Two great new books for teaching social justice

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I love reading books with my kids before bed.  It’s especially fun when it’s a book I enjoy too, and not, say, something inspired by Legos or Transformers.  To me, the ideal bedtime storybook is colorful and well-paced and has a little spiritual weight to it, too.

So I was only too happy to receive review copies of two new children’s books from Loyola Press.  Both are part of their Two Feet of Love in Action series, a collaboration between Loyola Press and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Justice, Peace,  and Human Development.  The goal is to help kids recognize the link between faith and social justice, and to build awareness of the importance of concrete actions to make the world a better place.

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They’re terrific books, each one taking on a different aspect of social justice.  In Green Street Park, a little boy realizes that the park where he loves to play basketball is actually littered with trash and full of weeds.  He sees the need and, with the guidance of his teacher and mother, is inspired to mobilize his friends and start a campaign to clean up the park.  (In a nice touch, the book invokes the example of St. Francis of Assisi as a model of someone who cared about the earth and the environment).

Drop by Drop tells the story of a girl named Sylvie, who lives with her family in the West African country of Burkina Faso.  Because her village has no running water, she must walk three miles each day to the river to fill a large water jug for the family.  Sylvie desperately wants to go to school, but her family needs her to fetch the water.  Finally, one day Catholic Relief Services builds a well in her village, and Sylvie’s wish of attending school comes true.  In the book, her story inspires schoolchildren in the US to raise money of their own to build wells in other villages.

I love how the books show two different faces of charitable works. One focuses on a need close to home, the other on a need far away.   There are so many ways to work for social justice; that’s a great lesson for kids to learn early on.

The books are gorgeously illustrated, too.  Green Street Park has vivid primary colors that pop off the page; Drop by Drop has softer, more muted tones that capture the colors of the desert, punctuated by the bright colors and lively patterns of the clothing worn by Sylvie and her family.  They’re lovely to look at and their strong visual appeal is perfect for sparking young readers’ imagination.

What’s great is that there are also supplementary materials that go along with the books.  Each book can be purchased alone or with the Pray Me a Story guide, short guides that parents or teachers can use to help kids engage prayerfully with the story they have just read.  They include questions and a guided meditation to help kids bring Jesus into the story and into their own lives.  They’re a great way to help kids process the books and help the lessons stick.

All in all, these are engaging, colorful ways to introduce kids to the connection between faith and social justice.  It’s fun to plant the seeds and see when and how they bloom.

In fact, the other night, we read Drop by Drop before bed, then I tucked the kids in for the night.  As always, I asked my kindergartener who he’d like to pray for.  He looked at the world map posted by his bed and waved his arm.  “All of the people in the world,” he said.  He paused, then added, “Especially those who don’t have water.”

I think it’s working.

Check out the Loyola Press website for more information about these books, and the Two Feet of Love initiative.  (Both books are also available on Amazon.com)  And if you like the idea of Pray Me a Story, you can see the whole range of guides they offer, including for picture books you probably already know and love.

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