As students across the United States mobilize to rally support for gun control legislation, I’ve been encouraged to read books that celebrate social activism among children and young people. I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in Canada, although its first publication was in Venezuela, a country from which I have seen very few picture books. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did!
Title: The Streets Are Free
Written By: Kurusa
Illustrated By: Monika Doppert
Translated By: Karen Englander
Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd./1995 (originally published by Edicones Ekaré/Banco del Libro as La Calle es Libre/1981)
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: social activism; Venezuela; playground; #ReadYourWorld
Not very long ago, when Carlito’s grandfather was a boy, mountain lions roamed the hills of Venezuela.
One particular mountain was covered with forests and bushes, small creeks and dirt paths. Every morning the mist would reach down and touch the flowers and the butterflies.
Brief Synopsis: When a barrio outside Caracas becomes too congested and there is nowhere for the children to play, the children try convincing the mayor and then they ask the community to work together to build a playground.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about Venezuela, the setting of this story;
- The children in the story work together to design a playground. What would you include in a playground if you were building a new one? Draw a map of your ideal playground;
- Is there something at home or at your school that you don’t like or think should be changed? Think about how you can convince your teachers or family to do what you’d like done.
Why I Like this Book:
The Streets Are Free is an inspiring story of children who band together to build a playground in the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela. As Caracas grew, open lands and streams disappeared, replaced by busy streets, crowded buildings and sewers that were unfit spaces for the children to play.
When a group of children discovered an unused lot, they discussed the playground among themselves during an after-school library program and then asked the city government to build the playground. When the politicians didn’t follow through on their promises, the children pestered and prodded their families and neighbors to build it themselves without government help.
Facets of the story that I found most interesting to discuss in a classroom or as a family include the role of the media in spurring the mayor to action, initially; the necessity of persistence to finally solve the problem and achieve a goal; the role of community spaces, like libraries, and helpers, like librarians, to facilitate social change; and the differences between the families who live in the barrio and the politicians who have the power to enact the changes.
Lovely watercolor illustrations bring the barrio to life, especially as the bleaker aspects of barrio life appear in black and white illustrations.
A Note about Craft:
Not only is The Streets Are Free based on a true story, but the problem the children face, and solve, is one with kid-centric stakes: a safe place to play. When thinking about writing books about concepts like social activism, I think it’s important to target the activity to something that’s generally something kids can understand. What’s more understandable for kids than the desire for a playground?
As this is an older book, written for a different market, the text is longer than the current norm and the story begins with information about the lost rural lands that have been replaced by the barrio. I think if someone were to rewrite this story today, the opening would focus on the kids and their problem at the outset, and the information in the current first four pages would be condensed into back matter. Interestingly, too, this book is longer than the norm, at 48 pages.
According to a review I read on Vamos A Leer, Kurusa is the pseudonym of a Venezuelan anthropologist and editor.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
It still is an important story about kids making a difference in their world. What kid doesn’t want a safe place to play. I love that it is set in Venezuela. Enjoyed your comments about how the story might be written 20 years later. Lovely share!
Thank you! I love when I find these older gems.
This sounds wonderful. Power to the kids!
Agreed! I love to read about kids who are the change makers!
Great book! I am excited to find this one. Very inspiring and still very relevant.
Sadly, this is still a very relevant book, for Venezuela & other countries, too.
Oh, Venezuela is suffering so much right now, I am so glad you picked a book set there today.
And I’ve seen so few picture books from there. I was so glad to find this one, even though it is an older book.
It’s been so encouraging to see kids rally across the country. I hadn’t heard of THE STREETS ARE FREE, but it sounds powerful. I will definitely check it out!
It’s an older book, but it’s gone through 6 printings, so hopefully your library has it.