Guest post from Patricia Newman with Donna Rosenblum and Mehrdokht Amini
I usually write about nonfiction conservation topics that empower children to act as global citizens. When Donna Rosenblum, Executive Director of Reason2Smile, approached me with an idea for a book about the importance of education, I saw another way to empower young readers to act.
Approximately 262 million children worldwide did not attend school in 2017. Neema’s Reason to Smile illustrator Mehrdokht Amini comes from Iran, a country where access to education is not necessarily a right.
Donna and Mehrdokht know first-hand the challenges faced by children from extreme poverty or worn-torn countries. I thought you’d like to hear their messages from the front lines.
Raising Awareness for Global Education
Patricia Newman: Donna, Reason2Smile supports Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya—the school on which Neema’s Reason to Smile is based. Tell us about Christine Mwende, the Kenyan nurse who founded Jambo Jipya.
Donna Rosenblum: She believes education is the key to a better life and wants to give this opportunity to children who normally would not be able to afford to attend school. She possesses a strong faith and is committed to helping those in need.
PN: As I wrote Neema’s Reason to Smile, I left out graphic details of the students’ lives for the picture book audience. Can you share their reality with us?
DR: Many children live without basic necessities such as running water, flushing toilets, and electricity. Some are orphans or come from abusive homes. Without Jambo Jipya, they would have limited skills to make a living, thereby continuing the cycle of poverty. This is especially true for girls who would wind up marrying young and having children.
PN: A number of studies show that education raises a community’s literacy level, increases the wealth and health of its citizens, and reduces instability and corruption. There’s even some evidence to suggest educating girls might combat climate change. Can you comment on some of the benefits you’ve seen at Jambo Jipya?
DR: When girls attend high school, they increase their opportunities and delay marriage and childbirth. We have young ladies working in hair design, hotel management, teaching, and small businesses. I believe the students coming out of JJ are better equipped to handle life’s challenges, and that girls can better provide for themselves. Also, Christine Mwende is a positive role model for the students. She is strong, caring and willing to stand up for what she believes is important.
PN: Mehrdokht, why did you choose to illustrate Neema’s Reason to Smile?
Mehrdokht Amini: The story resonates with me because I come from a country where many children have to work in order to support their families from a very early age. As a result, they are deprived of a normal life and access to education. Seeing them in big cities cleaning the car’s windows behind the traffic lights, selling trinkets, or simply begging is a regular, heart-wrenching sight that unfortunately people have got used to.
PN: Inside my dream basket is a wish that Neema’s story empowers kids to be part of the change. What’s in yours?
DR: Increasing awareness of these issues in the developing world and understanding that we have the power to make a difference. There are so many wonderful organizations working to correct these injustices. Students need to take action and be involved in a cause that is meaningful to them. Reason2Smile provides many fundraising ideas for schools to be engaged in.
MA: That all children have the opportunity for an education and a safe life. Books like Neema are great movements for change and raising awareness about this issue.
Patricia Newman’s award-winning books show kids how their actions can ripple around the world. Author of the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; as well as Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book; Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; Booklist Editor’s Choice title Ebola: Fears and Facts; and picture book Neema’s Reason to Smile, Newman hopes to empower kids to think about the adults they’d like to become. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.
Donna Rosenblum is the supervisor of Nassau BOCES School Library System on Long Island and Executive Director of Reason2Smile.
Mehrdokht Amini was born in Iran and currently lives in England. Her book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, written by Hena Khan, was selected for the 2013 Association for Library Service to Children notable children’s booklist. In 2016, her book Chicken in the Kitchen won Best Book at the Children’s Africana Book Awards and was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Mehrdokht was also chosen as one of only fifteen United Kingdom entrants in the prestigious Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava 2017. Visit her at www.myart2c.com.