So I’m having lunch with a fellow from the entertainment industry the other day and by some quirk of conversation we begin discussing Quakerism. I attending a Quaker liberal arts college called Earlham (“Fight! Fight! Inner light! Kill, Quakers, Kill!”) and he, I believe, was raised Quaker. And since the focus of everything in my life is, eventually, children’s literature we started talking about those picture books that Quaker kids love.
Because they do, you know. Befriend enough Quakers and they’ll start talking about the books that raised them. I wasn’t raised Quaker myself but even in college I began to notice the books that came up time and time again when talking with them thar Quaker kids. Back in the day it was a lot of Brinton Turkle. One of my friends went to the same meeting as Mr. Turkle, as it happens. He was prolific in his day and will probably be best remembered for the Obadiah series he helped create. There was Obadiah the Bold, Rachel and Obadiah, and mostly notably the Caldecott Honor book Thy Friend, Obadiah. Sure they were an old timey look at Quakerism but due to the fact that they were also the ONLY picture books with a Quaker hero, they were roundly embraced by the community.
All this got me to thinking about those authors and books that are embraced by distinctive communities. It would be, in many ways, an author or illustrator’s dream to be considered a standard amongst a strong and steady group like the Quakers. So I looked at the site Quaker Books to try to get a sense of those books that would appeal to Quaker kids today. Who are the new Turkle and Baylor? It’s a tricky question. Few names came up time and time again but the site itself makes some rather nice selections, as it happens. I was very impressed by the books that cropped up under the topic of Earth Stewardship & Simplicity. Equality & Community is also quite good. The site also said that authors like Barbara Wright, Haven Kimmel, and Laurie Halse Anderson are Quaker, amongst others.
It’s also pretty up-to-date, a marvel in and of itself. But the number of 2014 titles is relatively small. Here then are some additional 2014 suggestions for anyone looking for terribly current books that reflect Quaker values. I decided to stick with nonfiction, though I’m sure there are picture books and works of fiction that would fit in as well. This is just for starters.
- The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield – A beautifully rendered tale of how a single teenager created a non-violent movement at a time when non-violent protest was a new idea. Pacifism with purpose from a very young person. A rare story.
- Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; ill. Evan Turk – The book that actually inspired this post in the first place. I see very few books for kids that think to discuss anger management in a realistic manner. Nonviolence is as difficult thing to promote in an everyday way for kids, but this book nails it.
- Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, ill. Christian Robinson – You might not think it a natural Quaker topic but with her interest in human rights worldwide there is much in Ms. Baker’s story to appeal here.
- My Country, ’tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights by Claire Rudolf Murphy, ill. Bryan Collier – I’ll need to reread my copy but I’m fairly certain the Quakers get a shout out somewhere in here. Even if they don’t, it’s a marvelous look at a wide variety of American civil rights.
- Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh – A perfect companion to The Girl from the Tar Paper School in that it also preceded Brown vs. The Board of Education and also talks about nonviolent activism.
What else would you include?