Books for kids: 2 works that stood out in '12

As 2012 draws to a close and people choose gifts for the holidays, it's time for the Best of 2012 book lists from papers such as The New York Times. Here are two particularly good picture books from the "best of" lists this year.

— "Each Kindness" (2012, Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 5-9) was created by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson and award-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis. This large book, alive with Lewis' expressive watercolors, tells the story of Chloe, an elementary school-aged girl who turns away one winter's day when a new girl sits next to her in class.

"I moved my chair, myself and my books a little farther away from her. When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared out at the snow."

Each day Chloe and her friends laughed at Maya's ragged clothes and turned down her play requests.

That spring, Maya stopped coming to school, and on that day, their teacher talked about kindness. She showed the students the tiny waves that rippled when she dropped a stone into a bowl of water.

"This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world."

The students took turns dropping the stone into the water and telling about the kind things they'd done. When it was Chloe's turn, she couldn't think of a thing.

Chloe began to hope that Maya would return to school, but Ms. Albert soon announced that Maya's family had moved away. That afternoon, Chloe walked home alone. She threw stones into her pond and watched the ripples. " my throat filled with all the things I wished I would have said to Maya. Each kindness I had never shown. I watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya becoming more and more forever gone."

While this story is sad, it's powerful. With Lewis' paintings, it's a lovely, touching book.

— "hello! hello!" (2012, Disney/Hyperion Books, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, ages 3-7) is a more lighthearted story, but its message is just as strong. Using a digitalized font, the book shows a young girl with her digital toys.

"No Signal" says one. "Game Over" says another. Her parents and brother, distracted by their own gadgets, don't respond to her hellos, so she follows a leaf blowing out the door.

"Hello leaf," the girl says, discovering a colorful tree. "Hello, flower. Hello, world!" (the font has changed to handwritten letters). The story builds as the girl meets a horse, hops on to ride and is followed by a whole array of animals, all saying hello.

Suddenly her cell phone rings. Everything stops and she leaves the horse and animals to go back to her worried parents at home. She wants to share her discoveries, however, so she leads them outside.

On the last pages of the book, after the copyright and dedication, is a spread showing the whole family riding on the animals (including dad on a whale). The very last page shows a cell phone displaying the word "Goodbye."

Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children as well as the director of a summer writing camp for teens. She is a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

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