Lunch was over at Rockwood Elementary School, and best friends Josh and Kevin rushed onto the playground, chattering about their ongoing game of Space Battle Tag.
“Today,” Josh said excitedly, “it’s my turn to be King Grink the Destroyer!”
“OK,” said Kevin, “I’ll be a Space Racer. I’m coming for you, Grink!”
Suddenly, an angry shout interrupted the boys’ fun.
The pair didn’t even have to turn around to see who had shouted. It was Carl, and at recess time, he always seemed angry.
“Stop what?” asked Josh.
“Stop being mean!” was Carl’s loud, puzzling reply.
Josh and Kevin looked at each other, shrugged and ran off into outer space.
Giggling, the boys sped up into the play structure, weaving among their classmates. Some cheered for Kevin, playfully trying to block Josh’s pursuit. Others joined Josh’s team, trying to help win the battle.
Around every corner, it seemed, was Carl. Angry as always, he stared at the players, shouting, “You’re too loud!” or “You can’t go over there!”
Everyone ignored him.
That night, Josh’s grandpa noticed an unusually gloomy face at the dinner table.
“What’s up, Josh?” he asked.
“Carl bothers me,” Josh replied. “He tries to ruin Kevin’s and my Space Battle Tag game at recess every day.”
“That sounds frustrating and confusing,” Josh’s grandpa said. “I wonder if Carl wants to join in your game but doesn’t know how.”
Then he added, “Kindness attracts kindness. Maybe if you and Kevin find a way to be kind to Carl, he might end up becoming a friend.”
It’s worth a try, thought Josh.
At Carl’s house, it was bath time. Carl and his mom always had great conversations during this time.
“I notice a sad face,” Mom said.
“Josh and Kevin bother me,” said Carl. “I wish I could play Space Battle Tag, but it’s not safe! They could get stuck or fall down and hurt themselves. I try to tell them how to make it better, but they don’t listen.”
“That sounds like it frustrates you and makes you nervous,” said Carl’s mom.
She continued, “Remember what we’ve been learning about you? We know you have what’s called a sensory processing disorder. That’s a fancy way of saying you notice the world around you in your own special way. Sometimes you think something is unsafe because that’s how it makes you feel. But do you think Mrs. Banfield would allow the kids to play Space Battle Tag if it wasn’t safe?”
“I guess not,” said Carl, a little doubtfully. “But I wish I could get them to slow down so I could play, too.”
Carl’s mom thought for a moment. “What if you talked to Josh and Kevin during a calm time of day? Ask them if you can join in their game in your own way.”
“After all,” she added, “kindness attracts kindness. If you tell them how you feel, they might end up being good friends.”
The next morning during choice time, Carl sat next to Josh and Kevin at the drawing table.
“Can I play Space Battle Tag at recess today?” asked Carl shyly.
Surprised, Kevin said, “Really? I didn’t think you liked it.”
Josh remembered his grandpa’s advice and asked, “How would you like to play it?”
Carl had an idea.
At recess, Kevin raced for his turn to be King Grink, while Josh led the Space Racers in their quest for interstellar domination.
Many things were the same as always, but one thing was different: There was no angry shouting, no glaring eyes around every corner.
There was also a new aspect of the game. When the Racers needed to gas up their spaceships, Josh directed them toward the brand-new Space Racer Fuel station. Comfortably situated on the edge of the playground, waiting to fill their tanks, was Carl—calm, happy and part of the game.
As the bell rang, Josh and Kevin waited to walk back to class with Carl.
“Hey, that was fun!” said Josh.
“It sure was!” replied Carl. “Thanks for letting me join in my own way. That was kind of you.”
“No problem!” Josh said. “We hadn’t thought of adding a fueling station. Your idea made our favorite game even more fun. I guess it’s true: Kindness attracts kindness!”
Holly Lebowitz Rossi lives with her family in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Questions for Readers
Why does Space Battle tag upset Carl?
Think and Search
What advice did Carl and Josh get?
Author and Me
Why did Josh ask Carl how he would like to play the game?
On My Own
How have you shown kindness to someone else?