COLUMN by Pat Hynes

Greenfield Recorder, March 1, 2022

‘It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” This wisdom of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass underpins our Children’s Books for Peace, Justice and Environment Collaborations. Since 2016, the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice has partnered with libraries in Greenfield, Orange, and Montague; and a peace center and school in Sierra Leone to purchase stimulating, award-winning preschool through young teen books and to hold programs using the books with children, their families and youth groups.

With our grant of $1,000 to each partner, they have acquired nearly 100 books with themes of emotional and social growth; positive role models for girls and boys; resolving conflicts creatively; welcoming immigrants; caring for animals and planting trees; the history of civil rights and the vote for women; and stories of children and youth, like themselves, across the globe.

Studies have consistently found that how we raise our children determines how they handle conflict as adults. Children’s lives are open books where authors and illustrators leave lessons of nature’s mysteries, adventure, friendship, generosity, humor, empathy, imagination and more.

In a 2017 feature story on books and libraries, Hampshire Life featured an interview with two sisters who were frequent visitors to the Forbes children’s library in Northampton. Asked about books that have changed them in some way, 11-year-old Ada replied, “Every book I have read has changed me in some way.” Alice, 9, responded that “Out of My Mind” — a novel about a girl genius with cerebral palsy who could not walk or speak — changed her. “I have a kid with disabilities at my school … I didn’t think about how she felt about it.” She affirmed what studies have found, reading can foster empathy. Reading has been proven to improve children’s grammar, vocabulary, concentration and learning in school. Most important for early child/ family literacy, reading promotes bonding between parents and children, sparks curiosity, and stimulates children’s imagination and creativity at a critical point in their brain development. By age 2, a child’s brain is as active as an adult’s and by age 3, more than twice as active. Researchers of how young children learn have concluded that what society does for preschoolers can be so powerful that “it will affect not only the lives of those children but the future of the world as well.” The Traprock Center’s 2022 Children’s Books grant is awarded to the Family Literacy Program of the Montague Catholic Social Ministries (MSCM), under the direction of coordinator Mary King and bilingual teacher Liliana Moresco. They will purchase and deliver high quality board books and materials to eight immigrant families every month over the course of a year. The goal is to help these families create a home library that uses and features the books purchased through this program. (Two-thirds of America’s 12 million children living in poverty have no books at home).

Their program will select primarily low-income and immigrant families who own few if any books. Moresco, an expert in child development in her home country of Argentina, works with families on Zoom and with groups of parents and young children at the MCSM Family Center. She explains, “Family literacy is a chance to reinforce emotional bonds between parent and child and a way to nourish young brains and stimulate creativity. Many of our parents from Central America are illiterate in Spanish and English, thus parents will learn to read along with their young children.”

How far can widespread literacy through education go? The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by the United Nations states that education that “shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, shall further … the maintenance of peace.” How crucially the world needs new generations educated for these goals given current leaders have brought us to the brink of war, climate crisis and record inequality — threatening our collective future.

With book titles including “Call Me Tree,” “The Wonderful Things You Will Be,” Global Babies, and “We are the Water Protectors,” the young children in the Family Literacy Program will be part of that new generation.

I want to acknowledge and honor the three talented and committed children’s librarians who partnered with Traprock: now retired Kay Lyons (Greenfield), Jason Sullivan-Flynn (Orange), and Angela Rovatti-Leonard (Montague). Their collections are a trove of prize-winning books for children, youth, caregivers and teachers in local schools. Our program’s books in Sierra Leone were placed in a local school whose principal has committed to offer curriculums on the environment and peace.

H. Patricia Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health, is a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and coordinator of the Children’s Book Collaborative. Her new book, “Hope But Demand Justice,” is available from Haley’s Publishers in Athol.

How crucially the world needs new generations educated for these goals given current leaders have brought us to the brink of war, climate crisis and record inequality — threatening our collective future