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The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World by Katie Smith Milway

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This challenging, informative children’s picture book is based on the true story of former child refugee Benjamin Nzobonankira. It relates the fictional story of young Deo, who flees from his Burundian village when it is attacked by soldiers. Alone and vulnerable after being separated from his family, he is rescued by a kind fisherman and brought to Lukole, a refugee camp.

Far from home, Deo remembers the banana-leaf ball—a soccer ball made of banana leaves and twine—that he was forced to leave behind in his flight to safety. He resolves to make a new one. Remy, the leader of a gang of boys in search of valuables, steals it so he can use the twine to hold up his shorts. Undeterred, Deo makes another one but hides indoors with it, afraid and lonely.

Soon after, he hears a commotion outside and goes to investigate the cause. A soccer coach is organizing the boys into teams; he places Deo and Remy on the same team. As they learn to play together, their antagonism toward each other vanishes.

Remy returns the stolen twine to Deo and asks him to teach him how to make a banana-leaf ball. Other boys learn, as well. Gradually the camp’s culture changes as sports becomes a means by which hostility is transformed into teamwork.

Author’s notes include a list of organizations that are showing children worldwide how to trust and include each other through sports. (Kids Can Press)

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