For middle-grade author Brenda Ferber, getting her first picture book published proved a bit of a challenge. The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever – about a heart-shaped greeting card with a mind of its own and a persistent sweet tooth – was rejected 70 times over the course of 10 years before finding a home at Dial, and an illustrator in Tedd Arnold (the Fly Guy series). But in December 2012, the newly minted book finally landed on bookstore and library shelves.
To celebrate, Ferber took a cue from her story’s pages. “Ultimately, my book is about vulnerability and the courage it takes to risk putting yourself out there,” she says. “If we can remember that we have the power to do small things to bring joy and love into the world, we should do that as often as possible.”
In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, Ferber is hosting a “Random Act of Kindness” contest on her blog. The rules are simple. Children and adults are invited to perform a deed for a stranger – anonymously – and email Ferber with the story of their secret accomplishment. It could be something as simple as donating clothing to a local charity, or as generous as picking up the tab for the car behind them at the local drive-through.
“My hope is that people will discover the joy that random acts of kindness bring them, and that they’ll continue to do it long after this contest is over,” Ferber says.
On Valentine’s Day, five do-gooders hand-picked by a trio of discerning judges – Ferber’s teenage sons and daughter – will each receive a signed copy of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever. Ferber will announce the winners and the stories of their endeavors on her blog.
So what do the judges look for in a winning entry? Ferber’s daughter, Faith, prizes originality, while her son Sammy is looking for acts that have the greatest impact. Ferber’s son Jacob is taking a different approach. “The key word is ‘random,’ so my choice will be random,” he says.
Since Ferber announced the contest on January 8, entries have been rolling in. Andy, from Lakewood, Ill., bought a $100 gift card at the grocery store and instructed a cashier to donate it to the next person in need. Six-year-old Riley, from Deerfield, Ill., not only promised to make her bed every day but shared half of a Kit Kat – her favorite candy – with her mother.
Ferber has also been doing her part to spread kindness. Inspired by the experience of her agent, Michelle Andelman – who recently found a $2 bill in a library book with a speech bubble attached to Jefferson saying, “Surprise!” – Ferber will hide a $2 bill inside five randomly selected library books, to be discovered by unsuspecting readers. That’s just one of several plans she hopes to carry out over the next few weeks, and beyond.
The motivation for contributing to the happiness and well-being of others is simple, Ferber says. “I started this as a celebration of something wonderful happening to me, and the more I can spread that positive feeling around, the better.”