Reviews /

Human Kindness: True Stories of Compassion and Generosity that Changed the World

Authored by John Francis
Illustrated by Josy Bloggs
Published by What on Earth Publishing

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I confess that until I read this book, I had not heard of the American Dr John Francis. Also known as The Planetwalker, he travelled the world for 22 years without using motorized transport, seventeen years of which were in silence. He encountered many acts of kindness on the way, and subsequently founded an organisation, Planetwalk, which focusses on raising awareness of environmental issues. Central to his work is the notion that acts of kindness, large or small, local or global, can change the world.

For those like me who approached this book with scant knowledge, there is a useful timeline of his life. The book goes on to explore the meaning of kindness and to outline acts of kindness across a wide range of themes: war, healthcare, charity work, peaceful protest. It also focusses on being kind to oneself and the importance of small everyday acts of kindness, whilst also raising a discussion about altruism. It begins with prehistory and includes such recent events as the pandemic, the exploits of Captain Sir Tom Moore and the work of Marcus Rashford, which counts as a pretty broad sweep of history. Whilst there is a certain ‘soundbite’ quality, the more controversial entries strive to provide a balanced approach. Illustrations by Josy Bloggs accompany each entry, simply and effectively across each double-page spread, to provide a visually pleasing and inviting whole.

Some elements need careful handling and it is important to encourage readers to look beyond the headline. Nuclear power? No thanks! for example, seems pretty clear, but it does present two viewpoints; many pupils, well-versed in Black History Month, will wonder at the inclusion of Florence Nightingale but not Mary Seacole. All of which provides plenty of ideas to springboard discussion.

For a school with a values-driven curriculum, this book is a rich source of information and discussion and a useful starting point for some interesting classroom work.