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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World. Written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Kids Can Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"While he sits outside his hut twisting leaves, Remy and his gang storm over. One boy pins Deo's arms behind his back. Deo struggles, but Remy grabs the twine and runs off, laughing. Deo goes inside his hut, blinking back tears. He kicks at his pile of banana leaves drying on the mud floor. The next day Deo stays indoors. First he twists more leaves into twine."

This is another book from the CitizenKid series. They are described as 'a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.' Worthwhile and informative, they give readers a perspective that is often different from their own reality. They give children pause to think of others and what their lives are like.

This one is set in a refugee camp in Tanzania and based on a true story. It is a tale of hardship, loss and hope. In back matter, the author shares the story of one young boy forced to flee from Burundi, his journey and his eventual return home to help others learn about Right to Play and its many successes in creating peaceful communities using sport and play as a catalyst for change.

Deo's character is based on that Birundi boy. He arrives at the refugee camp at Lukole after weeks of travel. The family's quick exit from their war-torn country meant he had to leave his favorite soccer ball behind him. Separated from his family, and travelling on his own, he is finally found and brought to the camp. There, he attends school, keeps to himself, and longs to play soccer with his old friends. When food is scarce, gangs of boys bully others to get more for themselves. Remy is a gang leader.

Deo uses his spare time to fashion a new soccer ball from dried banana leaves. Remy steals the twine, leaving Deo to begin again. This time, he hides his ball. He is surprised when a volunteer from Right to Play brings a real soccer ball to the camp and encourages the children to get involved in a game. That game is the beginning of a change in the camp. It is enlightening and uplifting for the children to learn that together they are stronger, that they have much in common, and that communication will increase understanding.

The illustrations capture the warmth of the East African backdrop in light infused spreads that show the environment of the refugee camp, and allows Deo to think back on how much his life has changed since he first arrived.  

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