Thursday, January 07, 2010

I AND I (NONFICTION)

NONFICTION
I AND I by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Watson (Lee and Low)
Each note I play
Each song I sing
Freedom coming
From my guitar string

It was predicted that Bob Marley, the "one kissed/By three little birds/As a baby chile" would be a soothsayer, a fortune teller, a prophet, but ultimately he created a future by using lines of music instead of lines in a palm. In the free verse form the author used so effectively to tell a life story in LOVE TO LANGSTON, readers are carried from Nine Miles, Jamaica, to the streets of Kingston, lonely to the little boy who had been taken from his mother, and then returned for a childhood in the impoverished Trenchtown. Young "Tuff Gong" rises to the challenge of finding a better way, and we are privy to his awakening:

When I hear
The blues man's
Moans wailing
Through the radio
I hear a slave ship
Screaming
My people down below...
I come from all
Of this
And there's much
More I need
To know...
I want to make songs
As pure and clear
As water
To help my people grow

The elegant, episodic poems are at times cryptic out of the context of real life, but the author scaffolds them with detailed notes for each poem at the end of the book, creating a comprehensive bonus biography that includes information about Rastafarianism, Reggae, Jamaican history and Marley's role in transforming people's attitudes during a violent climate. Whether read in biographical detail, interpreted as a testament to the transformational power of music or simply enjoyed as a true story of a little boy who came up well on the rough side of the road, this pick is a standout that can be enjoyed at whatever level the child is ready, though a few rounds of of Marley's music is a prerequisite (LEGEND is a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with the repetoire). Mmmph, no small order creating a book to pair with the sweet sway of "Stir it Up," "Lively Up Yourself" or the driving rhythmic throng of "Exodus," but no reader, no cry; heavy layers of paint have a muscular quality, awash in reds, greens, golds and browns, exuding a calm artistic confidence with packaging reminiscent of early collaborations by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier such as JOHN'S SECRET DREAMS and MARTIN'S BIG WORDS.

And what does the title mean? The author explains that within Jamaican grammar, "I and I" can refer to the unity of a higher power and every human "meaning...we are all one people, equal...[it] can also mean 'we' instead of merely 'I.' It discourages thinking of oneself solely as an individual but instead as part of a community." One love! Jah love! Book love. (8 and up)

Also of interest:
At the risk of being presumptuous, what titles might have caught Marley's eye while perusing the shelves of children's literature? Here are some recent and classic children's books on the subjects of peace, progress, and creative ends to conflict.

AFTER GANDHI: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE by Anne Silbey O'Brien and Perry Edmond O'Brien (Charlesbridge)

"We shall meet your physical force with soul force." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This book looks and feels unusual, sparsely illustrated with scenes and portraits in charcoal, text framed in wide margins, resonant quotes standing against red backgrounds, the paper cream colored and almost rough. There are names that are familiar (Rosa Parks, Desmond Tutu, Tiananamen Square), but these pages are used to introduce young people to people and points in history that they might not encounter in traditional schooling, such as The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the sacrifices of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, "The Troubles"" in Northern Ireland, the "Stolen Generation" of Aborignes in Australia, and descriptions of the terrible disappearances of children in Argentina that led to the unfathomable bravery of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. For a book about peace, the activist authors don't pull any punches, and this powerful descriptive writing style is definitely a pick for older children. Terrifying and shameful circumstances have inspired brave reactions by citizens of the world, and all citizens of the world need and deserve to know about them, but these vignettes somberly underscore what Katherine Paterson, our new Ambassador of Children's Literature, reminded us years ago: "plowshares demand more of us than swords." (12 and up)

PEACEFUL HEROES by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Addy (Scholastic) Again, we find a multicultural mix of the well-known (Jesus, Sojourner Truth, Clara Barton, Gandhi) and the deserve-to-be-known (Ginetta Saganin of WWII Italy, Paul Ruseabagina in Rwanda, Marla Ruzicka working in Iraq, and a poignant closing portrait with William Feehan, a firefighter at the World Trade Center on 9/11). Each of the fourteen figures gets a three page portrait written in a very personal voice, guiding readers like a teacher summarizing the lives of people who work for the betterment of others. Though the book's passion and editing could use some tightening to avoid tripping over itself (for instance, the sentence "imagine a world in which women and girls were strongly discouraged from going to school and schools admitting girls were burned down on a regular basis" suggested to some young listeners that the girls were burned down and the schools admitted it), but the choices are powerful and accented gorgeously with collage portraits that capture both the time period and the spirit of each subject. We learn that peaceful spirits are varied, and, as we imagine angels might be, they are everywhere. (7 and up)

IF AMERICA WERE A VILLAGE by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong (Kids Can Press) A close-to-home follow-up to the perspective-inducing IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE, children are invited to consider our country as if it were a village of a hundred people. What are our families like? What languages do we speak? What religions do we practice? What work do we do? Where do we come from, and where do we live? How wealthy are we? What do we own? (In a village of a hundred, for example, we have 81 cars, 76 computers, 74 televisions and 73 cell phones). This interesting census makes big concepts palpable, and also makes us see that every person counts. (7 and up)

TRUCE by Jim Murphy (Scholastic) Using primary sources of diaries and letters to create detailed and compelling narrative, Murphy carries readers to the scene of the extraordinary ceasefire on December 25, 1914, when soldiers in the trenches of WWI openly defied their commanding officers and lay down their guns to break bread and play sports with their "enemies" on Christmas. Reminiscent of the pause button in the war between Biafra and Nigeria that was pressed for a two-day truce so combatants could watch Pele play soccer, this book documents the potential for peace, however heartbreaking it was that the peace was short-lived, and, as some may argue, had to be. "At the very least, the Christmas Truce of WWI demonstrated that the combatants were more alike than not...it offered reassurance and hope that a kinder, humane spirit could prevail amid the horrible brutality of war." This two time Newbery award-winning author consistently produces books that all deserve a place on a non-fiction lover's shelf, and his latest is yet another selection worthy of his reputation, as well as worthy of contemplation and discussion. (10 and up)

WANGARI'S TREES OF PEACE by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt) This author's nonfiction is often dedicated to portraits of everyday people who make big differences with acts of kindness, art and general compassion (NASREEN'S SECRET SCHOOL, THE LIBRARIAN OF BASRA) so naturally, she honed in on the life of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize winning arborist who transformed her environmentally abused homeland in Kenya from a wasteland to a growing ground for over thirty million trees. Joined by an army of women who embraced her Green Belt Movement, Wangari takes some literal hard knocks from the government en route to her success. The illustration and telling are deceptively simple, but never dishonest; red paint points out the brutality against her, and especially moving is the picture of her in a jail cell: "And still she stands tall. Right is right, even if you're alone." Wangari's story has received treatment in other children's books: the subtle, sweeping PLANTING THE TREES OF KENYA by Claire A. Nivola (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) that captures the landscape (you must see the stirring double page spread of the line of women coming to help) and the brand new and visually stunning MAMA MITI: WANGARI MAATHAI AND THE TREES OF KENYA by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Simon & Schuster), yes, I said genius Kadir Nelson, so you need it, and he's trying out a new style of collage using all sorts of wonderful textile patterns, so you double-need-it, and Napoli's language is beautiful, so you triple-need-it. Can't choose? Get them all, and allow children to compare and contrast the treatments. Them, when a tree falls in Wangari's forest or any forest at all, all the children will hear it. (7 and up)

Some oldies but goodies about philanthropic power are ONE HEN: HOW ONE SMALL LOAN MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE by Katie Smith Milway (Kids Can Press) and RYAN AND JIMMY AND THE WELL IN AFRICA THAT BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER by Herb Shoveller (Kids Can Press). There is tremendous inspiration and motivation to do good in one of my all-time favorite non-fiction read-alouds, THE DOGGY DUNG DISASTER & OTHER TRUE STORIES: REGULAR KIDS DOING HEROIC THINGS AROUND THE WORLD by Garth Sundem (Free Spirit). Check out Don Brown's brilliant KID BLINK BEARS THE WORLD, the applause-worthy true story of a young union organizer, along with Russell Freedman's KIDS AT WORK, Elizabeth Winthrop's novel about child labor, COUNTING ON GRACE, and children 12 and up can know the sad true story of the boy who tried to organize exploited child carpet weavers, IQBAL by Francesco D'Amado. On the subject of war and peace, there are picture books such as Ed and Barbara Emberley's classic Caldecott winner DRUMMER HOFF, Anita Lobel's thoughtful POTATOES, POTATOES, Vladmir Radunsky's irreverent but true MANNEKIN PIS: A SIMPLE STORY OF A BOY WHO PEED ON A WAR, Shel Silverstein's enduring LAFCADIO, THE LION WHO SHOT BACK, and the masterful children's animated film, THE IRON GIANT, based on the book by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (married to Sylvia Plath, incidentally). Kimberly Willis Holt's PIPER REED: NAVY BRAT is a fun fictional early reader series describing the everyday life of a little girl living on military bases, and Maira Kalman's visually exceptional FIREBOAT: THE HEROIC ADVENTURES OF THE JOHN J. HARVEY probably deserved more awards than it got the year of its release, but I think committees were afraid to touch it; recounting the events of 9/11, it brings to mind the advice given by Fred Rogers' mother when he saw scary things: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." (Fred Rogers is my favorite peaceful hero.)


On a personal note
: Books about war and peace for children
In our lives as adults, we determine things that are worth fighting for. Children observe our conflicts. In the development of intermediate aged children (8 and up), as they become more attuned to problems that exist, it is important that they see possible avenues toward solving problems. Children themselves are divergent thinkers, and can come up with original solutions that deserve to be taken seriously. They must have opportunities to view themselves as capable of meeting challenges, or they can become frustrated, frightened and/or pessimistic (says Erikson). It's ironic that the time children are most likely to begin to become aware of the hugeness of the world's monumental problems is the time when it is so imperative that they feel industrious. They need our support, and the support of good literature; examples of individuals who can overcome huge odds and serve as vicarious successes, people that, as Kipling would have put it, "keep their heads when those around are losing theirs" to bolster them in their efforts to shape the world.

And the world of a child is shaped like a family. In my observations, children want nothing better than to have a family (however that is defined within a given household) intact, safe and out of poverty, and as they decenter and think of others, they can appreciate that children all over the world want the same thing. Children show solidarity in this aim when given the opportunity, whether family members are serving in the military, advocating for issues at home, or, likely, some combination of such participants in their own circle. Whatever is going on in the world of grown-ups and whatever conversations or opinions are aired, goals and wishes of serenity, security, love and unity in the home remains penultimate to children and they see the fairness in that all of their cohorts are so deserving. And so the little child shall lead them...

While some books may be accused of stylistic stridency and wordiness in their call to peace (and some rightly so), let's view the topics of military presence, war and peace in this context of developmental experience. Textbook teaching to which children are largely and traditionally exposed has a long history of following the timeline of war, and what coin of any value has only one side? It's worthwhile to appreciate there is a timeline of peace as well, as hard-earned and worthy of knowing, with narratives necessary for an informed, imaginative and truly democratic citizenry.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.

8 comments:

Jim said...

"an informed, imaginative and truly democratic citizenry."

EXACTLY!

Thank you so much.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Esme - an inspiring group of books encompassing the history of peace...Inspiring, and hopeful...Thank you!

Stacy Dillon said...

AFTER GHANDI is a title I need to get for my collection. Thanks for highlighting it!

Janet said...

Wow, what a wonderful post -- so much food for thought, and a long list of books to bring to the library. I love the advice to "look for the helpers." An especially important thought in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. And I couldn't agree more on the need to balance the "timeline of war" approach to history. Bravo, Esme!

Term Paper said...

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Michael said...

this post is simply amazing.

Term papers said...

Thank you so much for this. They are truly remarkable. What a Creativity!

Apron said...

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