María Acevedo-Aquino, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, San Antonio, TX and Dorea Kleker, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Recently we witnessed the largest global climate strike in history. With more than 2,500 events in over 163 countries on all seven continents, there have been estimates of up to 4 million participants worldwide. The massive numbers are inspiring. The fact that youth were at the center of planning and organizing these events gives hope in a time when things often feel hopeless. With the future of our planet at the forefront of discussions, debates and protests, María Acevedo and Dorea Kleker discuss five books this month for our youngest citizens that are smaller but no less important; and they examine ways that children can make both local and global connections to the earth and act in ways that support their families, communities and the planet.
DOREA: When Mayumi Van Horton was born, her grandfather (Ojiichan) built her a garden. As Mayumi grows, so does her Japanese garden. Despite living halfway around the world, this tender story shows the ways that Mayumi’s summers spent in the garden create deep roots of connection to the plants, the rocks and her Ojiichan.
Back home, Mayumi returns often to her tin box of garden treasures to help her remember. I can’t help but think about the ways pockets often fill with nature’s treasures–a smooth shell found during a beach stroll, a shiny rock discovered at the top of a steep hike, or a colorful leaf dropped to the forest floor. Like Mayumi’s treasures, these artifacts carry rich stories of a specific times, places, and often the people in them.
MARIA: This book made me think about how rooted are our actions into specific beliefs and values. Through her grandfather’s stories and artifacts, Mayumi learned not only how to care for the garden but how to connect with it.
She learned that moss on a rock was a gift of time, not to be washed away with a hose. Gardening is not an activity to learn facts and skills about plants and how to grow them, but an experience to live through; to dive in and connect to deeper meanings and profound stories that are unique to families and communities.
DOREA: María, you beautifully captured what it was that I most loved about this story. While the garden was central to the story, it was more than planting and caring for seeds and plants. The garden that Mayumi and her Ojiichan worked in each summer was a vehicle for connection and understanding. Ojiichan’s “gift” was more than the maple, boxwood, persimmons and stones that lay inside its borders. It was a gift of stopping to sit and observe, to share moments, to connect through work, words and silence and to have the opportunities to carry all of this from place to place even when the physical garden no longer existed. While they may look very different from Mayumi’s garden, I think we all have these spaces and places–gifts–in our own lives.
Title: Ojiichan’s Gift
Author: Chieri Uegaki
Illustrator: Genevieve Simms
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Date Published: April 2, 2019
Throughout October 2019, María and Dorea give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!