CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Tell Me Why: How Young People Can Change the World.
Eric Walters, editor.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2009.
214 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Social justice-Juvenile literature.
Social action-Juvenile literature.
Social problems-Juvenile literature.
Conduct of life-Juvenile literature.
Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.
Review by Huai-Yang Lim.
I hope in their deeds other young people will be inspired not only to think, but do, that they will understand that greatest is contained within each of us—that to quote from the letter of one of the respondents, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, "It is important to remember that within each Mother Teresa, within each Mahatma Gandhi, within the heroes among us who have given of themselves to make a difference in the world, there is a small boy or girl who began by asking these same valuable questions." (page xii)
There's a real disconnection in this part of the world between the life we live and what it costs others to allow us to keep living this life. Much of the chocolate we eat is harvested by child slaves in the coca plantations of East Africa. Our clothing is often made in sweatshops in Central America or Asia, where to form a union is to go down a fast track to prison or worse. We are a rich society, easily amused by our television and an assortment of ever-emerging electrical gadgets. We're kept busy with consumption and meaningless information, so busy that when our leaders say, 'Time to go to war,' they expect us to be far too busy to ask why. (page 57)
If you believe in a dream and have the courage to try, great things can be accomplished. Anything is possible. (page 85)
Prompted by a letter from a young student named Jo, Eric Walter's book Tell Me Why offers an inspirational and motivational look at individuals who are making a difference, in their own way, by improving the world through initiatives in their local communities and overseas. Walters's book profiles both adults and children who come from different life circumstances and cultural backgrounds, through which he offers a diverse representation of individuals that encourages readers to reflect, identify with, and perhaps emulate.
Part One of this book includes narratives by influential personalities worldwide from a variety of disciplines, such as science, the arts, politics, and sports. These individuals include Canadian personalities, like Susan Aglukark, Marc Garneau, and Lloyd Axworthy, as well as people from other countries, such as Jane Goodall, Ethan Zohn, and Dr. Chandra. Besides discussing the actions that they, themselves, have taken, each person's testimony provides her/his own insights into the world's problems and prompts readers to consider how they can make a difference. Many of these people acknowledge that change may not come quickly because these problems are complicated and are the result of several causes, but they also affirm that one individual's actions should not be disregarded. Change can come about through personal initiative, perseverance, and a strong belief in one's actions.
These people address a wide range of problems. Some focus on health-related initiatives, such as HIV/AIDS education and raising funds for cancer research, while others deal with issues like combating homelessness, assisting tsunami survivors, and lobbying against land mines. Their narratives illustrate that their motivations for making a difference in the world have arisen out of their knowledge of what has happened to others, personal tragedy, or first-hand experience with others who have suffered. For example, Dr. Chandra's life was changed irrecoverably by the Air India bombing because it killed his wife and two children. After grieving for a time, he regained a sense of purpose in his life by devoting his energies towards serving the poor in India. Similarly, Kim Phuc's near-death experience with military warfare motivated her to form the Kim Foundation, which aimed to provide medical and psychological assistance worldwide to children who have been affected adversely by war. In contrast, aerialist Jay Cochrane became motivated to help sick and disadvantaged children after his experience in China.
The actions of Kim Phuc and others exemplify the possibility for creating lasting change and transforming tragedy into hope and action for the future. This is not to suggest that these problems can be easily solved. Rather, it takes a collaborative and sustained effort on the part of individuals who care passionately about their causes. Although these individuals have helped to instigate these improvements, their narratives express the underlying message that everyone has a responsibility to address what is happening around them and to expand their awareness of how they can be implicated in these problems.
It can be discouraging when things do not change, but the book emphasizes that one must not give up hope. A crucial aspect of making a difference is to take up a cause that we care about and to influence others to follow our cause. This can be as basic as educating others or setting an example that will inspire others to follow or to emulate. As Deborah Ellis mentions in her narrative, there is a disconnection between the life we live and elsewhere, such that people need to be educated about the problems around them. Ethan Zohn and Craig Kielburger affirm that everyone can make a difference, regardless of one's age or background.
Part Two of Tell Me Why profiles five children who are exceptional role models. Despite their young age, each of them has made a significant difference in other people's lives by raising funds, educating others about their cause, or providing assistance in other ways. For example, Hannah Taylor helped to combat homelessness by raising funds and increasing public awareness about the homeless in her community while Paige Pedlar focused her efforts on helping AIDS orphans. As a survivor of cancer, Kyle Angelow raised money for cancer research. Through his participation in organizations such as World Partnership Walk and UNICEF, Bilaal Rajan raised funds to help tsunami survivors and to combat global poverty. Ryan Hreljac initiated the efforts for what would eventually become Ryan's Well Foundation, an organization devoted to providing people worldwide with access to clean and safe water.
While they focus on different problems, these children are all passionate about and committed to their respective causes. At the same time, their stories illustrate that communal support is necessary for their efforts to be successful. It is significant to note that these five children also have ordinary lives. Bilaal enjoys building with Lego and spending time with his dog. Similarly, Paige Pedlar was a six-year-old girl who liked to play soccer and spend time with her friends. The book's inclusion of these details will enable readers to identify with these children and, in turn, encourage them to emulate what these children have done. Indeed, the only significant difference between these five children and those who have not taken action is that these children felt compelled to understand the problems that they heard about, selected a cause about which they felt strongly, and took the initiative to figure out what they could do to solve them.
Although the language level of Tell Me Why may be a bit too advanced for readers under the age of 12, younger readers can still comprehend the issues in the book with the assistance of parents or teachers. The children's narratives in Part Two of the book may be particularly appealing for younger readers. The book, itself, is organized into an easy-to-read format with a table of contents for ease of reference. In addition, the book's quotes from historical figures complement this book's ideas and speak to the questions that the student Jo has raised in her letter. As Eric Walters states in his introduction, "I went back through time to find the words of wisdom of the greatest minds, the greatest humanitarians in history" (xi).
Due to its varied perspectives and wide coverage of contemporary issues, this book will be a valuable addition to a public school's or public library's nonfiction collection. It could also be part of an academic library's collection of educational materials for elementary and secondary schools. Teachers can use Walters's book as part of a unit about how the mainstream media represents social issues. Alternatively, this book can be used to stimulate class discussion about the societal problems that people face today, the complex causes behind these, and the ways in which people can address them.
Perhaps one of the first steps towards making a difference is not only to know what to do or what questions to ask, but rather to simply start questioning what is around us. For more information on Eric Walters, readers can access his website (http://www.ericwalters.net/) or CM's "Profile" of this author (http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/profiles/walters.html).
Huai-Yang Lim has completed a degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta and currently works as a research specialist. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children's literature in his spare time.
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