________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 25. . . .February 28, 2014


Pay It Forward Kids: Small Acts, Big Change.

Nancy Runstedler.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013.
64 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-301-3.

Subject headings:
Social action-Juvenile literature.
Social reformers-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***1/2 /4



[Jeneece] says, “I require frequent surgeries and medications that are very expensive.” She knew she was lucky to have the support of an organization like Variety, and she wanted to help other kids and families with health-related challenges in the same way. On her first try, she raised $164 in pennies. Encouraged by her early results, she tried again, and started asking for more help. The response was so good that she kept going. She soon became known as the “Penny Girl.”

“I’m a bit like a penny, by myself,” Jeneece says. “I am not worth much, but with a little help and lots of pennies, you can achieve a lot. Every penny counts and even the smallest person can make a difference.” The coins continued to roll in and from the time Jeneece was seven until she was fourteen, she raised over $1 million. To date, this number has now reached an astonishing $8 million.


If you’re looking for examples of creative thinking and altruism among today’s young people, Pay It Forward Kids has what you want. You will applaud all of these stories for the way innovation and compassion have made big things happen from small beginnings. Here are 14 stories of kids who embraced the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy using only their imagination and determination to succeed. They have drawn upon stories of despair from the news or from personal challenges, and turned them into inspirational projects to benefit others. If reading about random (and planned) acts of kindness encourages more of them, this book should take ‘pay it forward’ to new levels.

     The stories highlight kids in both Canada and the US. The targets of their fund-raising are the homeless, victims of human trafficking, the visually impaired, cancer sufferers, human rights violations, veterans, Special Olympics, and an overseas orphanage. They’ve brought cheer to kids in hospital and the gift of books or sports equipment to those without, and challenged attitudes about bullying. From the perspective of each of these young leaders, the size of the problem didn’t matter. They saw a need, and recognized that they had the desire and ability to address it.

     Each chapter profiles the young person from the earliest age of awareness of a problem or injustice, through initial actions that motivated even greater efforts, to how the results of their projects may be a guiding light for them in their futures. Along the way, foundations have been formed, additional youngsters (and adults) involved. The book does a great job of showing the many skills these kids have acquired during their work. The focus is squarely on the actions of the young people, and frequent quotes help to bring their personalities to life. Also shown is the encouragement and support they received initially from parents. In each account, additional information is provided in inserts to clarify the issues or define terminology. The examples chosen for the book show the global reach of the ideas, some happening close to home, others across the world.

     Pay It Forward Kids is colorful, with a generous number of photos to show the kids celebrating their successes. A list of other books on similar topics is included, along with a website offering access to organizations featured. The impact of these ventures is evident from the list of online articles. Any reader who would like to take up the challenge of the ‘pay it forward’ movement will find ample starting points.

     The only minor drawback to this book is the front cover. It shows a close-up of small hands laid upon hands, the familiar gesture of reaching out, teamwork, and accord. The symbolism is right, but, on first impression, the image may not arouse curiosity in kids. That’s unfortunate as they will miss the amazing and gratifying stories of their peers that await between the covers. In fact, the concept of the back cover design – faces -- is more appealing.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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