black history, black lives, climate collapse, science

Nonfiction Corner – To Change a Planet/Song for the Unsung

To Change a Planet ( Scholastic Press)
Written by Christina Soontornvat
Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

For ages: 4-8

It’s become evident that the continuance of life as we know it on this planet is over. A small percentage of humanity hoards the way resources, the environment has been left ravaged over centuries of extraction, and the pollution caused by fossil fuels all clearly indicate that we cannot keep living like this. Based on the severity of the problems, they will not be solved handily in a single election cycle but throughout the next generation and likely the one that follows (if we can keep humanity alive). This means it is vital that we empower our children to understand the role they will need to play in this global rescue mission & how necessary collective action will be.

Author Christina Soontornvat is able to lay out challenging concepts in a clear & concise manner for children. The book’s sparse prose lays out what led to the current climate collapse and what it will take to fix the issue. She doesn’t shy away from how it feels to be one person in this chaos feeling powerless but reminds the reader that it begins with one person choosing to change. Then they find community with others who are passionate about making things better. Artist Rahele Jomepour Bell helps remind us of the planet’s natural beauty through landscapes populated with animals. Bell also illustrates wildfires & pollution in contrast. So many people are choosing to bury their heads in the sand over this crucial problem & we have to move on without them. That means looking to our young people and ensuring they understand the challenge ahead while providing them with the necessary resources to do something about it.

A Song For the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the 1963 March on Washington (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR))
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford & Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Byron McRay

For ages: 5-9

Since I was a child of two, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday has been a holiday observed by the United States. During that time, I have learned how the message of MLK and other civil rights protestors has been softened & dulled to satisfy corporate interests who don’t want radical change pushed as a viable option. Now we teach children that orderly protest is how you make a change, which stands in direct contrast to what King and other civil rights participants did. Lost in the mix are so many diverse voices that were involved in organizing this movement. One of these voices is Bayard Rustin, a person I had never heard of until I read this book.

Rustin was a Black man raised in the Quaker tradition. From early on in his life, he pushed against the oppressive system he lived under in the United States. His Quaker beliefs led him to be a conscientious objector in World War II, which got him imprisoned. Rustin would eventually travel to India and study under the followers of Gandhi. Rustin found his passion in touring as part of a musical act that reintroduced Black spirituals to a community just at a time when they needed these songs. The lyrics of these songs are an integral part of the book. Rustin looks back on these moments as he is organizing the March on Washington, one of the most politically significant populist moments in recent American history. So why have we never heard much at all about Rustin? The book is direct in that regard; he was gay. Because of his sexuality, Rustin was twice marginalized in American society. LGBTQ people were foolishly seen as dangerous to be around children. As a result, they weren’t included when children were taught about their nation’s history. It’s time to change that, and we start now. Queer people are a part of America’s history and every civil rights movement that has ever occurred. 

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