Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind”.
Did you know that this week is Random Acts of Kindness Week? I didn’t know that we even had such a thing but it seems to have been running for a while, and I really kind of love it! Random acts of kindness keep this planet turning, especially in the last year when looking out for each other became more important than ever.
I started this article with one of my all-time favourite quotes about kindness, from the unmatchable Kurt Vonnegut, and spent a bit of time thinking about some of my personal favourite kind characters from literature. Some of these are older and some of them are new, but they are all characters who have impressed with me the depth of their compassion for those around them. We always, always need more kindness in the word.
1. Tiffany Aching – Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
If there was one thing that Sir Terry knew, it was inventing characters, so real that you feel as though you’ve known them all your life. I could have picked any one of a number of his characters for this list, but Tiffany always stands out to me for several reasons.
Firstly, because she is his youngest protagonist – only nine years old in The Wee Free Men – we see how she learns and grows into her empathy and kindness as the role of local witch is thrust upon her. Secondly, Tiffany does not necessarily find kindness comes naturally to her. She has a lot of crises of confidence where it looks as though she could take the easy way out, but she never does. She shows us that you don’t have to be born with infinite patience – you can, with hard work, learn to be better than you are.
2. Barney – Morris Gleitzman’s Once
Gleitzman’s Once is a devastatingly simple book, telling the story of Felix, a young Jewish boy in Nazi Germany who is searching for his parents after a stay in an orphanage. Felix doesn’t know what is happening to his country, or why people are being hurt, and his innocence is really quite painful to behold.
The one ray of light is Barney, a character based on the real-life doctor Janusz Korczak, who takes in the lost Jewish children he finds and hides them in a basement, risking his life to feed them and care for them. Once does not have a happy ending – one of the rare children’s books about the subject that doesn’t – but Barney, with his infinite capacity for kindness and his refusal to leave his lost children, is really quite the character.
3. Miss Honey – Roald Dahl’s Matilda
Is there any character from literature who comes to mind quicker than Miss Honey if you talk about kindness? I know for a fact she had a formative impact, at least in her film incarnation, on a lot of people my age.
Not only does she recognise and encourage Matilda’s brilliance, she also looks deeper and sees that Matilda is just a little girl who has some big problems too. Dahl, of course, had a brilliant mind when it came to characters, but I’d go so far as to say that he never wrote another one who was as good as Miss Honey. It is like he poured everything into her, and made a woman that any one of us would have wished to have as a teacher.
4. Percy Newton – Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
I am far from the only person who read this great YA novel and imprinted on Percy, the best friend and love interest of our main character, Monty.
You spend the majority of the novel reading Monty agonising over Percy and mostly end up thinking ‘same’, because Percy is such a lovely guy. Monty is a great character, bolshy and excitable, dramatic and hilarious, but Percy – sweet Percy – tempers all those tendencies in his friend, and provides a calm and level head. He’s supportive and kind, a better man than Monty could ever hope to be, but it doesn’t matter. They suit each other, and Percy is very definitely the best friend that we all wish we could have. Sometimes, it is the quietest ones who leave the strongest impression.
5. Sara Crewe – Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
Sara Crewe is the titular Little Princess of this children’s classic, but don’t be fooled; she is far from spoiled or bratty. Raised by a single father in India, Sara is sent to a London boarding school at the age of seven.
Her dad does pay for a lot of luxury for Sara but she is a personable little girl who makes friends with the bullied Ermengarde, and is kind to the little ones and the scullery maid. She has no pretentions, which becomes clear when her dad dies and she is left penniless, working as a servant at the school instead. Through all the mistreatment, Sara never loses her kindness, and cares for those even less fortunate than she is. As an example of an aspirational children’s heroine, Sara is one of the best.
6. Jean Valjean – Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
I’m going to come out and just say it: I will probably never love another character as much as I love Jean Valjean. The musical does a great job of distilling him down to his true essence, but if you ever have the opportunity to tackle Victor Hugo’s brick of a novel, you will find that there is a lot more to him.
Like Tiffany Aching, Jean Valjean is a man who has had to work hard. We can assume he was a good brother, going to prison for stealing bread to feed his sister and her children, but after so many years of humiliation and hardship, it is not the same man who emerges from prison. But he works hard to recover from it, and blossoms into the impossibly good and generous man we know and love. His kindness almost literally knows no bounds.
7. Starr Carter – Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give
Starr Carter lives in my mind rent free. She made such a profound impression on me that last summer I couldn’t read a single thing about the Black Lives Matter movement without thinking about her and her story. Angie Thomas created such a powerful avatar that for me, at least, Starr has come to represent the issues in my mind.
A sixteen year old girl who witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white officer, Starr agrees to an interview with the police. The story goes national and Khalil is painted as a drug runner and dangerous gang member. Starr lives with me because she feels so real. She’s afraid of the consequences, but she is also brave. She’s a typical teenager with angst and understandable rage, but through it all, she is determined to get justice for Khalil. Starr is strong, kind and utterly unmoveable. There is much to admire in her.
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