Posted in book lists, family life

literary explorations – traveling the world with picture books!

Inspired by the great resource Give Your Child The World, a globally-inspired picture book anthology by Jamie C. Martin, as well as by Rondel’s fascination with animals from around the world, we had a sort of Africa focus in our home a couple weeks ago. Martin is actually hosting a virtual book club spending one week on each world region over the summer, which I’m attempting to keep up with, but I’m woefully unprepared for Asia this week…

Anyway, Africa was a great place to start since most of Rondel’s favorite animals live there, and it was a natural connection to then begin reading stories involving those animals and the people who live near them. We also experimented with some African recipes (there is a huge variety of cuisines across the continent, so we were barely able to explore any of it and it still felt like a lot!) and crafts (but my kids don’t do so well with directed crafts). Of the books we could find from Martin’s recommendations at our library, two really stood out as our favorites: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, a Nandi folktale retold by Verna Aardema; and Wangari’s Trees of Peace, a brief pictorial biography of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped restore land degraded by irresponsible logging (and in the process helped maintain peace and prevent poverty in her home country), by Jeanette Winter.

The biography of Wangari is written at a level that even Limerick, at 3.5, can understand and follow along with, so many of the details of her life have obviously been omitted – this is just the general arc of her story. But those spare elements have been woven together, with the help of beautiful images, to create a compelling narrative. Every time we read it (which was often, since Limerick kept requesting it), Rondel would be devastated when Wangari returns to Kenya after studying abroad to find the forests cut down, the village women walking miles for firewood and food, and desert encroaching upon the arable land. The boys’ eyes would widen, riveted on the book, when Wangari stands “tall as an oak” to protect the remaining forests, when the government officials beat her and jail her for protesting their course of action. And at the end, when millions of trees spread across Kenya again, the boys would be all smiles and laughter, imagining the birdsong in the forest. So I would highly recommend it as a brief introduction to Wangari and modern Africa for young children.

In addition, it has given me a point of comparison when talking with the boys about current events in our own country. When Wangari is jailed, the book tells us that “Right is right, even if you’re alone,” and the whole story demonstrates how the right thing to do can sometimes be the opposite of what the government or people in authority want to do. So when the boys heard our president talking for a few minutes before I changed the radio station (I usually only listen to talk radio when I’m alone in the car), and asked questions about what he was saying, I could explain his position and then also explain how I thought it was wrong, morally wrong if not legally wrong, and how his power and authority didn’t make all of his beliefs or actions morally right and good. And I was able to tell them that unlike Wangari, people like us would be able to peacefully protest those wrong things without fear of imprisonment, because our nation makes space for differing opinions and protests (ideally, of course, but since they’re 3 and 4 they get the idealized version on some things still).

Wangari cared deeply about her country – she loved it – and that’s why she was able to work for its improvement with such persistence, devotion, and passion. She started with small things she knew she could do (like physically planting new trees to replace the harvested ones), and let her love guide her into bigger and bigger forms of activism. And when I look around me and see people cynically apathetic about this country, it makes me want to instill in my children a love for their country and a passion to make it better, in small personal ways and perhaps even in big political ways. It is only with the love and dedication of people like Wangari that we can heal our culture, our environment, and our world; I’d much rather my children be like her than like the enforcers of government authority who beat and imprisoned her.

At this point I’m doubtful that any other picture book we find for this book club will influence our family quite as much as this one has! But every one we’ve managed to find so far from Martin’s anthology has been worth a second read at least; we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve laughed a lot, and we’ve filled our home with beautiful pictures and stories, and there isn’t much more to ask for from a picture book 🙂

At the time of posting, Amazon has Give Your Child the World available on Kindle for only $0.99! It is a resource worth far more than that.

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