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Kids Speak Up, Step Out, Dig In, and March On!

Four books that inspire children to take care of God's world.

Young Jayden loves nature and sees it everywhere in the large city where he lives. Squirrels scrounging for nuts, cardinals calling from the trees, and the beauty of fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky bring joy to the boy’s heart. When his mother makes him stay inside after school, he tries to convince her that he needs to be out in nature. Mama’s response? “There’s no nature here in the middle of the city.”

Though Mama is oblivious to hints of the natural world amidst brick and mortar, Jayden’s neighbour, who uses a wheelchair, has no such limitations and sees the beauty of nature all around him. Soon, Jayden and Mr. Curtis become fast friends and make a plan to build a “magical secret fort garden.” When the garden is completed, Jayden wants to show it to Mama. But he’s worried: “Would she see the garden the way he and Mr. Curtis did? Was there enough nature to show her?”

Jayden doesn’t need to worry. The secret of the garden gets out and people from his apartment complex gather around to enjoy the mourning doves, hummingbirds, butterflies, colourful flowers, scarlet runner beans, and more. When Mama witnesses the lovely collaboration and creation of Jayden and Mr. Curtis, she finally glimpses what Jayden has longed for her to see: “The magic of nature was all around them – right there in the middle of the city.”

In Jayden, young children will encounter a protagonist who is willing to dig in to make his mother understand his passion and to work hard alongside a friend to achieve a dream.

Isley lives on Prince Edward Island and loves waking up to the sounds of the ocean waves and the seagulls screeching. But one morning, she is perplexed when she hears frantic calls for help and the faraway, sad songs of right whales. When she sees a lifeless, beached whale, she realizes that the majestic creatures calling from the ocean are mourning the death of a member of their pod.

The next day, newspaper headlines relate the sad reason for the whale’s death – because of the plastic filling the whale’s stomach, the creature no longer felt hungry and starved to death.

Isley is furious! She stomps the sand and kicks the sea, then tries to swim away her anger. Nothing seems to help. Finally, she resolves to make a change and lead a “No More Plastic” campaign. Step by small step, Isley and her family make choices to eliminate plastic from their lives. Initially, everyone in the community agrees that there is too much plastic. But as so often happens, soon people forget about the whale and return to their old habits. But Isley will never forget. She marches on with resolve and creativity, combing the beach for plastic waste, day after day, week after week, and as the seasons change. After collecting piles of plastic waste, she builds a sculpture as big as a whale to memorialize the lost animal and others like it who are dying elsewhere for the same reason. Isley’s big plastic whale makes everyone stop and “think big thoughts” which lead to change in the community.

Realistic, yet hopeful, No More Plastic, though fictional, shows how one child can march on and create change. Interestingly, the book’s illustrations were made using repurposed plastic, sand and moss.

“Some have a voice / as tall as a tree / loud and proud / and sways in the breeze. / Some have a voice as small as a bee, / soft and sweet like kisses of honey.” So begins this lovely, lyrical celebration of voices. Children are encouraged to listen to the voices of the elderly: “Some have a voice that’s / patient and wise. . . / with lessons of life told / through sparkling eyes.” Youngsters are inspired to listen to children who speak with their hands: “There’s a voice that is silent / but still can be heard / with hands that move / to speak every word.” Kids are challenged to use their voices for the good of others: “I will learn to speak up / to show I am strong, / to stand for what’s right, / and to know what feels wrong.”

Author and American country music singer-songwriter Jimmie Allen’s dynamic, stimulating text, which concludes with a question – “How will you use your voice?” – is enlivened by Cathy Ann Johnson’s vivid, animated artwork. Christian parents and caregivers might discover in this book a helpful conversation starter with kids about how they can use their voices to glorify God and care for people and the earth.

Part of the CitizenKid series – books that “inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens” – Walking for Water is set in a small village in Malawi, a country in the southeastern part of Africa where people have difficulty accessing safe drinking water. Inspired by the true story of a 13-year-old Malawian boy who was taught about gender inequality at school, this culturally sensitive children’s picture book narrates the fictional story of twins Victor and Linesi.

Now that Linesi is 8 years old, she must help to get water from a river a distance from their home, not just once a day, but five times daily. When Victor leaves Linesi behind as he treks to school, he feels “a weird tug at his heart. It felt strange to go to school without his sister.” The teacher talks about the meaning of gender equality and asks the students to look at their own lives and think about whether boys and girls are treated equally. Victor thinks, “Of course, we are!” But as he watches the coming and going of boys and girls in the village, the truth dawns on him. Then Victor comes up with a plan involving a radical cultural choice, stepping out with courage and conviction. He will take turns getting water with Linesi so they can each go to school every other day. Victor’s choice has beneficial consequences for his family, and his action has a positive ripple effect in his village.


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One Comment

  1. Wait a second! I’m not from Malawi, and I doubt Susan Hughes is, either. And maybe it’s a myth, but I recall the story of a well and pump placed by westerners in a remote African village. It was vandalized over and over. The culprits were women who didn’t want their hours-long trek to the river with other women interrupted – by western standards made “easier”. In “Walking for water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality”, is the author making the same mistake? What is Linesi missing in her other “education” about being a woman? Is Victor even welcome at the river?

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