|The success of our individual and global attempts to build a world where tolerance, respect and openness to cultural differences prevail relies heavily on the ability of our children to carry on these ideas and ideals into the future. And their ability to perform such an important job relies partly, and very importantly, on them being exposed to books that introduce them to experiences and world views different from their own.Given the chance and the education, children are a powerful force for positive impact and change: for they are open to think about, explore and engage with the world beyond themselves. Their prospects of growing up capable of exercising and experiencing empathy and altruism is directly related to their ability to “read the world” in all its complexity.The books mentioned below are just a few examples of stories where children take a step toward a better world for themselves and/or for others. They echo problems that children face now or have faced in the past in the countries and communities described in their pages. They show the resilience, creativity, determination and sense of justice of their young protagonists/subjects in the face of unwanted realities.
SéLaVi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, by Youme Landowne (Cinco Puntos, 2004)
Inspired by true events, SéLaVi is the story of a group of homeless kids in Haiti, who learn to navigate their country’s political and social upheavals by sticking together and speaking up about their needs via the radio station they create at a rebuilt orphanage. The children’s radio station was in operation for nine years, broadcasting their plight and demanding that their voices be heard.
Mud City, by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2003)
The third is Deborah Ellis’ fascinating “The Breadwinner” trilogy,Mud City introduces us to the rebellious and cunning-by-circumtances 14 year-old Shauzia, an Afghani refugee living at a camp in Pakistan. Longing to take charge of her life, she embarks on a perilous and misguided journey from camp to city and back again, when she finally realizes her strength and determination can be used for the greater good of her people.
Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together, by Herb Shoveller (Kids Can Press, 2006)
Part of the Kids Can Press series of books that address issues related to global awareness and citizenship, Ryan and Jimmy is the story of Ryan Hreljac, a first-grade boy from Canada who, after learning about the devastating plight of those with no access to clean water, decided to raise money to build a well in Africa, developing, in the process, a life-changing friendship with a Ugandan civil-war orphan. An epilogue tells readers what happened after Ryan built the village well: since 2005, his Ryan’s Well Foundation has built hundreds more wells in Africa and other developing countries, bringing clean water to hundreds of thousands of people. And it all started because of one boy’s desire to help those less fortunate than himself.
Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge, 2007)
Set in contemporary rural Bangladesh, Rickshaw Girl is a story about Naima, a ten-year-old girl who defies tradition and risks much in order to help her struggling family overcome poverty. By testing and questioning the limits imposed by her culture, she finds a place for herself in a world where the recognition of women’s rights and their empowerment is still a slow-coming process. The book’s afterword also introduces children to the concept of micro-finance and its particular impact in rural communities and on women’s lives.
Tire Mountain, by Adrea Cheng, illustrated by Ken Condon (Front Street, 2007)
Tire Mountain narrates young Aaron’s attempt to avert change. Unlike his mom, he doesn’t want to move to a “better place.” He likes living next to his father’s tire shop, surrounded by all the piles of rubber. While trying to solve his problem creatively – even if moving seems inevitable – he transforms the empty lot across the street into a playground, leaving his neighbors a gift that will allow them to enjoy “seeing flowers and the community bloom in a space where there had been nothing.”
Maggie and the Chocolate Factory (A Kids’ Power Book), by Michelle Mulder (Second Story Press, 2008)
A work of historical fiction, Maggie and the Chocolate Factory is inspired by “a historical moment that united children from British Columbia to the Atlantic coast,” in Canada. The book tells us how one girl, Maggie, reacted to the dramatic increase in the price of chocolate bars, during the days of a struggling post-war economy. Nationwide, children-led protests ensued, and Maggie joined in to boycott the high prices and protest outside grocery stores, including her family’s own. The book has been deemed “a great introduction to critical thinking and political activism for young readers.”
One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists, by Janet Wilson (Orca, 2008)
A beautifully illustrated homage to the accomplishments of children from around the globe who have worked to promote world peace, One Peace is a moving testament to the courage and initiative of youth.
So, now you tell me. What CAN kids do?… Judging from these books, I’d say, a lot more than we sometimes think. When determined, informed and inspired, they can truly be agents of change, big and small, and ambassadors of hope.