Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway (ages 7-10)

Like our animal cousins, young children practice all sorts of skills through play. This powerful picture book takes readers to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where we see how playing soccer helps kids move through their trauma to connect with one another. This is a story that will lead to important discussions about refugees and also about the power of play in everyone's lives.
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World
by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Kids Can Press, 2017
Google Books preview
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-10
Young Deo had to flee from his hillside farm when the war came, losing his family in the chaos of that dark night. He traveled for weeks alone, finally making it to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. 
"one dark night his family was forced to flee their hillside farm"
Deo begins to rebuild his life, but he keeps to himself. He makes a soccer ball from dried banana leaves like his father did, but a bully called Remy and his friends steal it. Remy's gang steals food, pencils, toys from other children. 
"But when food becomes scarce or water runs dry, flights break out. Some boys form gangs to get more food by stealing from others, even though on one has much."
When a coach invites Deo to play soccer, he wants to join in--soccer was one of his favorite activities at home. The coach assigns Deo and Remy to the same team. Through their play, they begin to forget about their anger and laugh together.

This is an important, hopeful book to read together with children, whether as a family or in a classroom. A picture book, especially one that is both hard-hitting and hopeful like this, can provide a perfect starting point for talking about social justice issues of refugees. It not only can create a sense of empathy, young readers from many places will relate to the power of play.

Definitely share the author's note and backmatter with children. You'll meet the inspiration for Deo: Benjamin Nzobonakira who survived fleeing civil war in Burundi and lived as a refugee in Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Information about the refugee crisis, games that build trust and inclusion, and the Right to Play, a play-based nonprofit organization focused on tolerance and peace.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Kids Can Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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