Book Review: After Gandhi

After Gandhi

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistence
written by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien
illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Published by: Charlesbridge, 2009
Audience (reading level): 11 and up (8.7)

Bravery. Each night, when I picked up this book to read, I was always awestruck by these courageous people. No matter how angry or abusive their accuser, they rose neither hand nor voice in response. [Yes, they might speak, but they did not yell, scream, or stoop to their accuser’s level.] This isn’t the clerk in the coffee store who listens to an unhappy customer berate him. This is the person who sat quietly while people threw stones at her … or beat her … and got their friends to do it, too.

In the introduction, the authors are very careful to point out that this is not a history book. While I understand their point – their stories are snapshots that  largely focus on individuals in a specific context – their chronology creates an effective visual of time.  Consider this: in the 100 years covered by this book, eight notable events took place between 1947 (Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam) and 1967 (Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams in Northern Ireland). More than half the events of a century of nonviolence resistance are concentrated in just 20 percent of that time. Why? What were the “outside influences” that seemed to culminate in this exponential spike in nonviolent resistance? I don’t know the answer, but it was seeing the collection of events that posed that question and asked me look at the events in the context of history.

Nonviolent resisters are not just wise, passionate adults. They are children who understand the tenets of peaceful progress, too.

The collection of fifteen examples of nonviolent resistance covers the world: Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia.  In every case, groups of individuals took a stand against violence and oppression.  Although many of the examples from 1947 to 1967 involve race relations, not all of them do:  individuals took a stand against violence in general, others opposed wars; and some protested working conditions and wages. Some successfully effected change; others did not. There are leaders whose stories I know (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), some I didn’t know at all (Thich Nhat Hanh), and some I followed as they occurred (Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution).

Although each story is an individual example of nonviolent resistance, the authors have woven them together so well that trying to select one or two highlights leaves me feeling like I’d be slighting other, equally courageous individuals.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Mohandas Gandhi, more commonly known around the world as  Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi is the father of modern nonviolence and the book’s namesake. In his roles as advocate and leader, Gandhi “walked the talk.” By educating himself about protests and boycotts going on around the world, he modernized the strategies of nonviolent resistance. In this age of CNN, this seems like a simple task. But this was 1905/1906 and Gandhi was in Johannesburg, South Africa collecting information about events in Russia, Ireland, and India. Information – especially about events that would “embarrass” authoritarian rulers – didn’t travel as quickly or as easily. In an historical context, that is pretty significant.

Students are likely to see this as a great book for starting a term paper. It is filled with wonderful information and just the kind of snapshot they are looking for. Each profile has three parts: a one or two-page description that sets the scene; a three or four-page story about the leader and what s/he did; and then a one-page biography called “More to the Story.” Two black-and-white illustrations (water-soluble pastels) serve as bookends for each profile: a two-page image of the event about to be described; and a portrait of the leader(s).

I hope they see much more. This book is far more captivating than any reference book I remember from my junior and high school days. I hope that it doesn’t get characterized that way, because it is a wonderful example of how captivating nonfiction can be. Pick the book up to read one chapter, and you end up spending an hour looking at others. Each compelling story draws you in. You want to learn more.

diversity_rocksAfter Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance is our April contribution to the Diversity Rocks! Book Challenge.  Be sure to stop by Diversity Rocks! to see the collection of April reviews (will post the link when it goes up).

Other reviews

Andromeda Jazmon at A Wrung Sponge

Other Links

Charlesbridge has a page on its website with an excerpt, posters, discussion/activity guide, and video trailer.

Scrub-a-Dub-Tub is hosting Nonfiction Monday tomorrow, 6 April. We’d love to have your review of a great nonfiction find for children. Look for the post to go up this afternoon.

5 responses to “Book Review: After Gandhi

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "the bravery"
  2. Pingback: Nonfiction Monday Roundup | Scrub-a-Dub-Tub
  3. Thank you for this wonderful review of our book!

    Reading it, I felt that you were caught by the extraordinary spirit of these people, in the same way Perry and I were as we did our research. We were literally awestruck at times, and would just exclaim to each other,”Listen to what s/he did!” “Can you believe this?!” It’s lovely to know that some of that came through in the accounts we wrote.

    The stories of what these people (and so many others not in our book) did should be known by the world. It’s part of an education in what it means to be human, what the possibilities are for our species. And it gives us models of what we might be and do as our nation and the world face what sometimes seem to be insurmountable challenges. They faced worse, and look at who they became and what they did.

    Thanks for helping to spread the word.

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