The Banana-Leaf Ball
Deo - the main character in the book - leaves frantically with his family but soon finds himself alone and struggling to survive. The reader is never sure where Deo was fleeing from, but we know he makes it to the Lukole Refugee Camp in West Africa.
If you were forced to leave your home quickly what would you bring?
Deo's story in The Banana-Leaf Ball is based on a true story.
Benjamin had to flee his home country of Burundi in 1993 when conflict broke out. His journey to Lukole was much like Deo's. While he reunited with his father and some cousins in Lukole, his mother and sister did not survive.
It would be through an organization called Olympic Aid, now Right to Play, that Benjamin would work through his grief and start connecting with his new community.
Benjamin eventually made it back home. Understanding the power football has to bring kids together, he began coaching. He is now working for the very organization that renewed his life.
The Football Bridge
Professional football (soccer) is the most popular sport worldwide. Aside from the estimated 3.5 billion fans, the 2006 World Cup collected 30 billion viewers (accumulated viewing audience across multiple games).
Where communication and cultural differences create barriers, football forms bridges! The Banana-Leaf Ball by Katie Smith Milway is a poignant story that shows the power one sport can have to bring people together.
But, it's not the only story!
The Panyee FC in Thailand is another example. This 5 minute video shares the incredible ingenuity a group of young boys had to form their own football club and build their own pitch; on the water!
Finding What Unites Us
The Right To Play's mission is: "To protect, educate and empower children to rise above adversity using the power of play."
We all face adversity, it is one of many things that unite us all. While there are many ways to respond to adversity, maybe we should consider the power play can have to rise above it.
The Power of Preservation and Pruning
There's a unique grapevine in Santorini, Greece producing some of the oldest grapes and most expensive wines. This vine spends cool, moist evenings soaking up as much moisture as it can to prepare for the next day's scorching.
The hot, dry days, impoverished soil, harsh winds, and ocean saltwater contribute to the adversity this grape will face throughout its 15-year development stage. It is not through sheer luck these grapes have survived.
The grapevines in Santorini naturally hug the earth, doing their best to protect themselves from the harsh elements. Harvesters also prune the vines to form a circular basket structure similar to a wreath. A style of growing known as a kouloura.
The result of careful pruning and instinctual preservation provides a refuge inside the wreath protected from the elements for the grapes to flourish. This masterful combination is proven effective when considering the length of time grapes need to grow to reach their maturity.
Personal Preservation Journey
The Santorini grape vines have become an icon for me in my own life.
The harsh elements I have faced over the years are varied. As a people pleaser, disapproval can often feel like the sting of salt water in a deep wound. While hiking the Grand Canyon last year as a family, I felt the weight of defeat under the dry, hot sun. That hike challenged every physical, mental, and emotional barrier in me. Professional and personal life experiences have felt the same.
Sometimes, I feel bombarded with a never-ending list of challenges and to-dos. This “tossing in the wind” can leave me feeling dizzy and directionless. Finally, my nourishment demands healthy foods, exercise, spiritual growth, quiet time to myself, and a strong community. When these requirements are lacking my soil can feel impoverished.
Preservation does not mean growth. Preservation keeps us from damage or decay. Preservation is just the beginning.
Unfortunately, external substances, activities, or internal beliefs can disguise themselves as instruments for preservation. For years I used alcohol as a tool to “preserve” my life. I cherished its powers to provide stress-relief, freedom from my thoughts, bursts of energy, and unencumbered joy.
While alcohol was able to provide momentary freedom, the lasting effects resulted in enslavement. My ability to produce fruit for my family and at work was stunted.
Considering the fruit your preservation methods yield will be the true measure of their value. Healthy preservation methods will yield good fruit: contentment, patience, thoughtfulness, gratefulness, and growth mindset to name a few.
Personal Pruning Journey
Recognizing areas of false preservation is one step, pruning them is another. Unlike preservation, pruning will help you to grow and flourish.
Cutting alcohol from life was like losing a best friend. I had relied on this friend to see me through some of the worst times in my life. This friend was always with me when it was time to celebrate. I had spent more of my life with this friend than without it! Rationalizations and internal battles fought to keep us together.
Ultimately, knowing my potential impact without it, defeated my selfish desire to cling to it.
I did not believe I could do what I was meant to do unless I was willing to become who I was supposed to become. Nor could I become who I was supposed to become unless I did what I needed to do.
This is true for all of us!
It has been almost three years since I cut alcohol from my life. My grief stage has ended. I'm living with more joy, contentment, and strength than expected. Relationships in my life have changed dramatically. Perhaps, none more significant than my relationship with my daughter.
Unique Nature vs. Unique Needs
At one time, I allowed an external substance to choke my daughters development and damage our relationship. Now, my daughter is one of many “grape bunches” maturing safely within my kouloura. My willingness to prune replaced anger, bitterness, guilt, shame, impatience, and sorrow with love, peace, joy, strength, gentleness, and clarity.
I love wine! Someday, I hope to taste the prized whites of Santorini, Greece. However, I understand that success is a journey, not a destination. Santorini's grapes are not the prize, their preservation and pruning journey is.
Rather than look forward to a reunion with an old friend, I will harness the life lesson Santorini grape vines offer. I will sip on the success that comes from healthy preservation and active pruning in my own life.
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The power ONE person has to impact another with ONE word. The healing power of ONE touch. The ripple effect of ONE action. The joy or strength in ONE connection. Verde removes the overwhelming complexity to bring about change by repeatedly drawing her readers’ attention to the power of ONE.
The author ends the book with an empowering message: One person's small start is enough to trigger a collective action.
I am one. And I can take action. We are each one. And we can take action.
A Vibrant Journey To Collective Action
Peter Reynolds is an author and illustrator who brings I Am One: A Book of Action to life with soft lines and vibrant colors. With each page, he escorts the viewer deeper into a relationship with the main character.
Reynolds' illustrations depict the journey of one child taking repeated actions to culminate in a collective movement. This visual representation of the story deepens the textual message. While the author does not draw the reader's attention to a main character, the illustrator does.
The juxtaposition of Verde's feasible approach to action with the evolution of Reynolds' more complex illustrations impact the reader in two ways:
There is no doubt the illustrations and the text in this book could stand on their own; however, the potential impact they have together is more than either could have achieved solitarily.
The collaborative effort of the book itself is a tangible example of the story’s main idea. ONE idea, ONE word, and ONE stroke have developed into ONE book.
While the author and illustrator may humbly question the impact this book has or will have to create a movement. I would argue, it has and it will.
I Am One: A Book Of Action simplifies a complex and substantial message for young readers. The harmony of Verdes' words and Reynolds' illustrations engage young readers and inspire them to believe they too can be ONE of action.
Rise Of The Amphibians
I was delightfully surprised and slightly disheartened by a New York Times op-ed piece, The Rise of The Amphibians, by David Brooks.
Delightfully surprised because his article filled a great need: increased awareness of the challenges faced by children who are raised cross-culturally. His piece also presented some clear ways this growing population will contribute to global advancements and help close cultural gaps surrounding us.
I was slightly disheartened because only one paragraph (quoted below) glossed over the challenges that these children will face throughout their lives:
Jacqueline Woodson is one of Cultured Kids’ favorite children’s book authors. I will openly claim a bias. However, regardless of our preferences, I do believe many children’s literature professionals would agree with me.
Woodson’s skill as a writer has proven itself through the extensive collection she has produced for all ages. Although, it is not her skill per se that causes us to use her literature in our programs and curricula.
Jacqueline Woodson’s work has a depth to it that is hard to find. Her soulful work reaches out of the book pages and grabs ahold of children’s hearts.
Cultured Kids uses literature as a tool to support positive identity development, empathy, and sense of belonging. We search for these themes in books. Our goal is not to teach children what they mean, but to help children internalize and exemplify them in their own lives. Woodson’s books transform the reader, and quite simply, expand our impact.