“Children are sweet and beautiful, but we want to show adults that the role of the child must be elevated; there are acute crises in countries when children have to make up part of the solution. You say children are the future. But we are the present, a present which we all have to build together.”
– Farlis Calle, child activist and co-founder of the Colombian Children’s Movement for Peace
Saludos, everyone! This week we will be tying up our January theme of civil rights with two incredible books by author and illustrator Janet Wilson. Each nonfiction book focuses on real life child activists from around the world, portraying them in an interesting medley of biographical information, inspiring quotes, photographs and poetry. These books are at once informative and inspiring, exposing children to a wide range of formats and styles of writing, from creative anecdotes, poetry, proverbs and metaphors, to statistical facts, historical accounts, and journalistic documentation. They also take readers on a tour of the world, with at least one profile representing each continent. While upholding values of justice, equality, and compassion, these books support the voices of child activists, empowering young readers along the way.
One of the wonderful things about these books is how rich each profile description is. Educators who are looking to focus on one specific region could easily create an entire lesson plan based on one profile. Given that we focus on Latin American content here at Vamos a Leer, this review emphasizes the Latin American children in these books, but they are only one piece of these books’ larger mosaic of information on the overarching themes of human rights and the rights of the child around the world.
Wilson’s first book, One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists, published in 2008, is a diverse collection. She profiles ten children who either engage in heroic activism, or who undergo hardship while harboring dreams of peace and love. Wilson highlights both familiar and new faces: for example, we see the famous story of Sadako Sasaki from Japan, but we also see Farlis Calle, a lesser known figure, from Colombia. Each child is described over a two-page spread as Wilson portrays their life and activism through photographs, illustrations, poetry, and statistics. The effect is at once inspiring and informative. (Image to the right: Sadako Sasaki, a victim of radiation from the 1945 atomic bomb, remembered in Japan as a symbol of peace, and commemorated by a statue dedicated to all children killed by the atomic bomb).
In regards to Latin America, Wilson features Farlis Calle from Colombia, a young girl who lost a friend to the persistent violence of her country, a country plagued by civil war, drug-trafficking, and guerilla fighting. After her friend’s death, Farlis’s grief soon transformed into “a blaze” of determination:
“Twenty six children organized an election to encourage the nation to listen to their plea for peace to give youth a vote for the right to life, family and freedom from abuse. Death threats almost stopped the election, but Farlis refused to quit. ‘You can’t kill the hopes of kids!’ With unwavering faith and courage, the children publicly asked the drug traffickers, guerrillas and soldiers for a cease-fire on Election Day. On October 25, 1996, nearly three million children voted for peace.” (Image to the left: Farlis Calle)
Through this work, Farlis became one of five children to found the Colombian Children’s Movement for Peace, which established “peace zones” in schools and parks: “One year later, ten million adults voted for peace, pledging their support for the Children’s Mandate for Peace.” To learn more about Farlis’ story, see her profile on the MoralHeroes website.
Ultimately, the international, medley composition of Wilson’s book reflects the proverb on the very first page: “Individually they appear to be like snowflakes, small and fragile, but see what happens when they come together…” Her use of variegated information and media reflects values of diversity and co-existence while symbolically evoking the power of uniting and organizing as one. (Image to the right: Song Kosal of Cambodia who advocated for the need to ban landmines and was the first person to sign the People’s Treaty, “an agreement among citizens of the world to encourage their governments to keep their promises to sign the treaty to ban landmines.”)
Wilson’s second book, Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World, published in 2013, follows a similar format as the previous book, focusing on ten new profiles of child activists.
The book begins with all 42 articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, followed by an explanation of the convention: “In 1989, the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that all children have basic human rights, regardless of race, sex, religion, or any other status. They also needed to be informed of their rights.”
The following page shows a photograph of Gabriela Arrieta, 13, Bolivia, “the first child to speak to the world’s leaders at the United Nations World Summit for Children, 2002”, along with an excerpt from the UNICEF report, A World Fit For Us, drafted by young people from 154 countries. The report states, “We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone.” (Image to the right: Ndale Nyengale, 11, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former child soldier who now sits on the jury to nominate candidates for the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.)
Among the inspiring children whom Wilson profiles is Mayra Avellar Neves, 15, a Brazilian girl who has dedicated herself to putting an end to the violence of the poor favelas (informal neighborhoods) of Brazil (Mayra is shown on the cover of the book above). Mayra herself lives in one of the poorest favelas of Rio de Janeiro, a place where, according to her testimonies, crime, violence, poverty and injustice are rampant:
“People have become accustomed to the violence that claims thousands of lives each year. It is often impossible to go out into the street because it’s too dangerous. One boy in the street emptied the trash and he was shot in his head by police who mistook him for a criminal because he was black. When I was 11, the violence was so extreme that schools and clinics were closed. All children should have a safe upbringing and the right to an education. Without an education they are at risk of being recruited by the drug gangs. Many children in the favelas believe it is their destiny to live in poverty and violence. I refuse to accept this. I want to tell people that even though they don’t have money, they can stand up for their rights.” (Image to the left: “Mayra receives 2008 Children’s Peace prize from Archbishop Tutu.”)
Mayra has organized peace marches demanding less police brutality and violence. She is also one of the creators of the self-made documentary, Cruzeiro, which expresses the hopes and fears of Brazilian youth, while introducing viewers to favela life. To read more about her ongoing efforts as a young education activist, see her profile on Thextraordinary.
This book, like Wilson’s first, has eclectic compositions of photographs, illustrations, quotes, and facts. In this book, though, she goes a step further by offering recommendations as to how the reader can contribute to a cause. When discussing how to volunteer, Wilson provides 6 instructive steps, the final one being, “Believe in yourself. You’ll be amazed by what you can do.”
While educating readers with an abundance of facts, stories, and art, both of Wilson’s books also empower young children with her call to action. They would make an invaluable addition to any classroom or personal library and could surely inspire a great range of lessons and discussions.
For those of you interested in using these books in your classrooms, or teaching about human rights and the rights of the child, here are some additional resources:
- UNICEF Child Rights Education Toolkit, learning about child’s rights
- Teaching Tolerance The Rights of the Child lesson plan, materials for teaching the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child in the classroom, grades 3-5 and 6-8
- The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario lesson plan for Primary education on the rights of the child, grades 1-2
- Human Rights Resource Center lesson plan on the rights of the child, grades K-2
- Amnesty International Human Rights lesson plans
- Amnesty International Teachers Guides
- Amnesty International, Our World, Our Rights, elementary school lesson plan
- United Nations Teaching Human Rights, Practical activities for primary and secondary education
- Youth for Human Rights Educator’s Guide
- The Advocates for Human Rights, Curricula and Lesson Plans on Human Rights
- Oxfam Education, Resources on Children’s Rights
- Free the Children, Lesson Plan: children’s rights in the elementary classroom
- Welcoming Schools, a project of the human rights campaign foundation, Lesson plans on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling
Also, check out Charla’s WWW post: She’s Just a Child… Activist for more information about Farlis Calle and other inspiring child activists!
Stay tuned for our exciting February themes and more great reads!
Images modified from One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists: Pages 10, 18 and 30
Images modified from Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World: Pages 17, and 20