Ellen's Corner: Changing the World—One Book and Child at a Time
As a warm sun streamed through the windows and open door of the South Starksboro First Day School high in the mountains of Vermont, the upturned faces gathered around me were riveted on the book I was holding up for everyone to see.
The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown, follows a little boy as he discovers an abandoned garden in an aging, industrial city, tends the garden, then helps it spread over abandoned buildings, through rusty trainyards, and across cracked and crumbled cement. Eventually the garden transforms the city into a lush, green Eden that feeds and nurtures the people who live there.
As I turned the last page and closed the book, I asked the children gathered around me: “I wonder where that garden has spread to by now? Where do youthink it is?
The room, with 6 kids ranging in age from 2 to 7, was so quiet I could hear bees nuzzling the flowers beside the open door.
“Maybe it’s spread to Burlington?” asked one small person. “Maybe to the lake?” suggested another. “Or, maybe,” added his twin, “Maybe all the way to the cemetery????”
Eyes widened, and all heads whipped to the window to see if the Meetinghouse’s 200 year-old cemetery of grass and stone had suddenly become covered with pumpkin vines.
I chuckled. Next week the children would actually be planting a garden beside the cemetery to help feed 125 people in our small, rural community. We’d be talking about hunger, caring for others, and what one person can do to make a difference. In the meantime, however, all six kids would clearly be keeping an eye out for speeding pumpkin vines—and maybe giving some thought to what a small girl or boy with a garden hoe can do.
Sharing stories with children is such a joy. Whether it’s in First Day School or at home, having an opportunity to share stories that encourage our children to serve others and help them learn the power of one person to effect change is a gift.
Fortunately, there are an amazing number of those who write for children who share these values. Here are some of their most recent books for a variety of ages. They might encourage one of the children you know to make a difference in our world.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. A memoir by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. After a severe drought hit William Kamkwamba’s small village in Malawi, vegetables wouldn’t grow and its residents had little to eat. William went to his village library to look for a solution. There he discovered windmills, then figured out how he could build one out of the scrap metal and old bicycle parts lying around. His windmill brought electricity to his home, and his family was then able to pump the underground water they needed to grow food. Ages 6 to 8.
The peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story. By Sandra Moore. The true story of a little bonsai tree that lived with the same family in Hiroshima for more than 300 years—until it was given to the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, as a gesture of friendship between the United States and Japan. Ages 8 to 12.
One Plastic Bag and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. By Miranda Paul. In Njau, Gambia, plastic bags were cheap and easy to use. But when people were finished with them, they simply dropped them wherever they happened to be. Eventually thousands of plastic bags began to smother plants, kill the livestock that thought they were good to eat, create breeding grounds for mosquitos, and pollute the air when people tried to burn them. One woman, Isatou Ceesay, found a way to recycle the bags—and it transformed her community. Ages 3 and up.
George. By Alex Gino. George looks like a boy, but she knows that she’s really a girl. And she really wants to play Charlotte in the play Charlotte’s Web that her class is staging. Unfortunately her teacher won’t let her try out because she’s a boy. Finally George and her friend Kelly figure out how George can be Charlotte—and show everyone who she really is. Ages 8 to 12.
Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine. Edited by Refaat Alareer. An anthology of well-crafted short stories from 15 young writers in Gaza—members of a generation who have grown up under Israel’s siege and watched as their families, friends, and communities have suffered. Author biographies included. Ages 12 and up.
What was the March on Washington? By Kathleen Krull. This is a tale of the 200,000+ people who gathered in Washington, DC, to demand equal rights for all races. Led by Martin Luther King, who delivered his inspiring “I have a Dream” speech, the march triggered many of the landmark civil rights laws of the mid-1960s. Ages 8 to 12.
March: Book Two. By John Lewis. Book two of a three-book memoir by congressman John Lewis, March covers some of the most pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. Telling his story in graphic novel form, Lewis offers an insider’s view of boarding a bus with other Freedom Riders and heading into the heart of the deep South. Ages 12 and up.
We’re Going to Meeting. By Stacey Currie. Explains our sometimes mysterious Quaker practice of Meeting for Worship in simple language. (Not to be confused with the QuakerPress title, "We're Going to Meeting for Worship.") Preschool.
Ask Me. By Bernard Waber. A tender story about a father and his tiny daughter as they walk walk through their neighborhood noticing everything, questioning everything, and building a strong, loving relationship. Ages 4 to 7.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. By Robbie Robertson and David Shannon. The Mohawk brave Hiawatha is determined to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter by the evil Onondago Chief, Tadodaho. Instead, Hiawatha meets the Great Peacemaker who shares his vision of a new way of life marked by peace rather than war. Abandoning his plan of bringing death and destruction to the Onondago, Hiawatha works with the Great Peacemaker to bring the nations together in love and unity. Ages 3 and up.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. By Selina Alko. This is the inspiring story of Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving and their three children. The Lovings fell in love and got married in Washington, DC. But when they moved to Virginia, where it was against state law for two people of different races to marry, they were arrested. Refusing to give in to Virginia’s position that their love was wrong, the Lovings fought the charges against them all the way to the US Supreme Court. They won. Ages 8 to 12.
A is for Activist. By Innosanto Nagara. This is a ABC board book with a difference. Written for the next generation of progressives, it uses alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations to encourage good feelings about such things as community, environmental justice, and equality. Ages 1 to 3.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. By Kadir Nelson. An award-winning story of hope, inspiration, and unwavering courage,Heart and Soul traces the history of African Americans—a history made real and comprehensible by the stunning illustrations of artist Kadir Nelson. Ages 9 and up.
Ellen Michaud is the editor-at-large for Live Happy Magazine, and the author of Blessed: Living a Grateful Life, which was named the #1 spiritual/inspirational book of the year by USA BookNews. She is also an alumna of the School of the Spirit’s program on contemplative living and prayer, a past writer-in-residence at Earlham School of Religion and the former book review editor of Friends Journal.