
Instituted in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of nations, World Kindness Day is an international celebration that encourages people around the world to be mindful of others through mutual respect, inclusion, empathy, and gratitude. To celebrate, people are asked to perform acts of kindness—big or small. Events include, the Big Hug, handing out Kindness Cards, and flash mobs showing and promoting kindness. The day spotlights good deeds—both individual and community—and focuses on “the positive power and the common thread of kindness which binds us.” It doesn’t take cost anything to celebrate today with a simple “hi,” a smile, or an offer of help or support to someone in need. Don’t limit your care and concern to just one day, either. Promoters of the holiday hope that kindness becomes infectious, inspiring good relationships every day of the year.
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness
With smiles on their faces a family carries boxes from the moving van into their new home. The next morning the teacher introduces brown-skinned Vanessa to her new class, and she takes a seat in one of the two empty desks—the one separated from a straight-haired girl in a yellow dress by the other empty desk. During the lesson, Vanessa keeps her head down shyly as other kids raise their hands and answer questions. At recess, Vanessa sits alone on the bleachers while her classmates dribble basketballs, shoot baskets, and talk and laugh together.
When the bell rings the kids pour out of the building, forming pairs and groups to walk home or play. Vanessa starts her route home by herself. At the crosswalk, a blond boy wearing a scowl approaches Vanessa and stops to talk. But he doesn’t offer friendly chit-chat. He sneers and taunts and points at her accusingly. Then with a huff, he turns and goes back the way he came.
The girl in the yellow dress has stopped with her friends by a tree. Instead of watching the squirrel scampering up the trunk, though, she sees and overhears the altercation between the boy and Vanessa. She looks as Vanessa stands a bit shell-shocked and then hurries across the road with tears in her eyes. Vanessa’s classmate is shocked too by what she’s seen. She feels sad and even sadder as Vanessa runs away and into her new home.
The girl returns to her friends and tells them what happened. They all react with surprise and sadness. All the way home, as her mom and dad cook dinner and her siblings watch TV, at bedtime and late into the night, the girl thinks about Vanessa. Vanessa has a sleepless night too.
In the morning, the girl gets dressed for school and heads to the table for breakfast. It’s while she’s drinking her orange juice that it hits her—what she can do. She grabs her lunch box and races out the door. She approaches a house and knocks on the door. Vanessa opens the door a crack and looks out. The little girl in her yellow dress talks to Vanessa and takes her hand. They walk down the sidewalk as other kids emerge from their own houses. A boy hails them and takes Vanessa’s other hand. Another boy joins the group and then a girl in pigtails. As more kids gather on the way to school, they come running to join Vanessa’s group.
The boy from the day before looks on with surprise. Soon the small group has become a wave as kids from all classes join in, streaming around the boy and passing him by. His face reddens and he sulks as the wave, led by Vanessa and her new friend enter the school building. In class, Vanessa takes her seat while the straight-haired girl moves to the desk next to her.
Backmatter includes advice for children on what they can do to help someone who is being bullied and helpful vocabulary to use when sharing the book with children.
Kerascoët’s perfectly constructed wordless picture book powerfully demonstrates the feeling of being overlooked and ignored, the emotional toll of being bullied, and how an act of bullying affects even those not directly involved. There is so much right about the details in this book from the empty desk between Vanessa and her soon-to-be friend on her first day of school to the suspense of what the girl in the yellow dress says to her friends after witnessing the bullying and their reaction to the facial expressions on all of the characters faces.
Kerascoët’s use of color sets the tone as the background illustrations of the classroom and neighborhood is washed in a pale blue, putting the spotlight on the diverse classmates in their colorful clothes. A compelling double-spread center image gives vent to Vanessa and her classmate’s feelings through a stormy night with roiling black clouds and a torrent of rain. The two girls are connected by their lighted widows—the only bright spots in the darkened neighborhood. Turn the page and that glow is shining into the window from the sunny day. The homes are now lemon colored, with Vanessa’s house a standout pink.
As the little girl talks to Vanessa and holds her hand, you will feel tears spring to your eyes, and the gathering children with their smiles and waves will swell your heart. In the sense of motion caused by the children rushing to join Vanessa’s group, the bully is now the one overlooked, and as the small groups become a crowd all walking in the same direction, the bully—facing the other way and at the bottom of the page—is far outnumbered. As the wave of kids enter school, the bully appears in the bottom corner, red faced and frowning. The possibility the empty desk poses at the beginning of the story is fulfilled when the girl in the yellow dress moves there to sit next to Vanessa.
The wordless quality of this book allows for readers to volunteer what they think is happening and what is being said. It also allows for deep discussions of similar experiences and can lead into an expanded lesson on kindness, empathy, and how to handle bullying.
I Walk with Vanessa is a moving portrait of how a simple act of friendship multiplies and changes lives and is a must for home, classroom, school, and public libraries.
Ages 4 – 8
Schwartz & Wade, 2018 | ISBN 978-1524769550
To learn more about the husband and wife team Kerascoët and their work, visit their website.
National Kindness Day Activity
Kindness Cards to Share
On World Kindness Day people are encouraged to give out Kindness Cards to friends, family, and especially those who look as if they need cheering up. Here are some printable cards for you to use!
You can find I Walk with Vanessa at these booksellers
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound
Picture Book Review