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

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)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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I don't believe in coincidences, but this is amazing. Only a few weeks ago I stopped in Iowa, en route from Colorado back home to Michigan, for a short visit with a friend, Kabba Jalloh, who had grown up in Sierra Leone, had graduated from Dordt College, and now calls me his American dad. Thinking that he might be interested to know about a grandson my wife and I are very proud of (Drew Bremer, who is on the U.S. Paralympic Soccer Team), I asked him if he had played soccer as a child. When he said he had, I asked what they used for a ball. He explained that if you remove the green leafy material that covers the trunk of the banana tree you will find soft material that could be shaped into a ball. That was what they used. I then told him about Drew, and said I would pass his story on.

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