The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World

Written by: Katie Smith Milway

Illustrated by: Shane Evans

For ages: 8 years and up

Language: English & Kirundi

Topics Covered: Refugee Narratives, POC-Centric Narratives, Sportsmanship, Teamwork, Empowerment, Global Community, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Historical Figure.

Summary: Deo is a young boy when his village is attacked.  He and his family flee into the night with only what they can carry.  Deo can’t bring his favorite banana leaf ball to play soccer with, but grabs some food and supplies.  Deo is separated from his family, and travels alone for weeks until he reaches a refugee camp named Lukole.  At the camp, Deo notices that people get along when there are enough supplies for everyone but when there are shortages people bicker and steal.  One boy, Remy, is a leader of troublemakers and often picks on Deo.

One day, a man shows up at the camp with a ball.  It’s not made of banana leaves but of leather.  The man shows kids at Lukole how to play soccer, and picks Deo to be a team captain and puts Remy on the same team.  After the game, Deo’s team has won but just by a point!  Deo brings out a banana leaf ball he has made and hidden in his hut and teaches the other children his tricks and teamwork skills.  Fast forward several years, Deo has become a soccer coach and can also leave the refugee camp!  He ends up finding some of his family members and starts a farm with them, also coaching children in his village at soccer.

This book focuses on teamwork and soccer while subtly providing information about refugee camp life and the specific difficulties surrounding that experience. Deo is based on a man named Benjamin Nzobonankira, who was a child refugee turned soccer coach. In the back of the book is several pages talking about Benjamin, the Kirundi language, and tons of resources about non-profit soccer and play groups working around the world.  This book is part of the Citizen Kid collective, which is a collection of books bringing different experiences to light in a developmentally appropriate and empowering way.

Reflection Questions:

  • How do you think Deo felt when he was in Lukole all on his own?
  • What are some ways that Lukole residents built community even though they were displaced from their home villages?
  • How do you think that the folks in refugee camps today are creating their own communities?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about the One Hen organization.  What are they doing to empower global citizens?  How can we support groups like this, trying to bring about change to children around the world?
  • Often, we want to make a difference in people’s lives that have less than us.  This is such an important value, but it must be done in a way that is not further marginalizing, othering, or colonizing to the individuals receiving help.  Find an organization that focuses on community and self-empowerment, sustainability, and not pocketing donations.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

katie_smith_milwayKatie Smith Milway, winner of the 2009 Notable Book for a Global Society Award and the 2009 Children’s Africana Book Award for One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, is on a quest to bring world issues to elementary and middle school children. One Hen, set in Ghana, introduces kids to microfinance and the power of social entrepreneurship, and gave rise to the nonprofit organization One Hen, Inc. (www.onehen.org), which offers downloadable resources for educators to teach financial literacy and giving back.

Her 2010 book, The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough, is set in the Honduran hillsides and introduces kids to the concept of food security and how each of us, at any age, can combat global hunger (www.thegoodgarden.org). And her latest book, Mimi’s Village: And How Basic Health Care Transformed It, set in Kenya, connects kids’ actions for global health to results in Africa.

Katie is also a partner at nonprofit and philanthropy advisor The Bridgespan Group in Boston. She serves on the board of World Vision U.S., has coordinated community development programs in Latin America and Africa for Food for the Hungry International and was a delegate to the 1992 Earth Summit. She has written several adult books on sustainable development, including The Human Farm: A Tale of Changing Lives and Changing Lands (Kumarian Press, 1994), which documented the work of sustainable agriculture pioneer Don Elias Sánchez (role model for The Good Garden’s teacher).

Prior to Bridgespan, Katie served as editorial director and founding publisher at Bain & Co. A graduate of Stanford University, the Free University of Brussels and INSEAD, Katie spent a decade working in and around more than a dozen countries in Africa and Latin America on sustainable development projects, including village banking, food security, primary health care, water resourcing and education.

700436155In the business of illustration, design and creative development, Shane W. Evans is a multi-talented artist and visionary who combines his world travels with his art to influence creative expression in others. Evans studied at Syracuse University School of Visual and Performing Arts and graduated in 1993 and began traveling the world. In addition to contract work in illustration, graphic design and web design for major companies, Evans has conceptualized and illustrated numerous children’s books. Many of the books have been featured in the media such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, NBA Inside Stuff, Reading Rainbow and Late Night with David Letterman. Shane has received much acclaim within the children’s literary field for his work on children’s books such as “Osceola,” “The Way The Door Closes,” “Shaq and the Beanstalk” and “Take It To The Hoop Magic Johnson.” His accolades range from being honored by First Lady Laura Bush at the 2002 National Book Festival, The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and The Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Non-Fiction for Children.

Shane Evans’s talent does not stop at illustration and children’s books. His design work includes unique, one-of-a-kind hand crafted furniture pieces, clothing, CD cover art, photography and a number of other custom made items.

Evans’s work is influenced by his travels to Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and throughout the United States. Firmly believing in education and creative development for all people, Evans has produced a unique presentation designed to share his gift with all ages, cultures, ethnic groups and backgrounds. His presentations and workshops are specifically tailored to each audience and combine storytelling, art projects and slide presentations from his own work and world travel.

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